VALENCIA — Bruce Cooper of Valencia was immersed in music, religion and art every day during his recent tour of Italy.
Of, course, that wasn't hard to achieve because Cooper, 75, a retired Alcoa worker, was a member of a Pittsburgh Concert Chorale tour group performing concerts in churches in five Italian cities during its stay from July 5 through July 16.
Cooper, a tenor and a member of the chorale since 2005, traveled with a group of 37 other singers, as well as 20 spouses and companions. The group flew from Pittsburgh to Atlanta and then Rome.
According to the chorale itinerary, the group performed concerts at the Chiesa San Marcello al Corso in Rome, the Basilica Santa Trinita in Florence, Ravenna's Basilica di San Francisco, and the Basilica dei Frari in Venice.
“We sang mostly religious music and some secular music that we sang as well with Italian roots that was in English. The sacred stuff was in Latin or Italian,” he said.
He said the group sang in churches to fairly full pews.
“Every church had the seats filled. The tour company did a pretty good job of advertising for us, so we were happy,” said Cooper.
Each concert lasted about 90 minutes and the audience response was always good, he added.
There were a few drawbacks, however.
“The weather was warm, probably in the 90s most days, and, of course, the churches are not air-conditioned. It took a lot of energy to put on the performances,” he said.
“It was warm and we had to wear black, but there was a lot of energy,” Cooper said about the choral's concerts. “It's good to have an audience react.
“And the venues themselves were incredible. The church in Ravenna were we sang was built in the fifth century, so there was a lot of history,” he said.
“The venues were just breathtaking. It makes you realize how young this (the U.S.) country is, relatively speaking,” he said.
Cooper said each member of the group had to pay their own way to make the trip. Still, it was the first international trip for the chorale in 20 years, he said, “or at least in my time with the chorale.”
The group traveled from city to city by bus, and there was time penciled in the schedule for sightseeing.
“We had extra days in all of the places that we sang,” Cooper said.
“Nothing disappointed me,” Cooper said about Italy. “I visited a lot of gelato stores.
“Florence was especially beautiful. We had a hotel a couple of blocks from the main square and a view from the hotel roof of the main square,” said Cooper.
While in Florence, the chorale group toured the Uffizi Gallery, an art museum considered one of the most visited in the world.
In the historic center of Florence, the Uffizi Gallery holds a collection of priceless works, particularly from the period of the Italian Renaissance.
The Uffizi is considered one of the first modern museums. The gallery had been open to visitors by request since the sixteenth century, and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public.
“We visited the Vatican. We were there on a Saturday after Pope Francis had given a speech the day before on climate change,” said Cooper.
The group visited the Vatican Museum, its famed Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.
“I took a group of people to the island on Murano while we were in Venice,” he said. “That's where all the glass making happens. They have been doing it there for a thousand years. We watched them blow glass. It was pretty neat.”
Murano is actually a series of islands in the Venetian Lagoon.
Popular history claims that in 1291, all the glassmakers in Venice were forced to move to Murano due to the risk of fires.
Over the centuries, the island became famous, initially for glass beads and mirrors. Aventurine glass, distinguished by its special look of sparkling particles, was invented on the island, and for awhile Murano was the main producer of glass in Europe.
Although a decline set in during the eighteenth century, glassmaking is still the island's main industry.
Cooper had nothing but praise for the tour company who arranged the trip, scheduled the tours, booked the hotels, secured the buses and provided tour guides.
“This is a tour company that specialized in musical groups, Acfea,” he said.
“I should mention the camaraderie. Touring is a great way to get to know your fellow singers,” Cooper said. “I think the camaraderie was because we stuck together.”
He also praised the Italian food and the Italians themselves.
“The Italians were nice. Many of them spoke English fortunately. I always feel dumb when I go to Europe, but they were very friendly,” he said.
The bottom line, he said. “I would recommend to anyone to take a trip to Italy.”