Dean Mullenix Reflects on Visiting Rome with the Glee Club

Glee Club takes bows after a concert cathedral in Rome

College of Creative Arts Dean Liz Mullenix reflects on her recent trip to Rome with the Miami University Men's Glee Club.

Liz MullenixIn my recent trip to Italy to accompany the Miami Men’s Glee Club on part of their Italian tour, I witnessed some incredible moments.

My experience with them began in Assisi. Roughly 70 members of the Club and their Director Jeremy Jones together with the Miami Explorers were beginning the second week of their “side-by-side” tour. While the students in the Club had a separate tour guide and bus from the 35 alumni who made up the Explorer group (some of them Glee Club alumni), we basically saw the same sights and convened most nights for a concert and a dinner. The Glee Club impressed audiences wherever they went. In Assisi, they sang at the Basilica of St. Frances with a Franciscan brother, Friar Allesandro (also a well-known European tenor) amongst Giotto and Cimabue frescos. Community members of the medieval city were in attendance as well as international tourists. The acoustics in this ancient and sacred space, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, were truly amazing, and when I turned to look around during the Club’s singing of Ave Maria, I saw an Italian man a few rows behind me, simply overcome by the beauty of the singing, tears streaming down his face. I felt so fortunate to be part of this special event where voices and worlds collided.

From Assisi we went to Rome, where the Glee Club performed concerts at St. Peters (the Pope’s church in Vatican City and the largest Catholic Church in the world) and the Pantheon. When the students were not singing inside these truly awe-inspiring, hallowed halls they were singing on street corners, in restaurants, and in the Roman Forum. Their desire to sing was infectious, one young man would begin a song and 70 would join in within seconds, harmonizing and filling the space in ways that stopped traffic and inspired tourists to whip out phones and selfie sticks. When they were singing outside the Pantheon, a German woman grabbed one of the student’s arms and asked where they were from. The student told her that they were a men’s chorus from Miami University in Ohio in the USA. She responded in broken English, with tears in her eyes, “Thank you. Thank you so much for this moment, this gift for me and my family as we were just out for a walk.” I love the idea that music is a gift, freely given, and able to bring people together for a transformative experience.

Some of my favorite moments include seeing them sing while standing in line in St. Peter’s Square waiting to get into the church, and then watching their faces as they sang for hundreds of tourists and catholic pilgrims at the mass in St. Peters. As the cardinals from around the world filed in to the cathedral (they meet once a year in Rome), a stream of red caps, I could see the thrill and anticipation of our students as they wondered if Pope Frances would be in attendance. Although the last cardinal in the precession was wearing the Pope’s mitre, Frances had unfortunately been called away. The guys lamented this after the mass, but I told them to sing for the #2 cardinal at the most important church in the world for hundreds of people was still pretty good!

Another moment that touched me was at a group dinner with the alumni and the Club. We were at a traditional Italian restaurant (for a 7 course meal!), and were serenaded between courses by a traditional folk musicians. After they concluded their first number, one of the GC members started to sing the Irish folk tune, “You take the high road . . .” and was joined by all 69 of his comrades almost instantaneously. This spontaneous outburst surprised the Italian musicians, who had no idea they were performing for a singing group, and turned into an evening of sharing music with each other, and, in some cases, performing together. I think it was probably the first time that the Miami Men’s Glee Club has been accompanied by an accordion! They parted that evening with hugs and photos, exchanges of numbers and goodbyes. The Italians did not speak a good deal of English, and our students had very little Italian, but they acted that night as brothers (and a sister) in song, to the delight of all.

I flew home after that eventful week, humming their music, reflecting on the richness of all I saw and experienced, and thinking about the power of music to unite and move.

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