The Cecilia Ensemble, the Grand Monadnock Choir’s high school singers, are about to embark upon a life-changing experience. Next week, the girls will head overseas to France for a tour of historical sites and interesting venues, where they’ll perform several concerts comprised of American music.
Choir director Maria Belva has led similar tours in the past, to other locations in Europe, exposing her singers to the rich history and culture of the old world.
“I think it’s important for us to always connect to history and to connect to other cultures in the world,” Belva said, “because really, we are one world. When we go and we meet people and we sing with other people — they're just people. It really brings it home, especially when we sing, because music is the universal language, and everybody across the world can relate to music.”
Belva has assembled a lineup of music by American composers, all in English, to perform in France. The concerts will include a quartet of Shaker hymns.
00:09 / 00:30SKIP AD“[Shaker hymns] are really very Americana,” Belva said. “It’s really not done anywhere else. The roots are purely from our soil.”
The concerts will also include a new arrangement of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” and the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” among others.
This particular tour is special, as the focal point will be a trip to sing at the American cemetery in Normandy, where thousands of American soldier who died in the D-Day invasion are buried. It’s sure to be a haunting performance and a fitting tribute.
“What a song of hope!” Belva said, of performing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow in such a setting. “Judy Garland. Those boys who are lying under those crosses, they know Judy Garland.”
Belva said part of the goal is to link her high school-aged singers to the young men who died in World War II, a generation that at this point is “probably their great-grandfathers.”
The importance of this link was not lost on Cecilia Ensemble member Raven Bartlett.
“It’s hard to put into words the feeling that brings,” Bartlett said. “It’s kind of like you’re making a connection between the ages — people who went and fought for our country and us going and honoring that.”
Bartlett is one choir member who’s already made a similar trip in the past, traveling to Italy to sing. She said she can’t wait to get back to Europe, to perform in high-ceilinged cathedrals with full, rich sound, and experience yet another new culture.
“I think a lot of young people tend to romanticize other countries,” Bartlett said, “and it was interesting to see how there were beautiful coasts and landscapes, but there were also a lot of dilapidated buildings — it was real. The world is bigger than us. It’s not just these magical places you can visit — real people live there.”
Bartlett was bitten by the travel bug on her trip to Italy, something Belva says happens quite often to her young singers when they get their first taste of overseas travel. Perhaps the same thing will happen to choir member Linda French, who’ll be making her first significant trip next week. French said she’s never been outside of the country, save a trip to Canada, and is looking forward to immersing herself in a whole new world — but not, she said, simply to get the best Eiffel Tower selfie.
“I like to experience things before I actually document them,” French said. “You wouldn’t experience it in the same way if you were running around taking pictures of everything. I wouldn’t want to take photos so I can come home and tell my friends about it but not remember why.”
Before they leave, the Cecilia Ensemble will perform a sendoff concert on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Peterborough Unitarian Church. The show is free, but donations will help offset the cost of the Europe trip. The choir will perform the same songs they’ll sing in France.
“I believe that our choir is full of really talented people,” Bartlett said, “and the sound we create is really incredible. Even if you don’t really listen to choral music, it’s still interesting to listen to the harmonies, and I think we put on a really fun show for the audience.”