Santa Sabina European Music Tour

Bon voyage Santa Sabina European Music Tour departing 27 September 2019 for two weeks performing and learning in the music capitals of Europe! This is their official blog page.

Post 1 – travelling to Budapest

The first two days of our European Music Tour began with a bang as all 48 of us boarded the plane and started our journey to Doha. After a long, tedious wait in the airport, some funny situations and heaps of selfies we finally landed in Budapest. We then got the opportunity to explore the picturesque views of Budapest at the Citadella, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Following a yummy dinner we all crashed, exhausted, into our beds.

Lucia and Molly

Post 2 – Budapest

Today, after breakfast, we drove to a beautiful church called St Matthias where we participated in a church service. the service was in Hungarian and Latin, which was a different experience for all of us. We then had time to explore the area around the church and have lunch, as well as pick up some souvenirs. The church amazed all of us with its complex stonework.

One of the greatest highlights of the day was working in sectionals with some select musicians from the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Their advice was incredibly helpful and we were able to work closely on improving our technique. 

After this, we travelled to the Buda Castle district, where we got an opportunity to take some amazing photos looking over Budapest. We were able to go to the hotel and rest before going out to dinner. We went to a traditional Hungarian restaurant where we were able to try some new foods, as well as listen to some Hungarian folk music. We then had a short walk to a theatre where we experienced some more Hungarian folk music and dancing. It was a great way to end a very eventful and fun day.

Ruby B, Victoria P, and Lucia

Post 3 – Budapest

Today we visited the Kodály Institute to experience their methods of teaching and immerse ourselves in Hungarian culture. We watched as the beautiful choir performed their traditional folk songs and we got to meet the Hungarian members of the girls choir (a special shoutout to Lilla). 

Later in the afternoon, we rehearsed for our concert that evening. Which went extremely well. After our rehearsal as a group we went out and explored the nearby town and everybody got ice cream, it was such a nice treat for a warm day!

We came back at 4:00 and the orchestra rehearsed shortly before the concert started, we briefly ran through all the pieces we were playing. The concert was a massive success and we had so much fun. Afterwards we got to experience Hungarian Folk Dancing where we all had a ball, and it was the end to a great day!!

Codelia and Anna

Post 4 – Budapest to Vienna

On our fifth day of travelling in Europe, we left the beautiful city of Budapest for Vienna. 

We had a later start compared to the rest of our mornings, however we didn’t get to sleep in much as we are disorganised teenage girls and didn’t pack our bags the night before. 

I think all of us agree that the best bit of breakfast was the bread, and after eating lots we made our way to finalise everything and walk to the bus. 

Leaving Budapest was sad, yet we were excited to continue our journey through Europe.

Budapest is an incredible city with a unique atmosphere and we will miss it. Our time here has changed us forever, and we have learnt so much from the talented musicians we have worked with. Highlights have included working with members of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the students of the Kodály Institute. The Hungarian culture is completely different to anything we have experienced before, and it’s an honour to get to see how people on the other side of the world live in comparison to us. 

Having a double-decker bus was very exciting for us. The bus was just so fancy, and we got our own level separate from the teachers. Though this was great, we sadly won’t get to see Mr Chung dabbing on the bus anytime soon or witnessing Mr Pensini attempting to hit the “Wo”. 

Crossing the border was definitely a highlight, even if it only lasted about 10 seconds. We stopped at McDonalds and Subway for lunch, because even though the European cuisine is delicious sometimes you just need some fast food to break up a long road trip. After our intense discussions of childhood shows and our skilful karaoke, we arrived in Vienna. Vienna has a very different feel to Budapest and we are looking forward to getting to explore this city more in our coming days. 

Our first destination was St Stephen’s Cathedral, which is one of the most famous cathedrals (and most beautiful) in Europe. We walked around the cathedral before getting the chance to go souvenir shopping. With many girls getting to fulfil their dreams of owning Mozart figurines and chocolates. 

