Local students warm up pipes for Europe trip

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[local /wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Choir.flv Woodland singers warm up for Europe]

The hills will be alive with the sound of music next year, when choir students from Naugatuck and Woodland Regional high schools sing in France and Wales, respectively.

Twenty-six students from Naugatuck and 20 from Woodland will be making their mark across the pond when they tour Europe.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids,” said Region 16 Superintendent James Agostine. He said the trip will broaden the depth of the students’ experience and be a great cultural exchange.

The NHS chamber singers, led by choir director Mahlon Peterson, will perform four concerts and 18 songs in France, probably at Notre Dame, Chartes Cathedral and Rouen on their eight-day trip in February.

“One of the great things to me is the kids getting a chance to perform in the venues such as Notre Dame Cathedral and getting a chance to actually see the music in the place where the music was invented for,” Peterson said. “It just is something that I can’t teach here.”

LARAINE WESCHLER From left, Woodland sophomore Federico Martinez, senior Anthony Madigan and senior Jonathan Fitzpatrick rehearse at the high school recently. The choir will sing in Wales next April.

Singers from both schools take a trip overseas every other year. Peterson picked France this year in part because he had never been there himself.

“For obvious reasons in terms of the culture and the chance to visit some of the places that are known all over,” Peterson said.

Sean Lewis, WHRS choir director, developed a relationship with Croesyceiliog Comprehensive School in Wales while working at another Welsh school on a Fulbright Scholarship.

“The music department there was very comparable to what we have here in Woodland,” Lewis said.

LARAINE WESCHLER Sean Lewis, choir director for Woodland Regional High School, leads students through rehearsals recently in Beacon Falls.

He led a group of students to Wales in 2009 and is returning this year as part of a continuing exchange program.

“My students from Woodland here got to establish some friendships and connections to students over there,” Lewis said.

The Woodland students will spend part of their time staying in the homes of their Welsh counterparts. The WRHS and Croesyceiliog Comprehensive School students will perform together at the Welsh high school’s spring concert. They will be traveling to Wales April 12-22.

The WRHS students who went on the first trip are still in contact with the Welsh students they met.

“Those experiences through music and in meeting other people help to shape how we view the world,” Lewis said.

Corinne Marshall, a senior at WRHS, went on the trip to Wales in 2009.

“The people I stayed with during the home stays sent me Christmas cards and stuff, and we talk sometimes,” Marshall said. “There’s a group on Facebook with all the kids that we met.”

She recalled amusing cross-cultural exchanges.

“It was just really funny saying, like, ‘Where’s the garbage can?’ and they’d have no idea what we were talking about,” Marshall said. “They’d be like, ‘What? The rubbish bin?’”

Marshall learned how to count in Welsh, sing the Welsh national anthem, and tried different types of food, while on the trip.

“The whole experience was just so amazing,” said Marshall.

In addition to their home stay, the WRHS students will tour Great Britain singing at the Millennium Center in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, St. David’s Cathedral in St. David, Wales, and possibly in Oxford, England. They will also be touring historic sites such as the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, according to Lewis.

“I’m looking for fun and to be sure we sing good out there and we do good for our teacher,” said Anthony Madigan, a senior at Woodland. “He’s very excited for us going out there and trying new places and see how they like it.”

For some of the students, this will be their first voyage outside the U.S.

“For a lot of these kids, especially in Naugatuck, it will be the only time in their life they get a chance to make this kind of trip,” Peterson said. “We’re going to see the Louvre. We’re going to see, obviously, the Eiffel Tower. We’re going to see a lot of the sightseeing things of France as well as singing the concerts.”

Students said they were excited about the trip.

“I’ve never been out of country before so I’m actually really really looking forward to getting to see a couple of the famous cathedrals and churches that we’re going to go to,” said Hunter Horrocks, a choir student at NHS.

Horrocks has been in chorus for 10 years and chamber choir for two years. His favorite songs in the concert are Ave Maria and Prayer of the Children.

“I think (the French) are going to be very impressed,” Horrocks said.

The students have been working hard to prepare for the trip.

“This is my first year and it’s really hard, the music, so I’m trying the best I can,” said Shawn Conley, a senior at Naugatuck. “But it’s fun. It’s fun doing it. It’s expensive, the trip, but I think it’s really worth it.”

Conley and the other students have been fundraising by selling cheesecakes, lollipops, doing car washes, and selling ads in their program. The trip will cost $2,600 per student. Conley said he has been able to raise most of that already.

Students from Woodland are raising funds for this trip through holiday carol grams, citrus sales, and a cabaret dinner. Lewis is also applying for grants through Fulbright, which encourages the continued connections of its alumni with the host country.

Both teachers said they hoped their students would grow from the experience.

“I hope that they get exposed to some culture and history that they wouldn’t necessarily get out of a book and retain it,” said Peterson .”I would hope that they get a chance musically to grow. It’s amazing when you sing the same concert’s music 20 times what a difference it is instead of just doing a single performance of music. I get back a much better choir from these trips than the one that leaves.”