Taconic High School Honors Choir concert to raise funds for Europe trip

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PITTSFIELD — How does a small city's public high school chorus get to perform for cancer patients in England and Italy?

A vote of confidence, hard work and a whole lot of fundraising.

The Taconic High School Honors Choir, led by Jessica Passetto, made a strong impression last April during a collaboration with Passetto's former instructor, Joseph Eppink, who is an associate music professor and coordinator of music education at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y.

After viewing a video of the choir led by his former student, Eppink invited the group to sing at a breast cancer awareness event at the college.

"Not only was the Taconic Honors Choir of the highest music caliber but the professionalism of each student was astounding," Eppink said. "It was so refreshing."

Eppink, who also serves as conductor of the college's Women's Chorale and Women of Hope Chorale, led those groups on the inaugural "Concert of Hope" tour to visit cancer patients in Frankfurt and Berlin in Germany last year as an extension of the outreach and performances they had been doing in the Albany community.

So when he began organizing the "Concert of Hope Tour II" for 2016, he immediately thought to invite the Taconic group to lend their voices to the mission.

Passetto and her students accepted the opportunity and together, the groups have been rehearsing and working to raise funds for the trip ever since.

Taconic students coordinated a "dine to donate" event with Applebee's in October, and recently recorded an album of holiday music at St. Mark's Church with Taconic chorus alumni to sell. At 6 p.m. Thursday, in lieu of a traditional holiday concert, the group will perform a Christmas Cabaret at the Pittsfield Polish Falcons Club hall at 32 Bel Air Ave.

The tour will take place this coming August, and the Saint Rose Women of Hope Chorale and Taconic Honors Choir will be joined by members of Albany's St. Andrew's Episcopal Church Choir and community members, nearly 70 people strong.

The group will perform at least five concerts at children's hospitals and visit more than 20 historic sites, from Big Ben to St. Peter's Basilica.

But first, the teens had to raise enough money — about $2,600 per student — to pay for the trip.

"When I first found out, there was a big rush of excitement," said senior Chrissy Riello, "then the thought of 'Man, can I afford it?' "

"I honestly thought it was a passing thing that was not actually going to happen," said junior Lily Lothrop.

But the entire choral department began planning fundraisers back in the spring to support the Honors Choir members.

"We had meetings to come up with ideas for fundraising opportunities because we knew in September they needed a deposit," said junior Nick Donahue.

But when the time came, the group had raised enough through a GoFundMe.com webpage, community donations and a "paint and sip" with The Dirty Brush benefit to enlist 24 students for the trip.

"This group has been so good about everyone fundraising for the trip because we're like family. It's an opportunity for your friend and you want to help you friend, and these efforts show how easy it is to help out," said Taconic senior and choir member Caroline Fairweather, who won't be going on the trip.

"It's amazing to see that a small high school chorus can go across the ocean and share their musical offerings to help others," said sophomore Joseph Nichols.

Said Passetto, "This trip is reflective of everything we've been doing over the years."

Like any good coach, Passetto pushes her students to take on traditional music that people tend to know by heart as well as challenging pieces with complex arrangements.

The choral groups meet every day during school and some members also lend their time and talents outside of school, whether it be for events like the city's recent Christmas tree lighting ceremony, or on Friday, when they'll pay surprise visits to local venues to sing some holiday cheer.

Passetto said that students who sing together feel better about themselves and others, gain an appreciation for all styles of music and the creative arts, learn to persist through challenging work and become better and more engaged community members.

Eppink of the group, "They show great strength in their maturity in music and their care for humankind."

If you go ...

What: The Taconic Chorus presents a Christmas Cabaret and pasta dinner to benefit the Honors Choir's participation in the "Concert of Hope" tour with The College of Saint Rose Women of Hope Chorale

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Polish Falcons Club, 32 Bel Air Ave., Pittsfield

Cost: $10

Info: To learn more about fundraising efforts, visit GoFundMe.com/TaconicChorus.

How to help: Send donations to Taconic High School Chorus, 96 Valentine Road, Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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