A group of talented vocalists from Eastern Connecticut State University embarked on a unique tour of post-hurricane Puerto Rico this spring break. From March 9-15, members of the Chamber Singers performed in concerts and worked on service projects in the slowly recovering island.
In addition to three performances in San Juan, the group volunteered in the hurricane-battered neighborhood of La Perla, just beyond the walls of Old San Juan. Divided into three work crews, they cleared away debris from the residential section of the neighborhood while others repaired roofs and restored gardens.
“We witnessed the devastation firsthand while sorting through the rubble in La Perla,” said Jenny Lindquist ’20 of Tolland, who sings alto. “Piece after piece, we picked up the left-behind memories and belongings of families. Clearing away the rubble was done so with a heavy heart.”
Hannah Bythrow ’18 of Bolton, alto, remembers seeing new electricity poles being installed along the roads-flown in by helicopters-a stark reminder that many people are still living without power. “Exploring outside the city was eye opening,” she said. “I realized how long it might take for the island to return to its former glory. It made me realize the privileges we take for granted on the mainland.”
On a lighter note, during a roofing project, Bythrow recalled, “I remember hammering nails in the heat of the day, singing at the top of our lungs and thinking to myself, ‘This is happiness.'”
The Chamber Singers performed for enthusiastic crowds at Stella Maris Parish and Escuela Libre de Música (Music School in San Juan). “I will never forget walking into the school; there was so much laughter and music,” said Lindquist.
Halie Poirier ’18 of Putnam, soprano, added, “The high school-ers were shouting and dancing in their seats the entire time, itching to get up and sing with us. I’ll never forget those amazing kids.”
David Belles, conductor of the ensemble, said of the demands of the tour: “Seeing our students kick it up a notch and adjust immediately to a new environment, new audiences, new spaces-having music be the only language many of us had in common-was a moment when all the work preparing for this endeavor really paid off.”
“Much like the colorful buildings and landscapes of the island,” added Bythrow, “our audiences’ faces lit up when they heard us and it was clear that they were truly thankful be a part of our singing.”
For Poirier, a graduating senior, this was her final tour with the Chamber Singers. “Puerto Rico was the perfect ending to a magnificent run with these truly awesome and talented people. I have laughed and cried with them while singing many wrong notes but still making beautiful music. I’ve toured with them for three years and no matter where we go, we always have a fantastic time.”
The Chamber Singers is Eastern’s premier vocal ensemble, composed of 20-25 auditioned singers from various academic departments. Performance repertoire encompasses chamber music from more than four centuries. The annual spring tour serves to enrich the musical live of audiences near and far, and enhance the cultural experience of members of the ensemble while studying at Eastern.