Student-Singers Venture to Italy in First Trip of Its Kind

March 03, 2017

Through some creativity and careful planning, a singing group including 12 undergraduate students from University Campus will tour parts of Italy and perform for audiences in Rome, Milan, and Florence during Spring Break in March.

Students practicing for their Italy tour

Student singers have ventured off campus for local community engagements before, but this is the first time Europe has been a performance destination. Sophomore Rosemary Luycx and her family are joyous about the experience she anticipates. “I’ll be able to say that I have been on tour, performing, in Italy. Not many people can say that!”

Dr. Cynthia Selph, the assistant professor of music steering the trip, worked with an educational tour company to plot the itinerary and select the churches that are the performance venues. But the trip has been Dr. Selph’s vision since 2010 when she joined Saint Leo, and specifically, the Department of Language Studies and the Arts within the School of Arts and Sciences.

She typically works with students from across many different majors at University Campus. Several options are open to the musically inclined at Saint Leo. Not only can undergraduates minor in music, or in music ministry, but they can also opt to enroll in singing groups or instrument ensembles for elective academic credits.

Experience shows that through music courses, students make new friends, become better-rounded individuals, and gain poise and performance skills that are useful in all walks of life. The students in the new Saint Leo Singers International group are majoring in fields including hospitality, biology, management, education, and psychology.  

Rosemary Luycx, for instance, has enjoyed devoting more time to choral singing since coming to Saint Leo. She is majoring in English with a theatre specialization, and is minoring in education. Singing is a great bonus for her. “I’ve improved so much, and going to Italy is going to be a great way to celebrate it.” 

Though this music trip is new, there are lots of academic precedents for international travel through Saint Leo. Study abroad programs are available for a semester or even a year, but some students cannot afford the extra expense, or the time away from campus-based courses in their majors.

So faculty within the School of Arts and Sciences have developed several study-tours that are linked to semester-long courses, and that concentrate all the travel during a weeklong break for Thanksgiving in fall semester, or during the weeklong vacation that follows midterms in the spring. Various literature and arts courses have been to Britain, for instance, and military history courses have visited spots that were pivotal for the Western Allies in World Wars I and II.

The Music Program just needed some time to develop a sufficient pool of interested students. Dr. Selph was certain what the first destination should be. “The most appropriate one, since we are a Catholic university, I thought, was Italy.”

two males practicing for the Italy tour

The group will be performing a program called “The Many Faces of Love,” with several selections of sacred music that celebrate God’s love. Dr. Selph is acting as choral director, and a musician from the University Ministry department, Dr. Jonathan Hehn, is traveling along to provide piano accompaniment. 

The students will have the chance to tour the Vatican while they are in Rome, and various other sites during their multi-stop tour.    

If students have questions about the visual masterpieces around them, they will be able to turn to another faculty member on the trip, Jennifer “Megan” Orendorf, an instructor for humanities (as well as events administrator for the School of Arts and Sciences), who studied in Italy during her graduate education. She is fluent in the language.

Three singers from the faculty-staff chorus are also coming along as performers, and one mother opted to join the tour as well.

Eventually, Dr. Selph would like to offer music study tours every other year. That would allow

incoming students one or two opportunities to go abroad as singers during their undergraduate

careers. Developing financial support to help defray costs and allow more students to travel

is another goal, she said. For this trip, a donor contributed the funds for Dr. Hehn to travel and serve as accompanist/chaperone.

Before their departure, the Saint Leo International Singers will treat the University Campus community and neighbors to the selections they will perform in Italy. Canta Italia! will be presented Wednesday, March 8, at 7 p.m., in the Saint Leo Abbey Church, near the center of  University Campus. In addition to sacred music, the program features selections expressing love for family, romantic love, and love for humanity. Some campus musicians who are not traveling will also be featured during the 60-minute program. The public is invited. Admission is free. Suggested donations of $10 will go to support the growing Music Program.

The university is grateful to the Benedictine Monks of Saint Leo Abbey for hosting this performance, and to Richard Behnke for his financial gift in support of the tour.

For more information or assistance, contact Megan Orendorf at the School of Arts and Sciences at (352) 588-8401 or Jennifer.orendorf@saintleo.edu.