Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Schola Tour to Rome, July 2016

This article on the Schola's Tour to Rome is to appear in the Vaughan Magazine at the start of this term. 

The Schola’s Tour To Rome, July 2016

The Schola visits Rome at least once every seven years – the idea being that any boy who sings in the choir throughout his time in the School will be guaranteed to go there once. And so it was time for the choir to return once again to the Eternal City which it did for four days at the end of June and early July this year.

46 boys traveled on a Thursday evening, accompanied by Mr Price, Mr Evans, Mr Jackson, Miss Wilby and School Chaplain, Father Dominic. Our flight out was delayed somewhat by new British Airways check-in systems but we finally arrived. Only on landing did we discover that the pilot was an Old Vaughanian and some of the boys got to go into the cockpit. After a late dinner we retired as we had an early start. The reason for getting up at the crack of dawn was that it had been arranged for the choir to take a private tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. What an experience this was, in particular the Sistine Chapel which the boys were able to enjoy at their leisure and also benefit from the tremendous learning of our guide. We also spent time at the Vatican’s new Carriage Museum, which includes many fascinating vehicles that have transported Popes over the years, including the jeep in which John Paul II was shot in 1981. 

After a pizza lunch we spent a little time resting at the hotel before going to the Venerable English College where we had kindly been allowed to rehearse for an hour. Dinner was then followed by the rehearsal at our first concert venue, Sant Eustachio, which was luckily just around the corner from our hotel. Following the rehearsal the boys returned to the hotel to put on their cassocks and then rather proudly walked through the Roman streets dressed in their finery to many admiring and perhaps bemused onlookers. The concert was well attended (not least by the many parents who had flown out to join us) and had some very fine singing in a programme that included the Fauré Requiem.

Saturday saw us turn left out of the hotel rather than right and therefore head down to the Roman Forum and eventually the Colosseum. It was very hot and so staying in the shade was very important, not easy to do in the Colosseum but the boys enjoyed their time there and perhaps even more the pizza lunch that followed. Our plans to explore the Church of San Clemente (which contains the original Schola Cantorum – an area set aside for the choir) were scuppered by the Roman siesta (which given the heat, we could all understand the need for) but we spent a happy few minutes exploring St John Lateran, the Pope’s church in Rome, before going to the Scala Sancta. Brought from Jerusalem to Rome in the Fourth Century by St Helena, the Scala Sancta are the stairs that Christ climbed to be taken before Pontius Pilate. The boys were given a guided tour and then, in a rare opportunity indeed, were allowed to enter the chapel at the top of the stairs, the Sancta Sanctorum (the Holy of Holies) which was the original Papal Chapel (prior to the building of the Sistine Chapel) and where many relics are preserved. The boys then sang for a beautiful short service led by Father Dominic.

Crossing back across the road to St John Lateran, one of Rome’s four Papal Basilicas, we prepared to sing for Mass. We spent the conventional twenty minutes or so working out how to turn the organ on before rehearsing. The boys then sang for Mass, singing four motets very beautifully. Dinner followed at the wonderful Polese restaurant on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele (highly recommended!) where the atmosphere was heightened by the fact that Italy were playing Germany in the European Championships (hoping to get as far as Wales had already done). The waiters had great fun scaring the boys with car horns and generally getting them as excited as possible before we had to leave for what I had hoped would be an early night  - a penalty shoot out put an end to that. 

The following morning was to be the highlight of the trip as we were to sing for the Capitular Latin Mass at St Peter’s Basilica. This is the main mass of Sunday, attended by the Chapter of St Peter’s and therefore involving around sixty priests and on this occasion three bishops. The Schola would sing alongside the Cappella Giulia, the choir of St Peter’s Basilica, alternating with them in the chant setting of the Mass the Creed. The Capella Giulia had invited the Schola to join them when they heard the choir at its last visit to St Peters in 2010. Any thoughts that we might rehearse together were somewhat wishful thinking but the boys were more than capable of rising to the challenge and sang with great confidence in the chant and in the four motets they sang on their own. The Mass concluded with the boys singing Tu Es Petrus by Palestrina, the text being the same as that written around the dome of St Peters in letters that are thirty feet high. This was quite a moment and a wonderful conclusion to what was a truly memorable occasion in the history of the choir.

A very happy lunch followed where the boys were entertained by local musicians before we returned to the hotel for a little quiet time as there was still the challenge of the evening concert ahead. This concert was to be given at Sant’Ignazio, Rome’s most prestigious church concert venue. The church is famous for many things, not least the false dome that is painted onto the flat ceiling. It also possesses a wonderful acoustic for singing and the choir sounded very beautiful in the building. The concert consisted of music associated with Rome, including the famous Allegri Miserere, some English music and also the German composer Rheinberger’s wonderful Cantus Missa in E flat for double choir. A standing ovation greeted the Schola at the end of the Balfour Gardiner Evening Hymn which closed the concert and the boys could feel rightly proud of their efforts at the end of what had been a very long but wonderful day. 

The following morning we visited Castel Sant’Angelo, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, built in the Second Century. Amongst many claims to fame, the roof terrace of the castle serves as the location for the final act of Puccini’s opera Tosca, which opens with a famous boy treble solo (the Shepherd Boy). There are three boys in the Schola who have sung this solo at Covent Garden in recent years and so we tweeted to the Royal Opera them a picture of the three Shepherds (no reply as yet). 

Half the Schola then proceeded to get lost in the castle but once they had been recovered we went to do some last-minute shopping before a final lunch, some kind gifts for the teachers, and a bus journey to the airport, stopping for quick look around St Paul’s Outside the Walls on the way. 

British Airways had seemingly not fixed their systems as check-in at Fiumicino was dreadfully slow. The plane had to be held for us (we were half of it) and further delays in the air and with a lost bag on the ground meant that we returned a couple of hours late but nonetheless happy and satisfied with our short trip to Rome. The boys can be very proud indeed of the way that they sang and the ambassadors that there were for the School. Many thanks to them for being such great company and to the staff who made the trip possible. All roads lead to Rome of course and I am sure that in seven year’s time, if not before, we will be back in the Eternal City. 


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