We finally made it to our hotel after this, for a total of about 20 minutes, before rushing out to dinner. Dinner, as well as being delicious, included snapchats of Mr Pensini with long hair and Mr Chung taking a selfie with Lulu. Don’t worry though, we were able to experience something we think will stick with us forever, which was singing an Irish Blessing for the restaurant owners and staff as a thank you for their service (and as an apology for being too loud). Before this, I don’t think we had fully gained an understanding of just how much music can touch people. Now, we will continue through Europe with this knowledge and are more excited than ever to be able to share the love of music with our group and others. Music is something we can all connect to, regardless of where we live and what language we speak, and we are thrilled to continue our trip through Europe.

Cara, Emma and Antonia

Post 5 – Vienna

After waking up from a great sleep, the tour group started with a fantastic breakfast buffet in the hotel. It was nice to have some fruit and no chicken for once! Everyone looked refreshed and ready for the day. Except for Antonia and Emma who slept in 😁.

After breakfast, we were off to a workshop in the Musikverein with Tobias Lea from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. A world renowned orchestra that plays at extremely famous events such as the New Year’s concert in the famous Golden Hall. Mr Lea is an Australian and the principal violist of the orchestra, he plays with a beautiful singing sound. He first started with violin and graduated from Adelaide University. After moving to Vienna, he picked up the viola. He told us he loved the sound of the viola when played well, as it is hard to get a good sound on the viola. He then elaborated on the freedom he felt when playing, comparing it to the violin, especially on the E string.

In this workshop, our singers were able to sit in and also be included. The orchestra worked hard on the Beethoven 7, and the Haydn Trumpet Concerto with our incredible soloist, Rachael Pearson 🎺.

We were able to not only play the notes on the page but also learnt how to do things off the page and connect the notes together in different ways. Our phrasing and rhythm and overall musicality improved so much after the short time we had with Mr Lea. It was an experience we will never forget. Mr Lea talked about his experiences as a foreigner in Vienna Phil, and his thoughts on the differences between the two cities. He called Vienna ‘so behind in time’ when he referred to the limited number of women in the orchestra. However one of the main reasons why Vienna Philharmonic has such a slow turnover rate is because of how hard it is to get a position in the orchestra. Once musicians gain a position in the orchestra, it is their job for life. He also explained how wonderful Australia’s vast opportunities for youth in music are, mentioning organisations such as youth orchestras and music camps. We learnt that people in Europe start musical instruments very young, but mainly focus on solo technique and don’t get much training in skills such as sight reading and general orchestral skills. Overall, the group was very inspired and will never forget this unique experience. Following the workshop we went on a tour of the famous building. The Musikverein has four small halls. The four are made of different materials: wood, stone, metal (which we rehearsed in), glass and last of all, the famous golden hall.

We then went to the Vienna State Opera House for a tour where we saw the beautiful and lavish architecture, the incredible process behind each production and the history it maintains til this day. We saw the stage set for Midsummer Night’s Dream, and learnt how they can change sets so fast. Around 200 people are involved in just the set crew. We also saw the intermission room, private rooms, the tapestry room (set up for the after party of Midsummer Night’s Dream) and the room closed off for VIPS, such as presidents, members of royal families and big celebrities.

After a long day, we drove to a church a little out of town the Spitalskirche Zur Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit to perform a charity concert in order to raise money for education for children in Africa. We started off with our tutti orchestra pieces and then all the Concertos. Congratulations to everyone for such a moving performance! Especially to Rachael Pearson, Amelia Dillon and Emilie Choi, our soloists 😁. The audience seemed very impressed with our performances and were very surprised when Mr Chung told them that not all of us were in a choir. It felt great to perform in such a beautiful church with such acoustics. Everyone seemed so tired after the concert and we were all proud to say we gave it our utmost, even after such tiring activities. 

After so many funny shenanigans on the bus, we were all ready to head to bed and get ready for our exciting day with the Vienna Boys Choir tomorrow.

Charlotte He and Zoe Mok 😎


Post 6 – Vienna Boys Choir!

Today was the day that we were most looking forward to on the tour. You guessed it – laundry day! we woke up at 6:00am sharp burning with anticipation of the day to come. We came down to breakfast 15 whole minutes early to only the company of Ms Biddle and Ms Feltham to discuss the entrancing ins and outs of what we could possibly put in the wash later in the day when the time came. Needless to say, breakfast was a good time.

