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Chorale brings down the house in Lloret de Mar

Barry McNamara
Director Tim Pahel and the Monmouth College Chorale receive a plaque from the city during their concert in Lloret de Mar.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Tim Pahel, director of the Monmouth College Chorale, tweaked that old adage slightly during his ensemble’s overseas trip at the end of May. When in the Catalan region of Spain, he had the Chorale sing what the Catalans would, and the result was a powerful, emotional experience for the audience and for his students.

“We gave four performances, and the third one was in Lloret de Mar, which is about an hour away from Barcelona,” said Pahel. “We sang in front of a full house of about 400 people in an old, beautiful church. The crowd was very enthusiastic, and we got three standing ovations.”

Pahel said he’d been told by longtime Knox College professor Jorge Prats, who was also part of the trip, that “If we learn a song in Catalan and sing it, the audience will get really excited, because they have such a strong attachment to their culture.”

Reported Pahel, “They had a great reaction. They leapt to their feet at the end of the song. As I looked at our students for the last two songs, about half of them were crying.”

Mary Schuch, a May graduate from Woodstock, tried to elaborate.

“I can’t even begin to explain how moving it was to perform for that audience. The people were so warm and welcoming, and it was obvious they enjoyed our music. Jorge told us they would love the song ‘L’emporda,’ but until then we had been performing for mixed groups of tourists and Catalans. But this post-mass performance was packed and the energy was indescribable. The Catalan people are so proud of their culture. ‘L’emporda’ certainly became our anthem for the trip.”

Schuch was one of 34 Chorale members on the trip. Other Monmouth faculty members who traveled were music lecturer Carolyn Suda, who directed the nine-person orchestra, and assistant professor of modern foreign languages Michael Harrison, who served as a tour guide and even joined the Chorale in their performances.

“We met some wonderful new friends that played in the orchestra,” said Chorale member Adam Ruble, a freshman from Pittsfield. “And Michael Harrison was a wonderful help. He was obviously very knowledgeable about Spain and was a wonderful addition to the tenor section.”

Harrison, who met with the participating students over the course of three class sessions prior to departure, said, “For me, the highlight of the trip was seeing so many students fall in love with Spain. This was my first experience traveling to Spain with students and my first opportunity to share my love for Spanish culture with them in-country. To see them awestruck at the natural and human-made beauty around every corner thrilled me, and it inspired me to seek out as many opportunities as I can to share even more of Spain with students in the future.”

Pahel echoed those sentiments.

“I’m thrilled that the students had an incredible time,” he said. “That’s why I pushed for this trip. And that third concert really brought it all together and made it feel connected. We were performing for people who loved the music so much, and to see it really touch people was very gratifying.”

“I enjoyed the beautiful venues in which we sang,” said Ruble. “Hearing the sounds reverberate for five or 10 seconds in those beautiful, ancient churches was really motivating. I think that the choir sounded great because we were in such beautiful settings. … One of the best aspects of the trip was the people that we shared the experience with. They were all so motivated to learn about a new place and to produce beautiful music together.”

Pahel said the students took some guided tours, but they also had opportunities to explore on their own.

“One memory that stands out is the day we went to Montserrat,” added Schuch. “Despite being entirely unprepared with the amount of belongings we were lugging around and improper footwear, a few friends and I decided in the last hour to charge up to Creu de Sant Miquel. In our rush up the hill, we noticed a sign for something in another direction, but passed it up. We realized about a hundred yards later that it was the cross we had been searching for. Of course by the time we got up there, we only had a few minutes to look out over the valley and monastery, but it was definitely worth the uphill trek.”

Pahel said the students also enjoyed the Gaudi architecture they saw, including a basilica in Barcelona – Sagrade Familia – which has been under construction for decades and features an interesting collection of “strange and unusual shapes.”

The Monmouth contingent benefited from the involvement of Prats, who had developed many contacts in the region through academic and personal trips to Spain. Schuch said his presence even had a deeper meaning, noting, “He taught me that it’s possible to love someone from Knox.”

That Monmouth-Knox relationship will be strengthened during the Chorale’s next big trip, a spring break journey next March to New York City, where the group will perform in Carnegie Hall, along with members of Knox College’s choir and the Galesburg Community Chorus, which Pahel also directs.