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March 10, 2010 > More than a Roman Holiday

More than a Roman Holiday

High schoolers sing at the Vatican on New Year's Day

By Praveena Raman
Photos By Ron Fong, Rich Henderson, David Cao and Mekala Raman

Recently Mission San Jose High School (MSJHS) Band, Orchestra and Chorale had the privilege of touring Italy and participating by invitation in the American Bands in Rome and Frascati festivals. The Chorale students on their maiden tour abroad had the honor of performing together with orchestra at the Vatican on New Year's Day. Besides Rome, Vatican and Frascati they also visited Naples, Pompeii and Florence. This is part III of the narrative of this adventure (Part I can be found in TCV Feb 24, 2010 and Part II in TCV March 3, 2010).

New Year's Day American Bands and Chorale in Rome Festival and the Vatican concert:

It seemed as though every time we visited the Colosseum the Roman Gods decided to pour rain on us and New Year Day was no exception. After a late breakfast we piled into the coaches to go to the Colosseum for a group photograph. It rained on the way to the Colosseum, which stopped just for the photographs, but again continued during the American Bands and Chorale in Rome festival at the Piazza del Popolo. With ponchos over their uniform, the MSJHS band marched in the Piazza and in the streets while the Chorale students sang holding black umbrellas.

After the short concert the Chorale and orchestra together with Ms. Kraft and parents left to go to the Vatican for their concert. Arriving at the Vatican, which was under heavy security and mobbed by the crowds waiting to attend a New Year Mass, we were taken by the back door to the Chapel in St. Peter's Basilica. As we prepared to enter we were stopped by the Vatican Police who did not grant us permission to enter even though we were performing very shortly. We had to wait until the Vatican Director could escort us in. Once in, we were asked to wait in an area outside the chapel while the Director proceeded to deliver another shock to Ms. Kraft. He calmly stated that due to high security all the Vatican rooms were locked and there was nowhere the students could change.

Soon afterwards we were escorted to a side chapel while Ms. Kraft escorted the students to a restroom to change into their formal attire. They then assembled in the main chapel ready to perform just five minutes before the mass was due to start! After these nail-biting tense moments everything progressed smoothly; the chorale sang a cappella during the mass in the presence of the Pope and were accompanied by the Vatican director and the organ for "Hallelujah". Some parents were even allowed to record this wonderful event. After Mass was over some of the orchestra string players joined Chorale to perform a brief concert concluding our visit to the Vatican.


On Saturday January Second we left the hotel early and drove to the railway station in Rome to board a train to Florence. It was admirable that all 102 of us were able to board the train in a short time and lost no one in the process. After a comfortable hour's ride we reached Florence and were taken on a 2 hour guided tour before visiting the Accademia dell'Arte del Disegno (museum) which houses Michelangelo's original "David". On the tour we visited the Piazza della Signoria which had been the center of Florence's civil life and government for centuries. The Piazza now houses many statues and a replica of David.

On the way to the Piazza we passed by open markets with shops selling many leather goods, silk scarves, woolen sweaters and more, We also paused at the Fontana del Porcellino, the pig whose snout tourists touch for good luck. We saw the Ponte Vecchio or "Old Bridge" on the tour. Built in Roman times it used to house butcher shops and now houses jewelers, art shops and souvenir sellers. After a visit to the Museum we were given some time for shopping which many of us took full advantage of while some explored the Cathedral, the biggest in Europe, or other parts of Florence. We later gathered in front of the Cathedral for the walk back to board the train. After our late return to the hotel many of us walked down to the nearby MacDonald's for a quick fast-food supper - the only time during our entire ten day trip to Italy.

Back in Rome (Catacombs, Piazza Navona and performance):

Sunday dawned bright, clear and cold. We took off after breakfast for a visit to the Catacombs, the Christian burial places under Rome. After the Catacombs we again went to the Piazza Del Popolo for a final performance by Chorale and Orchestra during and after Mass at the church of Santa Del Miracoli. At the end of the performance the priest was presented with a beautiful artwork of the Mission San Jose in Fremont. We then were taken to the Piazza Navona with its two fountains and Christmas market selling candy, nuts, huge donuts and Christmas artifacts of which the most popular were dolls of La Bafana the good Christmas witch. After exploring the Piazza neighborhood we spent the evening having a wonderful farewell dinner with live music.

We left the next morning in three batches back to San Francisco and our old routine with many tales to tell. The next day the students were active on Facebook, making new connections and uploading photographs of the Best Ever Trip Made.

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