The opportunity to travel with the Chamber Choir is something all Highbridge Voices students look forward to. An opportunity to explore new places, meet new people, and try new food, it is a key part of our program mission. Click below for travel diaries from our past tours.
2017 Tour: Memphis and Nashville
Read this account of our tour by 11th grade student, Mariangie P.
In April 2017, in the place where jazz, rock & roll, and country music meet, Highbridge Voices students were able to immerse themselves in a culture unfamiliar for a bunch of kids from the Bronx. I was one of those lucky students who got to explore Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee.
I woke up bright and early on that April morning with a feeling of nervousness and excitement; this was the furthest away I was ever going to be from my mother. When I got to HBV at 6 a.m., I could tell everyone else was also excited from the conversational buzz going on around me. We got on a plane at Newark Airport and arrived at our first hotel in Memphis in the afternoon. The first thing we did in Memphis was perform for their local news channel, WREG, to advertise our full concert that was happening later on that week. After the performance at the news network, we ate our first (of many) barbecued meals and explored the streets of Memphis. While in Memphis, we also took tours of Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, and the Lorraine Motel, where Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. At Graceland, we learned a lot about the life of Elvis Presley and his family. We got to see a lot of memorabilia from his life, including some of the many awards he won as an artist. My favorite part of the tour was seeing his daughter’s childhood room and the horses in his backyard. But my favorite part of the entire trip was the tour of the Lorraine Motel. You could tell that everyone around felt the impact of the moment; there was a feeling of reverence all around us, especially watching the film about King’s life.
The last thing we did in Memphis was perform our concert at Saint John’s Episcopal Church. There were a fair amount of people there that had traveled to see us because of the performance on the news network. We were so excited and honored that people made the effort to see us after just a three minute clip of on the news. Many audience members complimented our singing and even said that the performance moved them.
The next morning, we were on our way to Nashville. In Nashville, we stayed at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, the largest resort without a casino in the country! The resort was huge and I got lost multiple times. Nashville is a very colorful city full of country music and honkytonk. Within the span of about three days, we ate much more barbecue, went to the museum of country music, learned to line dance, and performed another concert at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church.
At the end of a very long week, the trip was over. I really wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Tennessee. I remember sitting on my bed at the hotel dreading the moment when Ms. Nikita would knock on our door to tell us that it was time to load up the bus and get to the airport. But all good things have to come to an end, so we loaded our stuff and got on our flight. Despite being sad to leave, I got home with a large smile on my face, cherishing my memories. Surely this was a spring trip I would remember forever.
2016 Tour: Boston
Read this account of our tour by 7th grade student Zane S.
It was an early Tuesday morning as I woke up with a start. It was April 26 and I was excited, for today was the day that I went on my first Spring Tour with Highbridge Voices to Boston! I was so happy to have the chance to go on tour with so many of my friends.
I arrived with the rest of Chamber Choir at Highbridge Voices around 8:00 am, super pumped and ready for a crazy week. The bus ride was 4 hours long, but we talked to each other, played games and slept to pass the time. I was a little nervous to go so far away, but I had my friends there with me so I knew there was nothing to worry about.
Before I knew
it, we were in Boston and it was amazing but very different from the Bronx. I saw trains on the street coming to a stop waiting for the cars to drive by. I wanted to ride one so badly. Our first stop was All Saints Episcopal Church as we had a quick sound check. It sounded great.
We left the All Saints Episcopal Church and got on the bus to go to lunch. We went to a place call Faneuil Hall. There were a bunch of gift shops, but I went right to the food. I ate a hamburger and fries. The food tasted really different. And the fries were really big!
After lunch, we got back on the bus and we made our way to Embassy Suites, the incredible hotel where we stayed. We changed into our concert attire. We didn’t stay long for we needed to hurry to our concert.
We arrived at the church in a flash thanks to our bus driver Vladimir. The concert was a blast! The soloists were amazing and everyone did a great job, but it was a little weird because there were only 9 people at the concert.
We jumped on the bus and went to dinner at a cool pizza place called Pepe’s Pizzeria. It tasted so good. (But nothing can top amazing New York pizza.)
The next day, I woke up only a few seconds before one of the staff knocked at the door. We got ready, went downstairs, and ate a delicious breakfast. After breakfast, we departed for Downtown Boston. We ended up going to the Freedom Trail. This nice lady was showing us around the Freedom Trail led by a character who was a former slave who met John Hancock. I learned that in the same cemetery that John Hancock was buried slaves weren’t able to be buried, but he still had his slaves buried.
