This summer — five centuries after Claudio Monteverdi became music director at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice — 59 high school students from San Antonio performed one of his pieces in the very building where he composed it.
Standing on the marble floors under the mosaic-covered, domed ceiling, parents and other visitors could hear members of the Reagan High School perform Monteverdi’s Adoramus Te, Christe.
Mary Lantz is a soprano and a rising senior in the choir. Even before the trip, she held a deep appreciation for Monteverdi’s work. “It did give me a new perspective, though, of how music lasts through the ages,” Lantz said. “It was almost five centuries. And just how it lasts through time and that we’re performing it now — I think that’s awesome.”
The 10-day tour took the Reagan choral students to two other Italian cities. They travelled first to Rome, where they performed at the Vatican. After Rome, they travelled to Florence to compete in the Leonardo Da Vinci International Choral Festival. The festival featured groups from Spain, China, Denmark and several other countries competing in nine competitive categories.
The Reagan choir won the top prize for the Youth and University category.
But Mary Cowart, the head director of Reagan’s choral program, went into the competition hoping her students would do more than just win.
“We wanted our students to have that opportunity to see what these kids are like from other countries,” said Cowart. “You know, music is a great unifying medium.”
The top placement in the youth and university category qualified Reagan to compete in the Grand Prix, which featured the top placing groups from all nine categories. Each group performed two pieces for the judges and eagerly awaited the results.
The judges announced the results in ascending order. After the third place was announced, Ronald Reagan High School and California’s Davis High School were the two remaining groups. Whichever school was not announced as second place would receive the top prize.
“They brought the directors up and they were like, ‘We’re so happy for both of y’all. It was a really tough decision,’ and then they said, ‘Reagan is second place,’” Lantz said.
Nathan Napoli is a tenor and a rising senior. He was satisfied with second place, but the judge wasn’t finished with his announcement.
“When they won I was like, ‘Hey, we came in second but that’s still really, really good,’” Napoli said. “And then I was just talking with some friends and all of a sudden [Tim Sharp] said something about, ‘Sorry I made a mistake.’”
Tim Sharp, one of the festival judges, announced that Davis High School was actually second place.
“Reagan choir was the winner,” Napoli said.
“And all of us just started screaming,” Lantz said. “We were the biggest choir so 60 people screaming, the parents screaming too.”
“Jumping up and down, hugging each other, crazy, crying, screaming — all that,” Napoli said.
The Reagan High School choir was one of three groups representing the United States and was the only group representing Texas.
Editor's note: The broadcast version of this piece stated the incorrect creator of the work performed by the Reagan Choir at St. Mark's Basilica. The choir performed Adoramus Te, Christe — a piece composed by Claudio Monteverdi.
Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org