By Connie and Lynn Baer
When Grossmont High School’s vocal music department began in 1929, the first vocal music group was a girls’ chorus. In 1935, the school added an a cappella choir, which wore red robes with white collars. In 1940, the choir was first given the name Red Robed Choir, a name that continues today as the Red Robe Choir.
Amazingly, in the past 87 years, there have been only four vocal music teachers at Grossmont: legendary director Merle Donahue, 1929-1962; Don Hubler, 1962-1972; Bob Boucher, 1972-1986; and since 1986, current director Dr. Ed Basilio. All of these directors are renowned and beloved for the discipline, dedication, and skill they demand of their students. Highlights of every school year were festivals, concerts, and competitions where the choirs distinguished themselves.
Today, in his 30th year at Grossmont, Basilio teaches Advanced Ensemble, AP Music Theory, Women’s Ensemble, Red Robe Choir, and Piano to a total of 185 students. In 1989, he took students on a Concert Choir Tour of what was then the U.S.S.R., and since then, the Choir has toured internationally every year. Some of the other countries they have visited include France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Russia, Finland, and Sweden.
Among Basilio’s numerous memorable moments is when the choir was singing in Leningrad at the school that the Czar’s children attended.
“After singing in the school chapel, a Russian woman came up to us in tears saying how she had not heard music in that chapel since the time of the Revolution,” he said. “Another memory was when the students of the schools in Russia ran after our train throwing flowers at the train cars in which GHS Choir students were riding. There was not a dry eye around. It was after midnight when we departed, but the teachers and students came out in full force to see us off.”
Recently, several former students shared with Basilio the impact of these yearly trips on their lives. Meghan Waters, Class of 1999, toured Italy and England/Ireland.
“She said travel got into her blood — she married a man from Ireland and now has in-laws living in that country,” Basillo said. Waters also told her former teacher that she still sings the songs she learned on that trip — “Welsh Lullaby”, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” — to her new baby daughter.
“Another student, Jennifer Lindsay, class of 1996 member of the Red Robe Choir, is currently completing her Ph.D. in Rome,” Basillo said. “She shared that being in Italy 20 years ago created a lasting memory and one that causes her to feel her life has come full circle — finding her back in Rome.”
Forty-eight talented and disciplined members of the choir recently returned from a January 2016 trip to Italy, where they performed extremely difficult choral literature. They performed at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice; an acoustical marvel, The Baptistery in Pisa; High Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican; and a final concert with the choirs at Sapienza University in Rome. Four students on this trip have parents who toured Italy 20 years ago with Basilio when they were students in the Red Robe Choir.
According to junior Chloe Mietzel, the performance at St. Peter’s was the highlight of the trip. Mietzel, whose aunt toured various countries as part of the Red Robe Choir and whose grandparents were chaperones for a decade, said the Basilica was “beautiful and that performing at Mass was an honor and an amazing experience I will never forget.”
Students and chaperones were particularly touched when the priest who was performing Mass took a break from the traditional Latin to address the students in English directly from the pulpit.
If you would like to witness for yourself these talented singers, join them at The Spring Concert/Dessert Show Tuesday, May 24 at 7 p.m. in the Old Gym on campus. Please contact Basilio at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your seat.
—Connie and Lynn Baer write on behalf of the GHS Museum. Reach them at email@example.com.