Voices worthy of a European tour

Ellicott City Chorale, made up of teens and adults, is on a 12-day, six-concert journey

June 23, 2006|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

The Ellicott City Chorale gets its rich sound by combining the voices of teenagers from Mount Hebron High School with those of adults from Bethany United Methodist Church.

Now the singers will see what that combination sounds like echoing through some of the largest domed cathedrals in the world - including St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican - during a 12-day, six-concert tour of Austria and Italy that began yesterday.

"Put [the school and church singers] together and you have a solid group," said Patrick Gilbert, 17, of Woodstock. "I think its impressive for a group that only rehearses on Wednesdays to have pulled together so well. ... I cannot wait to hear it in the cathedrals."

Chorale director Christopher Hettenbach is employed as director of the Mount Hebron High School choruses and of the Bethany church choir.

He said he wanted to be clear that the chorale is not affiliated with the school system, but for several years he has invited talented students from the school's madrigals chorus to join singers from the church's chancel choir for performances of challenging works, including Handel's "Messiah."

A year ago, Hettenbach asked the singers if they wanted to plan a trip to Europe.

With the help of a management company, the chorale applied and was accepted to sing at the 5 p.m. Mass June 30 at the Vatican. The company also arranged appearances at Salzburger Dom, in Salzburg, Austria, and the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence, as well as at churches in Venice, Rome and Pisa.

The group's repertoire includes classical sacred music, Hettenbach said, because "that is some of the highest-quality music that is available to choirs."

The group also sings several spirituals and, at more casual venues, performs a couple of American folk songs, including "Dixie" and "Shenandoah."

The chorale also is going to be celebrating Mozart's 200th birthday by exploring sites in Salzburg and by singing "Ave Verum," a choral piece by the composer.

Hettenbach said he has been working on the music with his high school students and his church choir for several months in addition to regular rehearsals of the full group.

Amid the planning and the packing, some singers said the music - sung mostly a cappella and often in Latin - is the easy part.

"I've been singing this music for a long time," said James Krasnansky, 16, of Ellicott City, who starting taking music lessons as child.

Krasnansky said that when he heard the group would be singing at several prominent venues and visiting historic sites in Rome, "I started screaming, then I did some skipping and I attempted a cartwheel."

Julene Crooks of Elkridge, a retired assistant to the Howard County School Board, said, "I've always wanted to sing in the great cathedrals, and this is a good time to do it."

She said the choir is "unique because of the wide range of age. For me, it's great to sing with the young people. They've been a joy to be with. They have so much life in them, and it's just fun to watch them."

Hettenbach said it is also nice for the younger singers to perform alongside older adults - including a few senior citizens.

"They get to stand next to someone who has been singing their whole life," he said. "[The adults] show their love of music."

Hettenbach said that after the trip, he hopes the singers will remember "how glorious it was to sing in some of those basilicas, and close their eyes and remember what they saw. ... For many it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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