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TRIP TO ITALY The choir of Sacred Heart School, Palm Desert, is preparing for a trip to Italy that will take place this December to sing at various locations, including the Vatican. LEFT: The current school choir is shown. RIGHT: The school has done a similar trip once before, in December 2019. The 2019 choir is seen inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

By Anneliese Esparza
Managing Editor

In 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, students in the children’s choir of Sacred Heart School, Palm Desert, went on their first ever trip to Italy to sing at the Vatican. Four years later, on Dec. 26, 2023-Jan. 2, 2024, the school will be bringing back this unique experience for students.

The original 2019 trip was the brainchild of Sacred Heart’s music teacher/choir director Elena Pineda, who has been teaching at the school for 22 years. “I wanted [the students] to go to Italy ... to give them an experience of helping them get closer to their faith by going to the Vatican. And more than just going to the Vatican, being able to sing for Mass there. That’s something that not many children can say that they’ve done in their lives ... it’s something that they’ll hopefully take away with them for the rest of their lives,” said Pineda.

“Having [students] sing for God and having them learn to use their emotions in their singing ... it’s very rewarding,” she added.

The choir will be singing as part of the American Celebration of Music in Italy, organized by Music Celebrations International, which is a group that coordinates travel and performance opportunities for musical groups. They will sing first at St. Peter’s Basilica for a Mass on Thursday, Dec. 28, before continuing on to visit the towns of Siena and Montecatini Terme. Finally, they will perform a pair of concerts, one at the Basilica di Santo Spirito in Florence and the other at the Church of the Pietà – St. Mary of the Visitation in Venice.

The choir is made up of 32 students in fourth through eighth grade. Including teachers and family members who will be accompanying the children, a total of 134 individuals will be going on the trip.

For the 2019 trip as well as for this year’s trip, the choir was required to submit an audition tape before being approved to sing at the Vatican. Pineda says the students worked hard to prepare for the audition, and thankfully their hard work paid off when they received the invitation to sing.

At the Vatican, the students will be singing four sacred songs suitable for the Christmas season, since they will be singing a few days after Christmas. They are required to prepare eight songs and will not know until shortly before the Mass which songs they will be asked to sing. And not only that – the students will also have to memorize all verses of all eight songs. To give them enough time to prepare, the students have been rehearsing since January of this year.

For the concerts in Florence and Venice, the choir will be performing some hymns but also some secular quintessential American songs, such as some music from the film Sister Act and a medley of songs from the 50s.

Students expressed how much they enjoyed being in the choir as well as their excitement for the upcoming trip.
“I like choir because it’s a nice way to be more close to God, and a lot of people in the choir are really nice. And I’m really excited for this trip because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing at that many places,” said Paulina Luna, a sixth grader at Sacred Heart.

Another student, fifth grader Elyse Hendrix, agreed. “I like choir because the community in it is such a great thing, because everyone is so nice and welcoming. And like Paulina said, you get to express your love for God when you’re singing at Mass.  

“[The trip] is something that we’re going to carry on with us for the rest of our lives,” she added.

Pineda said while the students that attended the 2019 trip have gone on to high school, some of them have come back to visit and have expressed how much the trip meant to them.

“They’ve told me how much of an impact it made on them. And especially since the world was hit with COVID afterwards ... they told me that it really helped them get through all that hard time, because they had such great memories to fall back on,” said Pineda.

“I’m hoping for the same kind of reaction for these kids, and I think it’s going to be really exciting,” she said.

Costs for the trip will be covered by parents and by extensive fundraising that the school is already working on and plans to continue for the next several months. They have been selling See’s Candy after Masses and desserts at the parish’s Friday Lenten dinners. Additionally, they will hold a benefit dinner at Cork & Fork restaurant in Indio on May 3. It will be a six-course Italian dinner with wine pairings for each course. Tickets for the event are $200, with 55 percent of every ticket going towards funding the trip.

“We’re working hard; we have a big goal, but we’re working towards it. We’ve seen some good support from the community,” said Kari Middleton Hendrix, Elyse’s mother, who is coordinating the fundraising efforts.

Middleton Hendrix said that they hope to do a couple more main fundraising events in the coming months, such as possibly a welcome back wine event around the time that school starts up again after the summer.

To buy tickets to the Cork & Fork event, go to bit.ly/42xI83W. To donate to their GoFundMe, visit bit.ly/3FCHb0E.