Salutamu! The Smith Alumnae Chorus in Sicily

The Smith Alumnae Chorus, comprised of alumnae from the classes of 1947–2012 and current students, is traveling in Sicily for 10 days, June 17–26, 2011, and singing four concerts of Mozart’s Requiem with a Sicilian orchestra and men’s choir. With spouses and friends a total of 67 will be on the tour, which was organized by Emily Spura ’03, Katherine Chaffee ’05, and Eliza Zingesser ’05. Jonathan Hirsh, senior lecturer in music at Smith, is directing. This blog, written by various members of the chorus, will provide a detailed look at their Sicilian adventure and performances.
June 18
Ciao! We have arrived at last in Palermo, mostly whole and healthy. Due to some very spectacular thunder (and hail) storms over JFK, five members of our choir were stranded in the States for another day, but we look forward to seeing them tomorrow. The view of Sicily as we flew in was lovely, all craggy cliffs and beaches and volcanic rock, and we are eagerly looking forward to our excursion to Mt. Etna later in the week! Our tour guide Luigi picked us up on the double-decker bus which will be our mobile home for the next week, and we got to know each other and settle in to our hotel before dinner. The welcome dinner was truly lovely, in a hidden outdoor terrace with candles and fountains and a large oak spread over us! Not to mention, of course, the delicious food. We celebrated the birthday of Maeve Montalvo '06  a day late, to make up for the fact that she spent her actual birthday on a plane! Tonight now holds nothing more than a well-deserved rest, and preparation for a busy day and our first rehearsal tomorrow. Stay tuned!
-Emily Spura '03


June 19
"It's about the Journey – Not the Arrival." We arrived. Sadly a few bags did not. Other than that: the scenery is spectacular; We boarded our luxury double-decker bus to the hotel and then off to an open air dinner under the stars. What a fabulous way to start the tour. The highlight of Sunday was a pilgrimage to Monreale–the largest collection of mosaic in the world. Over 800 kg in gold, a breath-taking snapshot of the Greek, Roman and Byzantine influences on Sicilian culture, not to be outdone by the ancient pictorial portrayal of both old and new testaments. The cathedral was surrounded by a colourful array of market stands, souvenir shops, espresso and pastry bars.


On to lunch by the sea–the Sicilian way–a multi-course sampling of regional cuisine, and oh yes, a little wine too, and champagne.


The evening held our first rehearsal and in the Smith tradition we will pull together and render the Mozart with all due joy and reverance. Dinner on our own (with a little wine!)


Monday is a new day, and now we are off to Agrigento!
-Lynn Milliner '81



June 20
Picture some 67 or so Smithies of all ages and a few spouses at breakfast, eating sliced fruit, mozzarella cheese, yogurt and coffee cakes, and then poof! they quickly finish, disappear & reappear two minutes later with suitcases and hats! We're heading to the double-decker bus ready to drive us to Agrigento, site of the Valley of the Temples. The landscape as we drive is sun-scorched and full of olive, lemon & orange trees, farm animals and a brilliant blue sky.


Arriving at Agrigento, we disembark at what is both an Italian national park and a UNESCO world heritage site. Our week-long tour guide Luigi introduces us to our Agrigento tour guides and off we go to see magnificent temples built more than 2,500 years ago by the Greeks. Not reproductions, not excavated, these huge temples are golden yellow in colour and incredibly massive. Our tour guide (also named Luigi!) tells the group about the temple of Hera (Juno), Concordia (Temple of Peace) and one that has had restoration work done on it, Herakles. As we walk from temple to temple, a nice breeze blows across our faces as we soak in the beauty of classical architecture, olive trees and bougainvilla. A last look at the stone columns and we are off for a lunch of pizza and salad at Villa Kephos.


On the bus to Catania, we rest a bit and our voices are heard tentatively practicing our two short pieces ("This Little Light of Mine" and "An Irish Blessing") which we kind of failed at last night. Jonathan's only comment was "Practice this!" so we do so, very guiltily.


Now our three Fearless Leaders are resting–they are just amazing. Always cheerful, Eliza, Emily and Kate run everything with efficiency and calmness. They dealt with lost luggage, people who arrived on the tour late, physical capabilities at both ends of the spectrum and in between, scheduling changes–amazing women. But these are Smith women after all–I shouldn't be surprised! We do lots of chatting across generations, finding out interesting jobs and families and other trips. Sort of like a Smith reunion except that we started out mostly strangers–but singing strangers are special.


On our way to Catania and our new hotel and new rehearsal space, we see our first view of Mt. Etna–very impressive, the highest active volcano in Europe.


In our new hotel–it is old but clean and modernized. But we only have time to dump our suitcases, eat a quick buffet dinner of delicious rice, pasta and vegetables (even pastries for dessert!) then whoosh! out to the bus and off to the church for rehearsal with the men. Wow–the Chiesa Saint Teresa is beautiful, with amazing acoustics. The men from the Coro ad Dei Laudem are sounding fantastic and so are we. Jonathan speaks in both English and Italian to the singers–and amazing musical director.


And then back to the hotel and so off to bed!
-Kate (Silber) de Riel