Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 19, 2012

TC West singers to visit four countries

By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY — West Senior High School EuroChorale singers will embark on a tour of a lifetime to perform in four European countries over spring break.

The two-week choral odyssey includes performances in Barcelona, Spain; Aix-en-Provence and Nice, France; and Monaco. The singers also will participate in the Concorso Corale Internazionale, an international choir competition in Riva Del Garda, Italy.

The EuroChorale will present a send-off concert Wednesday evening at St. Francis Catholic Church in Traverse City. The event is a thank-you for community support and a dress rehearsal for the tour. The choir leaves on Saturday.

West choral Director Russ Larimer takes Chorale students on a European tour every three years. Each Chorale represents the top 25 percent of an advanced AA high school choir program, Larimer said. This year, the tour includes 65 students and 12 adult chaperones.

West singers devote years of training and development to gain an audition to the prestigious Chorale. Once accepted, no matter the year, the focus is on the future and Europe.

When the actual EuroChorale year rolls around, Chorale members must learn additional music for the tour around their already hectic schedules of annual musicals, plus countless concerts and performances.

"It is a multiyear goal and process for most," Larimer said. "I sense that powerful momentum in every rehearsal, all year long."

Brandon Montgomery heard for years about EuroChorale from his older sister, who participated in the adventure. He's intrigued to explore European cities, culture and food. The high school junior also plans to visit his family's past foreign-exchange student in Spain.

"I'm excited to see the different groups, too," he said of the international choral competition.

The EuroChorale's tour music is heavy on sacred literature, including gospel and traditional songs required in the cathedral venues. The students build their repertoire all year. They learn songs in Latin, German, Italian, Russian and French.

"There are colleges that don't get to do this, but we do," said junior Emma Winowiecki.

Students raised about $3,000 each to cover tour costs. Fundraising over three years by the West Senior High School Choral program — including portions of proceeds from each year's Madrigal Feasts and musicals — covers another $1,000 per student. Numerous other sponsorships and grants from the Les and Ann Biederman Foundation, Oleson Foundation and MEEMIC Insurance provide additional support.

"The Traverse City community has come through for these kids in a big way," Larimer said.

The trip is life-changing for the students, both as artists and young adults. Students experience exponential musical growth over the two weeks and the choir also catapults forward both artistically and as a team.

"There is just simply nothing like performing in the very environment that some of the world's most treasured music was composed to be performed in," Larimer said. "Every other performance venue pales in comparison."