Shot from the top of the Budapest EyeAnd so the day has finally come: our last full day in Rome, in Italy, and on tour. The past two weeks have gone by far too quickly, and everything we’ve done up to this point seems like a bit of a whirlwind to me right now (and probably to many of us), but I hope that my documenting our adventures will help us to relive the memories we’ve made for months afterward. It’s so incredibly hard to believe that our tour is basically over, but I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience a new country and make some great music with such great people.

All right, sappy introduction aside, still today was nothing short of amazing. We got to sleep in this morning, with an absolutely unprecedented 10:00 call time in the hotel lobby, which was already an excellent start! Still, I chose to rise a bit earlier to make sure I could eat a good breakfast and get ready for the day ahead. Although this was the final day of the tour, there was still plenty left to see and do and, later today, the Tour Choir would be performing one last time in one particularly special venue. All will be revealed soon, I promise, but for now let’s jump right into the fun!

Traditionally, the final day of each MYO Tour is left mostly free to give all of the members of the Performance Tour a chance to explore on their own, eat lunch together in small groups for the final time, and go on one last shopping spree. However, because of the Tour Choir performance later in the day, we would actually only have about three to four hours to ourselves. Still, this left us plenty of time to frolic and gallivant down the streets of Rome and to triage all of the clothing stores, restaurants, and gelaterias that our hearts desired. So, once we were all gathered in the hotel lobby, we took a short walk as a group over the river Tiber and toward the Piazza del Popolo, which would serve as our designated meeting spot for when we would regroup and return to the hotel.

Now, at first, I didn’t really have a plan of how I was going to spend my time; the only thing I was certain about was that I wanted to find gelato! But to my surprise, everyone else seemed to have a pretty good idea of where they were going, as I spotted a large mob of Performance Tour members flocking to the luxury fashion outlets dotted along the road. In fact, any time I would pass this one area where many of these outlets were located, I could see them making their rounds, one by one, from Versace to Louis Vuitton to Gucci to Dior. So what did I do? Well if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! I didn’t end up buying anything myself, but I did get to sample some fragrances, try on some jewelry, and snap some photos, all of which made my short window-shopping excursion worth it in the end. I also perused some other clothing stores with my friends, and I helped them pick out a few things with my—well—extremely seasoned fashion sense, of course!

All right, let’s get on with what everyone really cares about: the gelato! Now, I knew this could very well have been the last gelato stop of the tour, and so I made it my mission today to find the greatest gelato in all of Italy. Did I succeed? I’d have to visit every gelateria in the country to tell you, and I think I’ll have to save that one for the next tour to Italy. What me and a small group of friends did end up finding, though, was a gelateria called Della Palma, whose menu consisted of—get ready for this—one hundred and fifty flavors. Yes, you read that correctly. One hundred and fifty. And some of these flavors were completely exotic and insane-sounding; I’m talking about avocado, basil and ginger, carrot, and rose, whatever that is. Point is, there was no shortage of choices, and I wanted to taste them all! I ended up getting a three-scoop cup of Italian white chocolate, Palm hazelnut, and apple cinnamon. To be honest, I don’t know how I lived my life without apple cinnamon gelato for all of these years. That’s how amazing it was. I even got to try some of my friends’ selections, even that mysterious rose flavor, and not a single one disappointed. Perhaps I could say the mission was somewhat accomplished!

After some more long hours of sauntering down windy cobblestone streets and poking our heads into every store we would come across, it finally came time to return to the Piazza del Popolo to meet up with the rest of the group. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed getting to explore Rome one last time and spending even more quality time with my friends, but we run a tight shift around here! So, it was straight back to the hotel for the choir members to get their concert gear together, and for everyone else to clean up a bit from the scorcher of a day we’ve had so far. Shortly after, we would meet in the hotel lobby to board our buses together. And with that, I think it’s finally time to reveal the location of our final performance, and also to treat you all to one final history lesson!

