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March 6, 2013

Students sing for the masses in Munich, Prague

ROHS a cappella choir spends midwinter break overseas

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
The Royal Oak a cappella choir poses for a group photo outside Neuschwanstein Castle, near the Austrian border in Germany, during their Feb. 16-22 trip. The group was based in Munich and Prague for a series of performances during midwinter break.

ROYAL OAK — It’s not every day that a local student gets the chance to visit churches built in the 1700s near Munich and Prague, let alone be the focal point of a concert at those churches, but that’s exactly what 29 Royal Oak students experienced during midwinter break.

From Feb. 16-22, the Royal Oak High School a cappella choir, along with 12 adult chaperones, traveled throughout Germany and the Czech Republic, performing at several long-standing venues.

“Everywhere we went, when they found out we were a choir, they would ask us to sing in their huge cathedral,” said Deborah Buffa, ROHS choral director, via email. “The one performance that stood out was definitely St. Nicholas Church in Old Town, Prague. We put on a 50-minute concert.

“After the concert, I, along with my accompanist, Jennifer Semivan, and my saxophonist/soloist, Natalie Snay, were all presented with flowers. Then, many members of the audience stood up taking our pictures constantly, as if we were celebrities. It was quite an experience. The acoustics were amazing and the church was filled with people that came from all over to hear us perform.”

In addition to St. Nicholas Church, the group also had scheduled performances at Wieskirche — the Pilgrimage Church of Wies — in the foothills of the Alps in Bavaria, Germany; Ettal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery near Oberammergau in Bavaria; and Sof Drtinova High School in Drtinova, Czech Republic. They were also convinced to do some impromptu performances at another cathedral, at the Neuschwanstein Castle music room, on a riverboat cruise and in the streets of Munich.

“On our first night in Germany, while we were walking back to our hotel, we found a group of street performers: one violin, a cello, bass and two accordions,” said senior Leslie Seery, 17, via email. “After our large group of 41 started to gather around the performers, they began to interact with us and we started to go back and forth, us singing them a song and them playing us a song. They were so impressed by us that they gave us some free CDs of their recordings. This was by far the highlight of the trip, because it wasn’t scheduled and it was so cool.”

The choir’s Americana repertoire included spirituals, Broadway show tunes, jazz and folk songs. Buffa said it was only the second time the a cappella choir left the U.S. for a trip. The other time was a visit to the Advent Sing Festival in Vienna, Austria, five years ago. Recent trips have been to New York, Memphis and Nashville.

“I personally liked our personally designed concert tour this year better. It gave us more freedom when picking venues to sing at and more flexibility with the school calendar,” Buffa said via email. “This trip came about after I talked to many directors about concert possibilities in Europe. I was told about Munich and Prague and that it was a wonderful performance venue.

“Instead of doing a traditional festival type of trip, I decided to contact Music Contact International, as my travel agent, to see if they could help me organize a concert tour during our February break week. I, along with MCI, organized the whole concert tour.”

In addition to the performances, the students and adults had the chance to sample the cultures overseas, taking in both city and castle tours in Munich and Prague, the Jewish Quarters in Prague, the Capuletti e Montecchi by Bellini opera in Munich, the Swan Lake ballet in Prague, a riverboat cruise featuring jazz musicians from Prague and a marionette performance of the opera Don Giovanni in Prague at the National Marionette Theatre.

“This was such an amazing trip that I haven’t even come down yet from the excitement of all that we did,” Buffa said via email. “This trip will give students memories for a lifetime. They learned to travel by plane (I had many first-time flyers), experience the food, culture and way of life of other people. They learned how important history and language is in their curriculum. But, the one universal language was their music. It was the one thing that bonded us all together, even on the other side of the globe.”

Seery said the experiences would be remembered for a lifetime among her classmates.

“These trips certainly enrich students’ lives, not only culturally, but socially,” Seery said via email. “There were many students on our trip that had never been on an airplane before. For students to gain these simple life skills so young is outstanding. International trips are also great for students to learn and be aware of other cultures and how other people live.

“I have attended the choir trips for the past two years — Nashville and New York — and this one certainly was above all the rest. Before this trip, I had never been outside of the U.S. or Canada, and now that it is over, I can’t wait to go back. I had expected that the language barrier would have been more of a barrier, but everywhere we went in Germany and most of the Czech Republic, everyone spoke English.”

Both Buffa and Seery were appreciative of the community members who contributed to the various fundraisers for the trip, as well as the chaperones who went with the group.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Chris Jackett at cjackett@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1110.