After all of that walking, it was time for lunch. We went to a park and ate sandwiches. When I was done eating, I played tag with some of my friends. I saw some people playing football and others just sitting around on their phones or talking to each other.
About 2 hours later, we were on the bus heading to a choral exchange with the Boston Children’s Chorus. They sang incredibly. I found out that they are made up of 13 different groups. Us boys got to sing with the men’s choir which was really fun. Something I learned on the trip was time moves fast when you’re having fun because before I knew it, it was already time to go and say goodbye.
We walked to dinner at Fire & Ice, an amazing place where you go and grab your food in a buffet and then give it to the people to cook right in front of you like a show. They did a few tricks here and there and I will never forget ever going to that place.
On the third day, I was not ready for what I saw. We woke up and ate some breakfast again and were ready to depart for the Science Museum. It took about an hour but we made it. We split into groups and I was in a group with Jacob, Edgar and Mr. See as our chaperone. We saw frogs swimming and tried out new things with magnets and weights. To top all of that we got to see an electric light show. After that my group and I saw a 4-D movie with spraying water, falling snow, and moving chairs. It was so fun. After that we ate near Boston’s Science Museum and explored the Beacon Hill area.
But that wasn’t the end, of the day. We got to go to Harvard and meet a choir called the Kuumba Singers with different levels of who work together like a family. (which is somewhat similar to Highbridge Voices).
On the last say, we checked out of the hotel and got on the bus to experience the best part of our trip: Whale Watching! We got on a boat that sailed out about 20 to 30 miles, and we saw a bunch of whales, but the most common was the humped-back whale. My friend D’Angelo named one of the whales Victoria. I started to laugh, but soon we were calling all the female whales Victoria and the male whales Victor. It was really fun, but all good things must come to an end.
We circled back to land and got back on our bus to the Bronx. I got off the bus but made sure to thank Vladimir for the amazing job he did of driving us around. I will never forget the trip to Boston, and I can’t wait for more to come.
Read an account of our 2015 West Coast Tour written by 8th grade student Michael Rondon.More
On the early morning of April 6, I woke up quickly to find out that it was the day of
our departure to California. It was the start of the 2015 Spring Tour, which would cover
the San Francisco area, and other spaces around the Bay.
As the Chamber Choir and I got to Highbridge Voices around 5:00am, well-rested
from a good night’s sleep, I grew apprehensive. Today was the day I would experience
my first airplane ride! I was walking around, talking to other people, trying to get my
mind off my fear. Our chaperones for the trip Ms. Clementi, Ms. Turnbull, and Mr. Woo
were also a bit nervous as well. They would be taking a group of kids across the
country for the first time!
The other members of the choir seemed animated. People were saying goodbye
to their parents, double checking their luggage, taking occasional group pictures and
whatnot. We all talked about what we would see over in California.
We eventually arrived at JFK International Airport, and unloaded the bus. We
checked in, got through security, and waited for our flight to be ready to board.
Throughout the long process, my friends reassured me that there would be nothing to
Before I knew it, I was on an United Airlines Flight, listening to standard safety
instructions. Our choir was seated in different places, and we were ready to go.
During the presentation, the plane was taxiing to the runway. After the taxi, I
knew what followed. I heard the engines rev up. The sound was awesome! With a
glance out the window, I found that the plane had lifted off. I looked over to Ms.
Clementi, and she said, “Are you good?” I gave thumbs up and started to relax.
But after that part, my fear diminished and I enjoyed the ride.
After a long 6 hour journey, we landed in San Francisco International Airport. I
remember one of my friends mentioning how different of an atmosphere there was
compared to New York.
Our first stop was a famous burger joint that is common in California, InandOut
Burger. We ate, and then left for some sightseeing.
Mark, our bus driver, dropped us off at Pier 39 to see all types of things. The
choir was split into 3 groups, for each of the 3 chaperones. I was in the best group, Ms.
Clementi’s group. For the rest of the afternoon we checked out sea lions, went through
a mirror maze, saw a clear view of Alcatraz Island, watched a snippet of a magic show,
and took pictures along the way. One of the choir members, Michael Bonnah, even
dropped his phone to another level of the pier, and retrieved it unbroken and without a
As the next morning greeted us, we ate breakfast, and prepared ourselves for
what we’d be doing that day. It was the day that we would be visiting Twitter, and
performing at Mission Dolores. We toured all around Twitter, seeing where they had
parties, where they got their food, and where they did their work. The tour concluded
with a presentation and a small performance for some of the employees. After our tour,
we split into groups for sightseeing. We tasted some Ghirardelli Chocolate and tried
California famous Sourdough bread.
