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By Costa Maragos Posted: July 26, 2017 6:00 a.m.

UR Choir members at Iglesia Infanta, with Dominic Gregorio conducting, warming up for a group performance and accompanied by two professional Cuban choirs; Voces de Ebana and Coro Polifonico.
UR Choir members at Iglesia Infanta, with Dominic Gregorio conducting, warming up for a group performance and accompanied by two professional Cuban choirs; Voces de Ebana and Coro Polifonico. Photo courtesy of Raúl Diaz

It was a memorable journey filled with choral music, culture and connections that will last a lifetime. 

A group of 23 U of R students, staff and community members have returned from a memorable intercultural choir tour in Cuba.

“I wanted our students to experience something in stark contrast to our relative lives of great comfort, safety, and stability here in Canada. I know the students who went on this trip are forever changed,” says Dr. Dominic Gregorio, assistant professor in the music department and director of choral activities at the U of R. “On our tour we had the great opportunity to exchange with children at two arts schools, and three professional Cuban choirs.”

cuba choir
Choir members took part in this choir exchange workshop with Coro Polifonico.
Photo courtesy of Raúl Diaz

The U of R contingent was made up of mostly music students but also included students from other departments (political science and mathematics), staff members, professor emerita Lynn Channing and a Campus for All student, Thomas Wright.
 
“When I was a music student, some of the very most memorable and life changing experiences were international choir tours and international choir exchanges,” says Gregorio. “When you go on tour, you bond with your choir teammates much deeper. You become a family when you're abroad in an exotic land, and you sing the music again and again in beautiful settings with local choirs, learning their music, their language, and their culture.”

The trip was booked through the Canada Cuba organization, which has been organizing such cultural tours in Cuba for nearly 30 years.

In preparation for the trip, Gregorio taught a three unit summer class- Cuba: Music, History, Culture, Language, and students also registered for an ensemble choir credit.  

But the trip’s legacy is everlasting memory of music and friendships.

“When you travel, you are face to face with so much contrast, and the contrast is especially stark in Cuba. However, language barriers are erased through music, we sing each others culture, language and music, experiencing it through our bodies and voices,” says Gregorio.

The trip was made possible thanks to assistance from the campus community.

Says Gregorio: "We would like to give our heartfelt thanks to President Vianne Timmons, the U of R Board of Governors and Board Chair Daniel Kwochka. We also received incredible support from UR International, Martha Mathurin, and Janean Hodgson, as well as Jan Bell, and Val Kokotailo in MAP for their administrative support."

UR Choirs is already planning for another choir tour, this time to Mexico City.