After we fed our ravenous selves a good Austrian breakfast of coco pops and nutella on croissant, we jetted upstairs to commence our laundry day packing. Alas, our packing was interrupted by Mr Pensini’s booming voice which said ‘your presence is required in the entrance hall, our chariot awaits!’ and that’s when we saw it: our private double decker bus, en route to the Vienna Boys Choir Austria. 

‘absolutely bonkers!’
‘very nice!’
‘not too scrappy!’
‘aw cute!’

These are all words that were spoken from the mouths of 48 girls as they were entering the gates of the actual Vienna Boys Choir school, home of the Vienna Boys Choir. This is where we would spend most of our day learning, workshopping, performing and touring. This would end up being one of the many highlights of our tour experience.

There we were, walking through the very same doors that the Princess of Japan had walked through only a week prior (!). Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves rehearsing Austrian folk-songs with the one and only maestro, Gerald Wirth. wow! We have finally found a man who is more enthusiastic than Mr Chung at 1:00pm on a Sunday afternoon! After a short unplanned fire drill which evacuated the whole facility, we were joined by the 25 young, talented boys from the Vienna Boys Choir. It wasn’t until the tour of the boarding school at the end of the day where we truly grasped just how dedicated and committed to their art these boys are at such a young age. We were absolutely flabbergasted by their ability to leave their families halfway across the world to learn German in as little as four weeks, and then be fully submerged in the choir culture of the VBC, where there are up to 300 performances a year, and one of three trimesters is spent touring each year for two months. 

We then gathered in the private concert hall, reserved only for special guests (for example the princess of Japan and Santa Sabina College Choir and Orchestra). Here we heard the Vienna boys choir sing some angelic tunes, before we performed our own repertoire and then our combined choral pieces with the boys that we workshopped with them earlier in the day. After our performances (which were splendidly gatecrashed by the senior Vienna Boys Choir members) each and every person attending the tour received a certificate praising our participation in joining the Vienna boys choir in a workshop and performance. 

We are honoured to say that we shook hands with artistic director Gerald Wirth and Vienna Boys Choir conductor Manuel. 

Finally, laundry came. it went without a hitch. 

All in all, today was a once in a lifetime experience that we will never forget. For many girls, today was an intensely inspiring day that sparked motivation which will last throughout the remainder of the tour and well into the year.

Anna Munns and Zahra Alam

Post 7 – Vienna to Salzburg

Today we had an early start with breakfast before leaving Vienna to travel to Salzburg. There was a long drive ahead, but with our group, the drive flew by with music and mucking around. 

This afternoon, we had the opportunity to learn from players from the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg. This orchestra, in particular, specialises in the development of independent and contemporary interpretations of Viennese classics. Our orchestra split up into sectionals, which allowed for a personalised workshop for each part. The strings worked on the Beethoven and Haydn Cello Concerto, woodwinds played the Beethoven and the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, and brass worked on the Haydn Trumpet Concerto and the Beethoven. This workshop was quite different from the Vienna Philarmonic workshop with Tobias, however it was great to see the different interpretations of the pieces we were playing, and the feedback we all took on board. 

After our workshop, we were privileged enough to watch the Mozarteum Orchestra rehearse the Bartok Viola Concerto from up close. It was amazing to see the passion and hear the beautiful music coming from each of the members of the orchestra, which also inspired us to mirror the various techniques in our own orchestra at school. The viola played by the soloist is 347 years old, and is worth around €45 million (around A$73 million). This is because it is one of the first and only Stradivarius violas to be made and kept in perfect condition. 

After listening to the orchestra rehearse, we left for a very rushed check-in to our hotel before getting ready for dinner and a wonderful concert. Dinner was again, CHICKEN SCHNITZEL, but the cranberry sauce was an amazing upgrade. After dinner, our group attended a concert by Camerata Salzburg at the Stiftung Mozarteum. Camerata Salzburg is an Austrian Chamber orchestra, who regularly perform in world-famous European venues and festivals, where they focus on traditional chamber orchestra repertoire. It was a great experience to see yet another concert and to see the various techniques and skills each member of our orchestra could adopt to improve our orchestral experiences. After a long day of travelling and music, we walked back to the hotel to rest for the next day ahead. 

