When the Edgartown Federated Church choir sang their first notes at a church service in Padua, Italy on April 15, they heard something they don’t usually hear on the Vineyard — their own voices reverberating back to them along the endless walls and high ceilings of the Basilica, sometimes for as long as eight seconds.
The choir was performing in St. Anthony’s Basilica in Padua, Italy, in front of a crowd of 1,000, as part of their ten-day tour of Northern Italy.
The choir, accompanied by several guest singers from the Community Chorus and a few spouses, went on tour from April 11 through 21, and sang as part of Catholic mass services in four cities. This Sunday, the traveling choir performs a concert for their home crowd at the Federated Church in Edgartown, beginning at 11:30 a.m., following the worship service.
“We were humbled that we were permitted to do what we did,” said Kris Vrooman, an alto in the church choir and the Community Chorus. “Being in St. Anthony’s was like being in heaven.”
The priest at the basilica gave the group a tour of the entire church and grounds, which dwarf just about every church on the Vineyard, combined.
“It was hard to wrap our heads around the age of these places,” Ms. Vrooman added. No structures in America are half as old. And the chanting Gregorian monks in the courtyard were like characters out of another world, she said.
“We were in the heart of the birthplace of Western music,” said choir and Community Chorus director Peter Boak. This was Mr. Boak’s fifth European singing tour, but he had never brought a choir to Italy, where the language of sheet music was born.
“This was a new experience for almost everyone,” said choir member James Butterick. “A few people had visited Florence, but no one had sang in massive stone church buildings.”
The choir did not have a chance to practice under these conditions, either.
“Peter was able to handle all the challenges,” said Mr. Butterick. “He’s a great guy to sing for. He’s a great director.”
Mrs. Vrooman agreed. “He’s truly a nice person. Fun to be around. Great stories. He lightens the mood and has patience.”
Much of the music for the trip came from strict guidelines. Catholic churches wanted to hear specific songs of worship, and songs in Latin, but whenever possible, Mr. Boak included a taste of America.
“I like to take examples over to Europe of what church music is like in America,” he said. “They don’t usually hear spirituals or gospel music, and those are received very well.”
Garrett Brown accompanied as organist and Mr. Butterick said that the entire choir was “awestruck” at Mr. Brown’s flexibility as a musician, and ability to adjust to different organs in a matter of seconds.
“The choir always sounds great,” said Mr. Boak, “but they were particularly tight on the trip.”