Homer High School chorus director Mark Robinson and the Homer High School choir rehearse for their performing tour of Italy in March.
Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Hom
A singing tour of Italy just got a whole lot more exciting for more than 100 Homer High School students and adult performers from the Kenai Peninsula. An invitation received by choir director Mark Robinson late last week has added St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican, to an itinerary including the cities of Rome, Florence, Assisi, Venice and Milan.
“I faxed them a specific request, explaining who we were, a community and high school group from rural Alaska that had an appropriate repertoire,” Robinson said of a long list of contacts that began with the Catholic Church in Homer, was forwarded to the Archbishop in Anchorage and finally to Rome.
“I’m not sure who talked to whom, but not long after I sent off the fax, one came back inviting us to sing at St. Peter’s Basilica.”
The invitation calls for five pieces an opening song, an offertory, one or two communion songs and a closing song to be sung in the Basilica, construction of which began around 1506. Its dome was designed by Michelangelo, and the interior, with its 45 altars, was decorated by many famous artists.
Daily rehearsals are helping the Homer High School chorus prepare for their March trip to Italy.
Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Hom
Although it is not the Pope’s official ecclesiastical seat, it is where most Papal ceremonies take place due to its size, proximity to the Papal residence and location within the walls of Vatican City.
“I am kind of overcome with emotion,” Robinson, who has never been to Europe, said of his response to the invitation.
After receiving the fax at Homer High School, where Robinson teaches chorus, the first person he shared the news with was Principal Ron Keffer.
“I don’t know how anyone can walk into that edifice and not be awed by it,” said Keffer, who visited St. Peter’s with a group of Latin students in 1984.
“The number of people that will fit into that place is incredible. The spiral columns on the altar. The history. The artistry. The opportunity for our choir to sing at St. Peter’s is absolutely overwhelming.”
Robinson next told his students about the addition to the itinerary.
“I’m not sure that all of them quite get it yet,” he said. “You have to understand, some of them have never left Homer. What St. Peter’s Basilica might be like is not quite in their imagination. I’m not sure they fully grasp how cool this is, but I know this will be something they will never forget. Or me for that matter.”
Approximately 50 high school students and 50 adult singers from the Kenai Peninsula Community Choir will make the trip to Italy during spring break, with another 30 people traveling with them. The high school students are preparing with daily rehearsals at school and weekly rehearsals with the adults.
Under Robinson’s direction, they have developed a repertoire including pieces by Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Martini and Palestrina, who, among other positions held during his lifetime, was named choir master at St. Peter’s in the mid-1500s. In addition, Robinson also has included several easy-listening pieces in the group’s repertoire.
“I need to do a little research about etiquette and protocol to pick the right pieces, the right part of the service so what we’re doing is as appropriate as possible. But I’m fairly confident we have a body of music to choose from that will enable us to do that,” Robinson said.
The funds needed for travel already have been raised and the group will fly from Homer to Anchorage and then on to Denver on March 1. After a night in Denver, they will continue to Frankfurt, Germany, and arrive in Rome on March 3. Their appearance in St. Peter’s is scheduled for March 5. They return to Homer on March 13.
A home concert is scheduled in Homer on April 1 and in Kenai on April 2.
“When (Robinson) told me, I was just blown away. How do you get there, to sing at St. Peter’s?” said Keffer, who will not be accompanying the group.
“This is a tribute to Mark’s work, to this community and to all those people that work in the chorus and sing so well. And if someone doesn’t take about 1 million pictures, I’m going to get ’em.”
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