After all that, we regrouped to get ready for our
concert that followed. Despite the size of the audience, it was a big achievement to get
people to see children from the South Bronx perform across the country. After our concert,
to show our appreciation for their presence, we the audience personally with
smiles and wished them a nice evening.
The next day, it was Google time, we embarked on a tour led by the employees
there. We were treated to a nice presentation of what Google is and a Q&A Panel with
some of the workers. Following the presentation, we were led to the Visitor Center,
which featured really cool things. The room showcased some of the technology that’s
used with Google Maps and Android devices. After a few moments, we partook in some
delicious Google Food! The selections there were gorgeous! You had everything from
pizza to dessert there. Overall, the experience was great and I know I loved Google.
But on top of all the fun, we still had one stop on that day left, and it was to San
Jose State University. As we arrived, we made our way to their rehearsal hall and heard
the magnificent college voices. It was so beautiful! Mr. Dineen, a Highbridge Voices
Trustee who was accompanying us for most of the trip, agreed with me as he pulled out
his phone and recorded the moment. After the rehearsal, it was time for our workshop.
Dr. Benson gave us useful pointers and advice for Ms. Clementi to use.
Concluding our day, we went to Mr. Woo’s Family’s restaurant, Tao Tao Cafe.
The food there was so different to what we were used to, but it was great!
When daylight greeted us, we checked out of our hotel, and started to travel to
the Marin Headlands.
When we finally arrived at our hostel in the Headlands and put all our luggage
there. We then set out to hike to our 1st destination in the Headlands, the Marine
Mammal Center. There, we had a class in which we dissected a fish and learned about
where their organs are and how the function. A short lunch followed.
But that wasn’t the end, of the day, however. Led by two nature watchers, we
took a hike to a place not on the official map of the park. Along the way to our hiking
destination, we found all sorts of the beauty of nature. After a few pictures, we headed back to the hostel. We thanked our guides when
we arrived, and they left.
At this point, we were waiting for our Cooking Class with author and food activist,
Bryant Terry. While waiting, Ms. Clementi decided to crack one of her “long 20minute”
jokes. It was about this duck who went into a bar, but the bar never had what he
wanted. It was one of the most memorable moments of the tour I believe.
In the cooking class, I learned how to properly hold a knife, and how to avoid
cutting myself. We all chipped in making parts of the meal, and it turned out to be
In the morning that followed, we enjoyed a bit of leisure time before we left to the
airport. Some of us used that time to stay inside the lobby, napping.
At the San Francisco International Airport, we ate a lunch,
and boarded our flight to New York.
At around 12:00 EST, we arrived at Highbridge Voices exhausted at the amount
of spectacular things we got to be part of. And it’s all because of Highbridge Voices.
Surely this experience will stick with me and for the whole choir for years to come.
Read an account of Highbridge Voices’ 2014 tour, by Chamber Choir student, Michael Rondon. More
By Michael Rondon, Jr. Grade 8
On April 13th, 2014, twenty-nine students of the Highbridge Voices Chamber Choir set out on a tour bus ready to see the sights of many different areas, including venues in Houghton, New York and throughout Canada. It was the start of the Chamber Choir 2014 Tour that would last for five days. This tour would enable the choir to eat delicious food, see breathtaking sights, and meet new friends who would sing and share their music with us. The trip promised to be fun for everyone involved. We were all very excited as we set out on that sunny Sunday morning from the South Bronx.
After a long first day on the bus and a good night’s rest in a Microtel Hotel, we rose, put on our polos and khakis, ate a great breakfast and set off for Houghton College. Upon arrival at the venue, we were escorted into the campus’ beautiful recital hall. We then got to sing and share music with The Houghton College Choir. The Chamber Choir was privileged to hear the grown and mature voices of a wonderful group led by choir director Dr. Johnson. After listening, we sang for them to their delight. Eventually, the Chamber Choir got to work with Dr. Johnson, who fine-tuned our voices, offering helpful suggestions to make us sound even better! Five Chamber Choir students—Kiara Perez, River Johnson, Sadia Perez, Kenyette Belle, and Ryan Figueroa—even got to sing solos. We all then got an exclusive tour of the campus, which included a meal in the cafeteria. All in all, it was a great day.
