LCHS Choir Off to Italy to Sing — Maybe Even for the Pope

When Jake Stolmack hears himself say it aloud, the gravity of the notion hits him: “You tell people, ‘Oh, we’re singing for the Pope,’ but then you’re like, ‘We’re singing for the Pope!’”
Stolmack sings bass in La Cañada High School’s large group of choral artists who will spend their spring break on tour in Italy. He will be among 134 student-singers — a combination of the school’s Concert Choir and Chamber singers — who will perform at a pair of Masses, a pair of concerts and another two recitals during their week abroad.
They might sing for the Pope, clarifies Jeff Brookey, the director of LCHS’ choral program: “We won’t know if we’re going to actually sing for him until we get there. I hear this Pope is not as into that as Benedict was.”
Six years ago, Pope Benedict XVI actually introduced the group, said Brookey, whose students sang 45 seconds (“the loud part,” he said, “really loudly”) of “Hear My Prayer” for the Catholic leader.
“It was a rush,” Brookey said.
This year’s contingent — totaling 155, counting chaperones and more if you add the 80 or so supporters who’ll be traveling separately on a shadow tour — will be the largest of any that has come along on one of the choral department’s every-two-year international trips, Brookey said. Fundraising will have ensured that everyone who wants to attend will be able to.
Brookey said that whether the students sing for Pope Francis or not, they’re going to have an experience valuable and rare for American high school students.
And they’re definitely booked to sing inside the Sistine Chapel. So there’s that.
“That is going to be a very special thing for them,” Brookey said. “And as a country, Italy is one of those places that are great to go tour, especially for high school kids. They know about it, they study it in school and in world history, they know what the Coliseum is, what Venice is, the Vatican. They grow up seeing the artwork and the culture.”
This year’s trip is the first abroad since the group went to Spain in 2015, which was memorable for the performances in beautiful, historic locations, and also for the complicated journey home. A Lufthansa airlines strike left Brookey and his chaperones scrambling to get all of their singers back to La Cañada Flintridge, which required 24 flights over three days through routes that include stopovers in Dubai, Moscow and Paris.
“I was so stressed out I thought, ‘I’m done with this,’” Brookey said. “Of course, a week later, I’m planning the next one, because I know the benefits to the kids.”
The kids concur.
“So many people travel to Europe on vacation with family,” said Jessy Sitaramya, 17, an alto. “But when you travel with a choir, it’s just so different because you’re going there to make an impact on the people there. When we sing to audiences in Europe, when we touch them and some of them go to tears, it’s crazy for us because we’re making an impact on people.”
There’s also some pressure, they said, because they realize they’re ambassadors.
“This is their first impression of La Cañada,” said Stephanie Musso, 17, a soprano. “You want everyone to have this really great idea of where you’re coming from.”
“You’re also representing your country,” Stolmack said. “And that’s really cool. We’re really lucky to live here and I love being able to share, especially because when a lot of people think of American culture, they don’t necessarily think of our choirs, you know?”
In the past, LCHS choral groups needed to audition before they were allowed to perform abroad. Not anymore, said Brookey, who, personally, will be making his fourth trip to Italy.
His talented choral students will deliver songs both religious and secular on the trip, depending where they’re performing, he said.
“Obviously, we’re a public school,” Brookey said. “We’re not at a Catholic school. But students get it for historical reasons and educational reasons. You’re wanting to give them opportunities to have these experiences that are going to be good memories and help shape them in certain ways. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really worth it.
“They get it, especially our students. Even though they may travel abroad with their families, but this is unique, and they may never, ever have another opportunity like this.”

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