This afternoon, the Tour Choir would be performing for Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Let me tell you, when I first found out that this was happening about a month ago, I could not believe what I was reading. This was truly one of the rarest and most special opportunities some of us would ever get in our musical lives. I feel the same excitement that I first felt before our performance as I’m typing right now! But before I talk about that experience, it’s time for me to deliver on that history lesson I promised. The current St. Peter’s Basilica was actually built to replace the first St. Peter’s Basilica, which was built by Constantine I in the fourth century and stood for over a millennium. Initially planned by Pope Nicholas V and then Pope Julius II, construction of the present-day basilica began in 1506, with designers Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the helm of the project. The basilica was completed in 1626, one hundred and twenty years later, and since then it has retained its status as the largest church in the world by interior measure. And while it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome (the seat of the Pope as bishop of Rome), as those titles both belong to the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, St. Peter’s is still widely regarded as the centerpiece of the global Catholic Church and as one of its holiest shrines.

So, we arrived at the Vatican after not too long a time and, in small groups, entered the long and winding queue to clear the security checkpoint for the Basilica. Still, it was incredibly hot out, I was out of water, and I was wearing all black, so you can imagine that I was essentially a french fry by this point. Though it did take some time to get through security and regroup on the other side, it seemed we would still be left with plenty of time to wander the Vatican and take a look around before the start of the Mass. And then it happened. I could barely get my foot inside the place before a wave of awe rushed over me. I was standing in the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica! Masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque art lined the walls and ceiling. The marvelous Dome of St. Peter’s towered up above, clad with gold and crowned by a massive inscription of the text from Matthew 16:18-19, in Latin. In the crossing stood the papal altar, above which rose St. Peter’s Baldachin, one of Bernini’s finest works and among the oldest and most iconic in the Vatican. I could do nothing but strut around like a headless chicken for almost half an hour, just taking it all in!

Before long, all of the choir members were recalled and ushered into the choir box to await the start of the Mass. A quick warm-up was all we had time for, and then it was time to get singing! We performed each of the four sacred pieces in our repertoire, beginning with the Victoria “Ave Maria” during the procession. There were obviously large gaps between our performances, but it’s also worth pointing out that this will likely be one of the few times many of us get to experience Mass at the Vatican, singing or not! Soon it came time for the offertory, during which we sang Gjeilo’s “Ubi Caritas” and got a chance to bask in the ethereal acoustics of the basilica. And when I say they were ethereal, I am not kidding. I could have made a sandwich before the sound we made died out completely. I had never heard anything like it! Anyway, we resumed our set with “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal” during the communion, and members of the choir got the chance to receive Holy Communion themselves afterwards. At the conclusion of the Mass, we gave one last performance of the Irish Blessing during the recession, before taking a few photos for social media and getting ready to head out ourselves. After a long day of activity, it was time to eat!

And so, the army of MYO performers, family, friends, music directors, and staff marched over to the Papa Rex Ristorante just south of Vatican City, not a terribly far walk from St. Peter’s Square, to enjoy an extra-special farewell dinner, accompanied by live music! The food was excellent, and the singer and her accordionist were quite entertaining; she even shared a few dances with members of the tour! And then they just had to start playing “Va, pensiero.” You can probably imagine how the basement of the restaurant erupted after that, as we all joined together one last time to belt out those words which were all too familiar to us by now. At the end of the night, as per tradition on these tours, the tour management gathered to share a few final sentiments, and Mr. Stickley performed a song he wrote to celebrate all of the wonderful memories we had made on the tour, complete with a sing-along chorus: “Arrivederci my love, arrivederci amore, I hope to see you real soon!” What a fantastic night, and what a fantastic way to wrap up what has now become two unforgettable weeks in Italy.

Well, that’s that! The final day of our tour comes to its conclusion, which means it’s almost time for me to say goodbye myself. But since this is already getting quite long, I think I’m going to have to save that for tomorrow. I won’t have much to talk about, as we will spend the bulk of the day on planes, but regardless I promise to keep it short! But although it will be short for you all reading this, it won’t be for us, as our day of travel that awaits us begins bright and early at 4:00 in the morning. Whoop-de-doo. Hey, at least it’s an upgrade from the last tour; we had to wake up at 2:00 for that one, but I digress. I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s time for me to get some sleep, so I’m going to hop in the shower and get ready to do just that. Until tomorrow, arrivederci my friends!