While many of our CCES families were enjoying a relaxing spring break, 25 members of the Upper School Choir, led by our beloved and intrepid US Vocal Music Instructor, Todd Monsell, travelled to Europe for the adventure of a lifetime. Comparing the first leg of the journey to a Shakespearean tragicomedy, Mackenzie Grubb ’23 told of how the group bravely faced-off against multiple obstacles – long layovers, fatigue, hunger, proximity to crying babies, and lost luggage. But despite the challenges, our weary travelers arrived safely in Salzburg with gratitude for the journey. “What could’ve been seen as time lost to layovers was instead time gained with one another. We were already a tight knit group, but our sense of camaraderie felt stronger than ever,” Mackenzie wrote.
The first full day was just that – FULL. Luke Brownlee ’25 shared that “a fresh breakfast from the top floor of our hotel with a panoramic view of Salzburg was a welcome start to our day.” They then embarked on a walking tour of Salzburg to the Mirabel Garden and saw some of the locations where The Sound of Music had been filmed. After some “spontaneous singing” and many photo ops, they next visited Mozart’s birthplace and learned about the composer’s incredible genius and his family’s musical lineage. “We then warmed up for our imminent performance with a snippet from Ave Verum Corpus, which garnered a crowd of eager onlookers who recorded our mini-recital,” Luke shared.
Next up -- the choir’s first performance at the Dome of Salzburg. There, in this “opulent cathedral, outfitted with five grand organs,” the group was hit with a surprise. In his introduction, the priest announced to the audience that the choir would be singing two songs which they were not supposed to sing that day. Undaunted, Luke wrote that they were able to adapt. “We belted out our best A Capella songs and blew away our European audience.”
After a delicious lunch, an engaging tour of one of the salt mines, dinner and a small operatic performance at one of the oldest restaurants in Europe, and a minor run-in with a “grumpy monk,” the crew made it back to their hotel to collapse.
After a quick breakfast, the group boarded the Gumdrop bus, which drove them around downtown Vienna with a stop at the Imperial Palace on the way. After that, the crew toured the Schönbraun Palace, modeled after Versailles, and had lunch at a Biegarten where Patrick Champion ’23 was quick to reassure readers that only water and Coke was consumed. With full bellies, they held a brief rehearsal at Minoritenkirche, where they ultimately performed in their first of two full-length concerts. “It was wonderful! It was a packed house and each song, solo, and even a flute piece gained raucous applause. We left feeling proud and ready for our next concert in Prague,” Patrick wrote.
Spending some more time in Vienna, the group visited Mozart’s memorial and the seniors were able to place flowers on Franz Schubert’s grave. Then it was off to what Cate Lyerly ’23 described as a “super-cool music museum where they had musical stairs and lots of interesting information about European composers.” After sampling authentic Viennese coffee, exploring the local shops, and enjoying a delicious lunch, they boarded a bus for Prague. “ The four hour bus ride was full of laughs, jokes, and conversations with friends,” Cate wrote.
As with every day, the group was up and out the door early, this time with a walking tour of Prague. Mills Howell ’23 described some of the highlights. “The main attraction was the St. Vitus Cathedral. With vibrant stained glass windows, graves of royals and important people past, and gilded everything, it was a sight that had everybody’s mouths on the floor.” After hot chocolates and coffees, they went to the Lobkowicz museum where they saw “amazing pieces of art and music including, but not limited to, Mozart’s hand transcription of Handel’s Messiah.” That evening, the choir held their second full-length concert at Sts. Simon and Judah Church. Mills shared, “Our performance was beautiful, and our singing was as, if not more, passionate than ever. Lachrymosa and Omnia Sol were some highlights of the set. We went to bed excited for tomorrow’s adventures on our last full day in Europe and grateful for full hearts and a full day.”
For their final day on the tour, the group once again boarded the Gumdrop bus and went to Nad Kavalirkou School, where they performed for Czech students, who in turn performed for them. “My favorite piece they sang was Into the West from ‘Lord of the Rings,’” said Louise Martin ’24. “At the end of the performance, we all sang Ave Verum Corpus together, and it was such a beautiful experience — singing the same piece and blending together to create such a symphony of sound, despite our different languages and cultures.”
After some shopping at the novy smichov (the mall) and a three-hour walk “to soak in our last few sights of Prague,” the students had some time to explore and purchase some final souvenirs. “My group went to this really awesome toy store, where there was a carousel, a slide, and an arcade (oh my!), while other groups enjoyed some coffee and dessert at nearby cafes,” Louise wrote. The day culminated in a farewell dinner at the Plzenska restaurant and ultimately long conversations about the tour, shared experiences in the choir, and some “tearful goodbyes to our seniors.”
Todd Monsell wrote the final entry of the travelogue – an expression of gratitude for colleagues, chaperones, parents, and his students. “I am already getting emotional as I write this, simply because I love and care for these students so very much. They are simply wonderful young people that made the time we spent together in Europe an absolute blessing to our chaperone team and to me. I will never forget their wide-eyed amazement at each medieval church and cobblestoned street; their open-mouthed awe when we entered the Melk Abbey chapel for the first time; their excitement to meet and sing with a Czech high school choir; their tears that flowed freely after packed concerts in Vienna and Prague. We enjoyed so many wonderful conversations, so many impromptu dances, so many silly jokes, and SO MUCH beautiful singing. My goodness, the singing. It’s impossible for me to listen to the recording of our group singing Mozart’s Lachyrmosa in Prague and not picture a college choir – I am beyond proud of the full, mature choral sound they cultivated in Europe, even while missing 15 of our choir singers from the tour group. I have worked with young singers for almost 20 years and I have never felt so close to a group as I have to these choristers, these songbirds, this #choirfam. This trip will always have a special place in my heart and that is because of the precious, talented, kind-hearted, and loving young people that they are.”