By Adriaan Witol
On Friday, March 7, 2014 at 11:00 am, while other Lisgar students slept calmly late into the afternoon on their day off, 71 musicians and 7 chaperones congregated at check-in at the Ottawa International Airport. After a short Ottawa-Toronto hop, the seven hours in the air from Toronto to Frankfurt were brutal and, for most students, largely sleepless.
Lufthansa Airlines brightened everyone’s very long day on the flight from Frankfurt to Milan with a breakfast as adorable as it was delicious. Upon arrival at the airport and transfer to coach buses, most of the exhausted group slept through the ride to downtown Milan. The first of many tours was lovely and impressive, featuring majestic sights such as the Duomo Cathedral and interesting history behind the golden Galleria. The next stop was Cremona and a particular treat for the string players in the audience; Cremona is home to the Stradivarian Museum and a number of beautiful instruments that are hundreds of years old, in keeping with the city’s long tradition of violin-making.
Despite nowhere near enough sleep occurring, energy was high for the day in Venice. Probably the most valuable piece of advice navigating the crowded city of narrow streets came from a tour guide: push gently, like a bulldozer. After a two hour tour of both Venice’s most iconic sights and its lesser-known treasures, students were released in groups with five hours to explore Venice. That evening, after a quick post-supper race against Mr. Arrigo, the group gathered on a bridge to wait for the concert at the Doge’s Palace and witnessed a proposal in the gondola floating down the canal below. The happy couple received a loud cheer from all. It was a pleasant start to an excellent concert, comprised of a Mozart Divertimento and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Day 4 began in Padova, passed through Bologna for a charming tour and Lucca for some musical tourism of the Puccini museum, and ended in Montecatini Terme. The next day moved on to Florence, where the AP History students on the trip got the chance to relive their glory days by the ornate Duomo. In the afternoon, students visited the Uffizi, one of the world’s greatest art museums. Whether you were eating the world’s best pasta or drinking Gucci coffee, a good time was had by all during free time in Florence.
The buses stopped in San Gimignano for lunch on day 6. San Gimignano is a small and very beautiful town in Tuscany which has several lovely outdoor markets and stunning surroundings. There is, of course, an equally stunning group picture from that stop. Before ending the day in Arezzo, the students and chaperones enjoyed a tour of Siena’s highlights and history. That evening they held an open rehearsal at the Etrusco Palaca Hotel, which was not the least-attended concert Lisgar has ever held on an international tour with an audience of six.
The second and third performances of the trip took place on Day 7. The group departed for Cortona and enjoyed an unusually vertical tour of the old town, built on the hillside enclosing a valley. The Senior Orchestra and String Ensemble performed very well in the lavish Signorelli Theatre for the students of the Liceo in Cortona, the theoretical pen pals of the musicians. Afterwards the weary travellers received some much-needed downtime to prepare themselves for the exceptional evening ahead.
The third and final concert of the Italy tour took place in the Church of San Domenico. Despite a small mishap involving Mrs. Mennill’s bus breaking down, the concert was set
up early and the performers had a bit of wait before the audience arrived. Although the concert time had been moved fifteen minutes later, the audience did eventually arrive and the entire church was filled. With only slightly frozen fingers, the orchestra went first. They performed admirably and set the bar very high for the Wind Ensemble. Of course, they met that bar with gusto. The concert was a rousing success and the performers were treated to gelato afterwards for their work.
The next day the buses set out again, this time for Rome. The first day was a tour of historical Rome: this was the chance for the graduates of the Latin program to shine, and many excited squeals and group selfies with Titus’s Gate occurred. The second day was dedicated to religious Rome, namely the Vatican, and time to explore Rome in groups. At supper that evening, the last supper, several heartfelt speeches were made and everyone felt a little bit closer. This was important, because everyone was about to be a little bit closer on the next three flights to get home.
The Italy tour was blessed with ten days of perfect weather. Everyone involved can now differentiate between Renaissance and Gothic architecture. Everyone learned that when one is highly sleep- and Wi-Fi-deprived, the majesty of the umpteenth enormous, ancient church can be somewhat lost. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that everyone made new friends, learned new things, and came back a different musician.