The following day, the choir set off across the northern border. We eventually arrived in Toronto and visited Casa Loma, an old Toronto historical landmark. We performed there and took in the breathtaking scenery and history. After singing, the choir traveled to downtown Toronto where we saw some of the wonderful places in the city. Accomapnied by our adult chaperones Ms. Clementi, Ms. Nikita and Mr. Woo, the choir split up to explore the sights of Toronto. The day concluded with a dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. We ate and celebrated our success so far.
The tour continued the following day with a visit to Westlane Secondary School in the Niagara Falls region of Toronto. We shared music with the students at the school, and even sang a song with the Westlane Singers. After the performance, we took in the awesome natural wonder of Niagara Falls. The Choir also got to experience the “Home of the Revolving Dining Room,” the Skylon Tower. We took pictures and enjoyed all the spectacular scenery. The day continued with lunch at the Skylon, and concluded with our arrival at one of the most famous water-park/hotels in the world, Great Wolf Lodge.
The next morning, the choir celebrated the tour by enjoying all the amusements of the water-park, before finally saying goodbye to a most remarkable place. What a great, fun way to end a tour! Exhausted, we boarded the bus and said goodbye to Canada. As we passed the border back into the United States, it was nice to know that our families would be anxiously awaiting our return to the Bronx. Tour Photos
On March 7, 2013, Highbridge Voices Chamber Choir boarded a plane to sunny Orlando, Florida, where they spent four days making music, learning about college, and having fun. Thirty five members of the choir experienced an unforgettable trip, and they made quite an impact on all those who heard them sing. More
The Chamber Choir left on Thursday from JFK Airport, and landed just three hours later in Orlando. They made their way to their hotel and enjoyed dinner and a good night’s rest—Friday promised to be a big day!
At 5AM on Friday, alarm clocks went off, and the singers woke from what was surely too short a night. They dutifully put on their black gowns and tuxedos, and boarded a bus for the Saratoga Springs Resort, where they would perform at Festival Disney. Waiting in the auditorium was a panel of three expert adjudicators: Dr. Russell Robinson from the University of Florida, Dr. Giselle Elgarrestra Rios from Barry University, and Dr. James Morrow from the University of Texas at Austin. The Chamber Choir performed three pieces: “Ergen Deda”, “O, My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose”, and “Tres Cantos Nativos Dos Indios Krao”. The new Women’s Choir then performed three of their own selections: “Hotaru Koi”, “Seal Lullaby”, and “Jordan’s Angels”. After each performance, the choirs had the opportunity to workshop with one of the judges. The judges gave the choirs very fine compliments and some excellent pointers on how to improve upon what was already very good work.
Even though the singers were tired after their excellent performance, there was no time to rest. They got back on the bus and travelled to the University of Central Florida, where they had some lunch in the student union, and got an extensive campus tour from UCF students. The singers were also introduced to faculty at the UCF School of Business, and enjoyed listening to faculty and students talk about what a real college experience is like. The Highbridge Voices students had thoughtful questions to ask about choosing a major, balancing school and fun, and finding jobs after college.
The last part of the day was a visit to the UCF School of Music, where Dr. Kelly Miller gave them a dynamic choral clinic. She worked them especially hard on “Tres Cantos Nativos dos Indios Krao”, and the students were inspired and motivated by her energy. In just 45 minutes, she explored new ways to perform the piece, including additional choreography and challenging tempo changes. The students had a blast!
After what most of us would consider a packed day, the students got on the bus and went directly to Disney World, where they enjoyed dinner, fireworks, and free time at EPCOT. These students certainly earned a bit of fun at the end of the day, and they made the most of it!
The rest of the weekend was a welcome reward for the months of hard work that led up to Friday’s performances. With Walt Disney World right outside their hotel rooms, the students explored the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios—it was an unforgettable experience. And, at the awards ceremony for the choir festival, the students were not disappointed—scoring SUPERIOR in both Women’s Choir and Mixed Choir categories. What a perfect way to end such a wonderful trip!
