Preface to today's post.....Last night we arrived at our Assisi hotel to find the lost luggage of the last 7 people from or group to arrive in Italy. You can't imagine how happy everyone was for them. Now multiply that by 1000 and you'll know how happy they were to see their stuff!
Imagine a 16 or 17 year old on spring break getting a wakeup call from one of their teachers every day at 6:00 am. Now imagine that same teenager being told they could sleep until 8:30. Now you might know how cheerful the kids were at breakfast today!
We had so much time today that we could organize a running group. They met at 7:30 in the lobby and went out into the Umbrian sunrise for about 3 miles. Notice in the picture that there are two male adults and the rest are women. I would love to see the guys' spring coaches at the first practice back, when they are sucking wind.
We were well rested when we loaded up to take the short 7 minute drive into Assisi, the home of St. Francis. Much like Siena yesterday, Assisi is high on a hill. The difference is that Assisi is long and narrow, so you can see the Spectacular views of the valley at the end of many of the streets,
The coaches dropped us off a bit below the Basilica of St. Francis, where our tour of this indescribable gem of a city began, We unloaded and got our whisper systems, but instead of meeting normal local guides, we were met by 5 priests from the church to give us our tours. They were the true experts about this special place. (forshadowing...our formal concert tonight is in this basilica)
You will have to google St. Francis if you don't know his story.. It is 12:43 am and I have to check in the kids at breakfast, so I don't have enough time to write it out. Just know, he is a world-changing human being.
He died in 1226 and was Sainted so quickly they began building his basilica in 1228. It is a truly remarkable structure. It has three levels. The lowest one is where the tomb of St. Francis lies. Above that is a large cross-shaped church. On top of that is another full size church the same shape with incredible high arched ceilings. The interior has priceless Frescoes on every inch of every wall. They tell the entire story of St. Francis and are a real sight to behold.
When we finished our time with the priests, we reconvened outside and had a group picture (I was in it so I can't post it), and then walked up a thigh-burn inducing hill to the square in the center of the city. From there we had free time to eat lunch and explore. It was so fun to watch the sea of blue trip jackets disperse in all directions in search of their next story. Heather and I walked around and found our favorite Olive Wood store from the Italy choir trip 6 years ago and bought a few pieces of this intricately grained wood. Then we went to a cafe right on the square where I had a delicious gnocchi with red wine sauce. It's a good thing that according to my Fitbit, I put in 27,024 steps today. Otherwise, the way I've been eating, I'd have to conduct from a chair!
When we met back up at the square, or course we had to do a flash-mob. We sang "Non Capisco Niente" much to the crowd's delight.
The next visit was on the other end of town at the Basilica of St .Clare. She was a follower of St, Francis. Her family was wealthy and forbid her to follow her calling to the church, so she ran away from home. Another neat story you should look up. This church used to have frescoes on the walls, but was used as a hospital and all the frescoes were scraped off because it was thought they would disturb the patients who had to look around at them. So it is a very plain looking church. St, Clare's body is interred intact in the lower area and was covered with wax to keep it from deteriorating.
When we left the church, we walked out of the city to our coaches and took a short ride to the Church of the Angels on the outskirts of town. This is the area where the outcasts of society lived. St. Francis went and lived among them and made his home there for quite a while. He wanted to die there, but was taken into the heart of Assisi because the
people in power wanted to have the basilica there. Later, his heart was taken to the outskirts and they built a huge basilica on the site of a small old chapel he had built there.
After our tours, we went back to the hotel, quickly changed into our concert attire, ate dinner at the hotel and boarded up again to go perform our concert in St. Francis Basilica.
I can't begin to describe what it meant to have the opportunity to conduct my students in that sacred space. After we warmed up and got our bearings and positions, I huddled the students around me and told them that I hoped they realized what a significant place this was to sing and that we wanted to honor this place with our music. I can assure you we did just that. With the combination of the beauty of the space, the beauty of the acoustic, and the beauty of our kids performance, I can tell you it was one of the top 5 musical experiences of my career! When we cut off the last note of the school song after singing a wonderful a cappella concert, I looked around and the students were crying and hugging each other. These young people hear me go on and on about the power that music has to change you, but I think many of them may just start to believe me now after being somehow transported by this experience!
After the concert, we went right back to the hotel, went straight up to our rooms, and packed to move to Rome tomorrow. If we keep making every day better than the last, these old bones may not be able to handle the excitement!
My heart is genuinely swollen with pride for the students.
I'll leave you with this anecdote from today:
Some of our parents met a local man in a restaurant at lunch today and invited him to the concert, not thinking he would actually come. When they got to the church they looked over and there he was, After the concert, he told them it was the finest concert he had ever heard in that church! #Lancerproud
It's now 1:58 but I couldn't stop writing.