Over spring break, the Gill St. Bernard’s upper school choir and Blue in the Face ensemble took their talents on the road as part of the WorldStrides Heritage Festival.
Twenty GSB performers joined faculty members David Southerland, Amy Southerland, and Macada Brandl for a four-day tour as part pf the WorldStrides Heritage Festival in Washington D.C. This marks the first time the choir has returned to D.C. since 2009 and a flagship bonding opportunity for GSB students, many of whom have been performing with Amy and David Southerland since they were in the 1st grade.
"I've been working with the Southerlands for over ten years," said Caroline D'Arcangelis '24.
"To be able to show their directing talent and our voices to people outside of the Gill St. Bernard's community is like a dream. I am so grateful to have been a part of it."
The festival, which features top choirs from across the country, aims to provide students with the opportunity to perform and compete on stage while exploring U.S. landmarks and learning about our nation’s musical and cultural histories.
As part of their time in D.C., students took a monument tour around the Tidal Basin where they were able to see Washington D.C.’s famous cherry blossoms in peak bloom. Later, students attended two performances -- National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center and Pacific Overtures at the Tony Award winning regional theater, Signature Theater Company. After the Pacific Overtures show, students were able to spend time with cast members for a meet and greet and photos.
"This trip was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had," commented James Schadt '23. "Watching “Pacific Overtures” and Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto was genuinely life changing. Getting to share these memories with my choir friends is something I will cherish forever."
The festival was capped off by a lively awards banquet where the group had the chance to walk the red carpet and show off their dance moves at the reception. Both the Upper School Choir and Blue in The Face placed in the top tier “Gold” level for their festival performances.
“Getting the chance to perform at the national stage is incredible – not just because we enjoy it, but because the more we do it, the stronger we get,” commented Mr. Southerland.
“At the festival, we receive scores and comments from 3 professional adjudicators and immediately following each group's performance, one of the adjudicators does a short clinic with the choir. Those clinics and comments are tremendously constructive and educational. I could tell by our rehearsal later that afternoon that we were already a better choir. That was extremely exciting!”
In addition to their festival feats, the group also hosted a heartwarming performance at a senior living facility in Arlington, VA, as well as another concert in the Shenandoah Valley.
"The most memorable part of this for me has been singing at the senior home," said D'Arcangelis. "Seeing people light up when we sing is the thing that really fulfills me the most. It's great to know you've brought joy into someone's life, even if it's only for a minute or two."
While their itinerary was jam packed, Mr. Southerland believes it was one that the group cherish for a long time.
“It was amazing to see the growth, their leadership and their camaraderie,” said Southerland. “Even though we were all exhausted after four very busy days, the bus ride home was filled with laughter and singing the whole way.”