The Highbridge Voices Chamber Choir has just returned from their first trip outside the United States. It was a performance tour that included stops in Montreal and Quebec, Canada, and the five days were packed with concerts, a university campus tour and cultural immersion in Canada’s francophone region. More
Our 35 students and staff were on the road by 7:30 AM on April 11th, and arrived for a noontime concert in Albany at the New York State House. It was the perfect pit stop before crossing the border into Canada and continuing on to Montreal. The group arrived at the Marriott Chateau Champlain around 6:30 that evening. The hotel was located downtown and was within walking distance of Old Montreal, the city’s historic center. The city is pedestrian friendly, and as our students walked along the illumined streets to and from their dinner that night, it was the perfect introduction to this historic and beautiful place. Lights out came promptly at 11 p.m. in order to be well rested for the exciting full days ahead.
By 8:30 the next morning, the students were dressed and ready in their concert attire (tuxedos for the men and black velvet performance gowns for the women). They ate a quick breakfast near the hotel and loaded onto the bus for their first concert in Canada.
Under the direction of Ms. Clementi, the students performed an hour-long program at the Basilica of Notre Dame. This gorgeous 19th century church offers iconic twin bell towers, a wonderful acoustic and beautiful architectural detail. The concert featured a set of French Canadian pieces, including the rhythmic and spirited “J’entends le Moulin” by Donald Patriquin. Our students had worked diligently on their French diction, as their audiences in Canada were primarily native French speakers!
After the concert, the students split up into groups to eat lunch in Old Montreal and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the Biodome and Olympic Park. The building was originally constructed for the 1976 Olympics, but now houses live exhibits, recreating the different natural environments found in the Americas, including a rainforest, a polar area and a forest of maple trees. Our students had an amazing time exploring these indoor natural habitats, especially seeing the penguins being fed.
For dinner that night, our students were introduced to a signature dish from Montreal: Poutine at Resto La Banquise. Poutine is a dish made of French fries smothered in brown gravy with cheese curds and sometimes cut up hot dog, bacon or peas added to the mix. The kids loved it, which is not exactly surprising as it is a meal with French fries as its main ingredient!
After dinner the students attended an exciting performance by the modern dance group Compagnie Kafig at the Place des Arts, the city’s performing arts complex, and then it was back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.
Friday, April 13th was another extremely full day that started with a campus tour of McGill University in the morning, followed by a joint concert and exchange with students from the Royal West Academy. The students then loaded the bus for the three-hour drive drive to Quebec City.
Once in Quebec, the group ate dinner together at Les Trois Garçons and checked into their hotel. The students were then given time to enjoy the pool and unwind.
The following day the students were able to relax a bit and explore Quebec. The group took a walking tour of the old part of the city, which is surrounded by fortress walls. The tour included many historic sites, gorgeous architecture and beautiful parks. Quebec really embodied the feeling of a European city, and you could sense the excitement amongst our students as they took in this new atmosphere. Then the students split up into groups for lunch and had some time to explore “old Quebec”.
For the final unique experience of the trip, the group visited the Cabane à Pierre Sugar Shack. Sugar Shacks are huge log cabins located in the middle of maple forests where sap from the trees is harvested and made into the famed Canadian maple syrup! At the Shack the students took a hayride through the farm, learned about the tree tapping process, ate a traditional Quebecois meal, and sampled all sorts of sweets using maple syrups and sugars, a delicious experience for everyone.
After one more evening of fun in the hotel in Quebec, our group loaded onto the bus at 6 a.m. the next morning to return home. The tour was a great success and an incredible experience for our students, full of music making and exposure to the wonderfully rich culture of French speaking Canada.
2012, Washington D.C.
As a member of Highbridge Voices, students are in the unique position to enjoy many opportunities that other children their age don’t. On June 5th, twenty-nine members of the Chamber Choir not only had one of those opportunities, but also one that would likely stay with them the rest of their lives. After hearing the choir in concert earlier this spring, Associate United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor invited the Chamber Choir to perform at the 37th Annual Dinner and Meeting of the Supreme Court Historical Society. More
The Chamber Choir left the Bronx on Sunday afternoon and made their way to Old Town Alexandria where they enjoyed a tour of the area before settling in to their hotel rooms. The next morning, the choir was off to visit their friends at West Potomac High School where they not only listened to the school’s choirs, but performed before enjoying a pizza lunch.
When Monday evening came around, the students dressed in their formal attire for the bus ride to the U.S. Supreme Court building where they performed an entire program, including, “Il est bel est bon”, “ABC”, and “Children Will Listen” in the Great Hall of the court. After the performance, Justice Sotomayor, a Bronx native, turned an amazing experience into an extraordinary one. She escorted the choir into the court’s chambers where the Justice entertained questions about the Court, her job, and the workings of the Judiciary and all other branches of the United States government.
