Shown are the 21 members of the Red Hill-based chorus who participated in the 10-day trip through three European countries.
It has been said that music is the universal language of mankind. And it is that language, which tells a story and can prompt a person do everything from laugh to dance to cry, that Bel Canto Children’s Chorus recently shared on a European tour.
The Red Hill-based chorus, made up of preparatory, intermediate, concert and chamber choirs of children grades 2-12, traveled in early July to Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria as part of their bi-annual international tour. They performed a varied repertoire.
Previous trips included visits to Ireland in 2011 and Italy in 2009.
The goal of the trips for the choristers, hailing from about a 25-mile radius of the Upper Perkiomen Valley, is both to experience foreign cultures and share American music as they travel, said founder and artistic director Joy Hirokawa.
In the town of Echenbach, Germany, the chorus first collaborated with a German girls’ choir.
“That was really fun,” said Hirokawa, a music professor at Moravian College. “The German choir director helped [our choir] learn a song and then I taught them all a song. The singers learned their parts from each other. We performed separately and together on the concert. Language is no problem with music.”
From there the chorus performed a series of folk classics and patriotic pieces for a small crowd of soldiers and their families at the Grafenwoehr U.S. military base.
They went on to sing for a full house at St. Nicolas Church in Prague, Czech Republic, where they performed a piece in Czech. Hirokawa said that performance was one of the highlights of the trip for her, as the chorus formed a true connection with the audience there. Elderly people in the audience smiled as they sang along.
Perhaps the most powerful part of the trip, however, was a performance at a former internment camp at Terezin, Czech Republic. There the chorus sang two songs in memory of those lost during the Holocaust.
“It was very moving and emotional,” said Hirokawa.
They later went to a cathedral in Salzburg, Austria, and Neuschwansstein, a hilltop castle built in 1886 by King Ludwig II, where they sang an impromptu performance in the concert hall.
In Oberammergau, the chorus hiked up into the Bavarian hills to a tiny chapel for a morning outdoor service. There they sang with the hills as their backdrop, Hirokawa said, noting its beauty.
Eleanor King, 17, of Hereford, said it was one of the distinguishing events of her trip. King joined the chorus in third grade.
“Every day was a highlight… Sharing an experience like that with friends is always wonderful. [One of] my personal favorite moments was singing up in the Alps at a small church in the middle of flower-filled fields.”
That night the chorus wrapped up their tour with a performance at Kochel am See, a small community in Bavaria. They sang with an Alpine band playing there in a German community beer hall. They even taught their audience how to sing “This Little Light of Mine” in German.
The trip was a valuable learning experience for everyone involved.
“Being able to share dinner and a concert with a local German girls’ choir [was also one of my favorites],” King said. “Being able to share their culture and hear their stories about life as a teenager in Germany really made my trip and also got me a few new German Facebook friends.”
Chorister Jarod Moyer, 14, of Limerick, said he appreciated how the trip improved the group’s relationship, among taking in foreign locales.
“The buildings in Prague were beautiful because of the old architecture and detailed artwork. The natural scenery of Austria was great and the Alps were awesome…The trip gave the choir a chance to strengthen our relationships and grow as friends,” he said.
“There is no way to measure the growth that happens when we tour on both individual and choir levels,” Hirokawa explained. “Individually, the singers learn so much about themselves, from learning how to eat different foods to how to get along with people in such close quarters, to cultural differences and historical experiences, to musical experiences singing in wonderful venues.”
Bel Canto Children’s Chorus is currently auditioning new singers in Red Hill, by appointment, on Aug. 28. They can also be seen performing at the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs game Aug. 19.
For more information on Bel Canto, visit www.belcantochildren.com or call Executive Director Toni Marie Palmertree at 215-541-4242, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.