by Meg Cohen Ragas

Every three years, the Germantown Friends School Choir goes on a spring tour, sharing its impressive and accomplished repertoire with people in different parts of the country—and around the world. This year, the 40-student choral ensemble, selected by audition from grades 10-12, will travel to Italy for a week of concerts in various cities, including Rome, Florence and Orvieto, and will launch with a kick-off performance on Saturday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m., at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral (23 South 38th Street, Philadelphia).

“A performance tour provides students with the unique opportunity to assume both individual and collective responsibility for performing their best work in varying settings over a period of consecutive days,” said Stephen Kushner, director of the choir, which often collaborates with many of Philadelphia’s leading professional musicians, including the Singing City Choir, members of the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra, and the Yale University Glee Club. “Multiple performances back-to-back—opportunities to create and re-create something of beauty for varying audiences—allow students to deepen their understanding of the music, to develop a sense of mastery as singers, to mature as an ensemble, and to experience the sometimes profound transformation that results from this particular form of musical community. For many, it is a defining experience.”

The program will feature portions of Mozart’s Mass in C-minor and Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass, as well as settings of the poetry of e. e. cummings, Shel Silverstein, Wendell Berry, and Sarah Teasdale by contemporary American composers David Childs, Joshua Shank, Joan Szymko and Kevin Memley. Also included are traditional Kenyan and Zulu folk songs, as well as selections of American Gospel music.

The GFS Choir has a long tradition of travelling nationally and internationally, including concert tours to China, England, Scotland, France, Scandinavia, Canada, Poland, Russia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 2008, the choir toured the southern United States, singing concerts in Atlanta, Birmingham and Memphis, culminating with an extended stay in New Orleans where, in addition to singing a concert, the students participated in a project with Habitat for Humanity, helping to rebuild homes that were destroyed in hurricane Katrina. Recent concert tours have taken the choir to Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.

The GFS Choir will conclude its spring concert tour on Saturday, April 8, with a 7:30 p.m. performance at the Germantown Friends School Meetinghouse (31 West Coulter Street, Philadelphia). Both local concerts are free and open to the public.

Meg Cohen Ragas is Director of Publications, Marketing Projects Manager and Upper School Journalism at Germantown Friends School.