On Tuesday, the choir enjoyed a full day with visits to both the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Memorials and lunch at a Washington, D.C. landmark, Ben’s Chili Bowl. After lunch, it was back on the bus to head for home. Few people have an opportunity like the one Highbridge Voices enjoyed in June. This trip truly showed the youth of the Highbridge community that anything is possible.
It was a chilly morning in the Bronx—the perfect time to get on a bus to head for LaGuardia Aiport, and eventually, Orlando, Florida. For many of the youngsters on this trip, it was their first time traveling without their parents. For several, it was their first time on a plane. Indeed, this would be a trip of many “firsts” for twenty eight members of the Highbridge Voices Chamber Choir. More
After arriving at the Courtyard Marriott in Orlando, students enjoyed a poolside catered lunch from Subway, and made their way to Downtown Disney, where they got just a taste of all the magic that was to come. Students had time to explore DisneyQuest, building their own roller coasters, helping Aladdin navigate the skies on his magic carpet, and taking in some of the sights and sounds of Disney World. Afterwards, they enjoyed dinner at Planet Hollywood and then headed back to the hotel. Friday was going to be a very busy day.
On Friday morning, the choir enjoyed brunch at the hotel and then checked out. They had a big day of music-making ahead of them, and the first stop was the University of Central Florida. Here, UCF students from the Bronx took the students on a campus tour, which included behind-the-scenes looks at dorm rooms, athletic facilities, and the Fine Arts building. Following the campus tour, students were greeted by Dr. Al Holcomb, professor of music. Our students performed “La Borinquena”, “Il est bel et bon” “Sechaba” and “Never Alone” for Dr. Holcomb and his music education students. The choir got some great advice to help them perform well at the upcoming Festival. The UCF music education students also had an opportunity to try out what they had been learning on actual students! It was a learning experience for everyone, and it was a terrific afternoon.
With a busy morning under their belts, the work was not done. The next stop was Meadow Woods Middle School, where Highbridge Voices met with the choir from Meadow Woods, as well as Avalon Middle School and the Boone High School Chorus. It was an afternoon of games, music, and making new friends, as they Chamber Choir performed their music for an audience of their peers. They were adjudicated by choir directors Scott Evans and Courtney Nelson Connelly, and given some much-appreciated pointers to help them prepare for their upcoming competition at Festival Disney.
Between the two performances, an extensive campus tour, and a fun and games with the kids from Orange County Public Schools, it was clear that the Chamber Choir students had worked incredibly hard, and were in need of rest before Saturday’s competition! Tonight, they would be staying at The Disney All-Star Music Resort.
Walking into the All-Star Music Resort was an awesome experience for our students. Two swimming pools (one shaped like a piano!), Donald Duck fountains, giant guitars and cowboy boots, and the smell of orange trees! There was so much to explore, but that would have to wait. Tonight was an early night, because the next morning would come very soon.
At 6:00 the next morning, the wake-up calls came, but many of the students were already awake—not able to sleep from the excitement. The students nervously put on their tuxedos and gowns and waited quietly on the balcony as interns Robert and Foday got the bag breakfasts (the dining hall wasn’t open yet!). The students ate and warmed up on the bus as they traveled five miles to Saratoga Springs Resort, where the Festival and Competition were to take place. With the Chamber Choir first to perform, they had to be on site at 7:30 and ready to sing at 8:00.
Finally, it was time to perform. The lights dimmed in the audience, and the stage lights went from white to reds, yellows, and oranges. A voice came over the loudspeaker to announce “The Highbridge Voices Chamber Choir from Bronx, New York, under the direction of Bruno Casolari and Mary Clementi”. As the choir took the stage, the three judges sat at their seats. They gave a wave, and the music began. It was a terrific performance. Kenyette, Alize, and Robert sang their solos flawlessly. The applause was great, and the adjudicators were very pleased. Dr. Fenton from Florida State University came to the stage to give the choir a 20-minute clinic, during which he gave them much praise and a bit of helpful feedback, too. The choir was smiling and laughing (albeit nervously), and were happy with their performance. They’d have to wait ‘til evening to find out how they did in the Festival. Luckily, they’d have plenty to distract them: next stop? Disney World!
The students enjoyed Disney Hollywood Studios for the afternoon, before heading to the awards ceremony. In the stands were hundreds of students from all over the U.S., all celebrating and cheering one another on as the festival results were announced. The Chamber Choir students went wild when they learned that in their first ever adjudicated festival, they had scored a Superior, the highest possible rating. There was so much to celebrate! The evening was topped off with a visit to the Magic Kingdom.
Throughout the trip, the weather was great, and the students explored Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. From Rockin’ Roller Coaster, to Tower of Terror; PhilharMagic to the flying with Dumbo, the kids had an amazing time. And, they did get to hang out in that piano-shaped pool!
At 2:30 on the morning of April 9th, the Highbridge Voices Chamber Choir departed on their performance tour of Washington, D.C. pausing only briefly on their way south. As the bus made its way to our nation’s capital with these thirty select students from the Highbridge community of the South Bronx, the anticipation was electric. More
It was, however, when these students arrived for their first appointment of the trip, a 9AM tour of The White House generously arranged by the office of Adolfo Carrión, Jr., Director of the White House Office on Urban Affairs and Deputy Assistant to the President and former Bronx Borough President, that things really got exciting. After all, how often does one get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of walking through the home of the President and his family? So with that amazing experience under their belts and a photo shoot in front of the White House to remember it, the tour was well under way.
The choir’s next stop was a visit to the National Mall’s monuments and memorials. The Lincoln Memorial was first and the children were absolutely amazed by its sheer size and the position it holds at the end of the Mall. The students of the choir particularly marveled as they stood on the spot of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech on the memorial steps. Foday Kamara said, “I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to stand here with a huge crowd gathered around. I was really inspired.” Next in the area, the students were off to the war memorials that surround the reflecting pool. So, after a short presentation by our guide and in contrast to the solemnity of the war memorials, the thirty Highbridge students had particular fun climbing on the statue of Albert Einstein which is located just across the street from the National Mall.
Then, after a quick lunch, it was off to George Mason University where the Chamber Choir quickly shifted gears to focus on their singing as they participated in a choral master class facilitated by the noted clinician Dr. Stanley Engebretson, Director of Choral Studies at George Mason University School of Music, Director of Music at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and Artistic Director of the National Philharmonic Chorale. The Chamber Choir had a tremendous experience incorporating Dr. Engebretson’s musical direction and ideas to perform the selections ‘Soave sia il vento’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ from a whole new perspective.
Not long after their first collegiate choral experience, it was back to D.C. This time, they headed to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts where the Chamber Choir enjoyed a concert by the Tamagawa University Taiko Drumming and Dance Troupe followed by dinner at the famed Washington landmark.
The next day was equally exciting for the children. Beginning with a beautiful breakfast buffet in the hotel and the short trip back to the National Mall, the choir broke up into three smaller groups to enjoy the museums of the Smithsonian Institution. Visiting the Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Natural History, the students of Highbridge Voices were amazed by the size, scope, and beauty of the artifacts and pieces of art that they had previously only seen in their text books.
The Chamber Choir left the museums in the afternoon to enjoy a barbeque dinner at Red, Hot, and Blue before singing for the veterans’ of Vinson Hall. The choir offered a program that featured selections from a wide range of musical styles. From opera to the Beatles, the forty-five minute program was warmly received by the full house that was in attendance. After presenting this stirring performance for the veterans and their family members, the singers had the opportunity to visit with their audience. It was a particularly powerful experience for the students to meet these great American heroes and to hear about their unique life experiences. So after an amazing day of performing and learning, the children were eager to enjoy the hotel pool for a few hours on Saturday night before lights out.
On the final morning of the tour, the choir had arguably the most incredible experience of the entire trip. They performed in the worship service of Christ Church, Alexandria; the home church of President George Washington and a worship space visited by all but three sitting US presidents since William Howard Taft. In addition to the stirring historical significance of performing in such an important space, the students were treated to a brief historical talk by a church member after the service and were invited to sit in General Washington’s family pew.
And finally, the choir made a group visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Dressed in their uniforms, the singers watched in solemn silence as the guard was changed at the tomb on the Unknown Soldier and subsequently paid their respects at the grave of President John F. Kennedy.
For these thirty incredibly talented members of the Highbridge Voices Chamber Choir, the 2010 performance tour of Washington, D.C. was an amazing experience. From the White House to the theater at George Mason University; from the National Mall to the auditorium at Vinson Hall, this was not a weekend that these incredibly talented students from the South Bronx will soon forget