Georgia-Marie Elias 



Post 8 – Salzburg

Today was a fantastic day! We started our day at the Orff Institute, home to the first performance of the Carmina Burana and the music of Carl Orff. Carl Orff was a 20th century composer most famous for his piece, O Fortuna

We were at the Institute for a choral workshop with Andrea Fessmann, renowned teacher of the Alexander Technique and part of a trio called Laetare. We began with a piece from the Carmina Burana to get a taste of Orff’s musical style. We then moved on to a piece by Franz Biebl, Ave Maria, which was a beautiful arrangement of a German-Latin piece, which we sang as a solo choir and a main choir. This was particularly testing due to the complexity of the parts and multiple musical lines. Overall, singing these pieces developed our technique, ability and tone. 

After a short break, we performed two of our own pieces (Alleluia and Ave Maria) to Andrea. During Alleluia, Andrea focused on creating more energy through short, staccato notes and emphasis on particular syllables in conjunction with the percussion. 

We moved onto Ave Maria. As soon as we began, she corrected our pronunciation of Ave. She stressed the importance of a long crescendo through the phrase Ave Maria and continuing to sustain it. This concluded our workshop. 

After this, we had a two-hour break in Salzburg’s Old Town for lunch, sightseeing and souvenir shopping. We were eager to take this opportunity, as it was cold and rainy. On our way back to the meeting point, Salzburg Cathedral (also known as the Domplatz), we spotted Mozart’s Birthplace, which we are visiting tomorrow!

We moved on to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, where we took the funicular railway up to see the magnificent views. After taking many photos, we then embarked on an audio-guided tour, which described the torture chambers and the organ, which was nicknamed the “Salzburg Bull”. The highlight of the Fortress was the lookout point, where you could see Salzburg and its surrounding mountains in their entirety. Once we finished the tour, we took the railway back down and walked through the cosy streets of Salzburg until we reached our hotel. We had 45 minutes to get ready for the much-awaited Mozart Dinner Concert. 

The Dinner Concert took place in the St Peter Stiftskeller Baroque Hall. Performers dressed in period-style costumes and played in between the serving of our three-course meal. For the entrée, we had a clear lemon chicken soup with curd cheese and rosemary dumpling; for the main course, chicken with potato gratin and pumpkin purée; and for the dessert, half-frozen parfait with two different sauces (and a dark chocolate cake in the shape of Mozart’s face). 

It was an entertaining, atmospheric show, with the actors interacting with the audience. They performed pieces from some of Mozart’s operas: Don Giovanni, Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute. Our tour group even got a selfie with the lead male singer!

Today may have been one of our most exciting days of the tour, and we are looking forward to the rest!

Amelia Dillon and Oriana Chan


Post 9 – last day in Salzburg 

After a late night at the amazing Mozart dinner concert, we were able to have a sleep in for breakfast (9:30am)! 

After breakfast we headed off to the Salzburg Cathedral (also known as the ‘Salzburg Dom’ to locals) to sing at the main morning mass. It was a wonderful privilege to sing in the beautiful church, as we learned that it is rare for foreign choirs to sing there. 

While singing, we were all amazed at the echoey acoustics of the church, and of course, its astonishing beauty. We were proud and humbled to learn that the congregation enjoyed our performance so much, that someone offered €100 as a token of appreciation. In addition, a local street artist who regularly attends mass at that church, said he was moved to tears by our singing and gave us a free painting.

After the service, we were given three hours to explore Salzburg further, get lunch, and do some final shopping! During this time, many of us walked through St Peter’s Cemetery which looked very much like the one depicted in The Sound of Music

After this, we came together for a guided tour of Mozart’s house where his family lived until he was 17 before moving to another residence in Salzburg. We were very lucky to gain this insight into Mozart’s family and life. During this tour, we were able to see original portraits of the family painted during their time, including one unfinished painting of Mozart by his brother-in-law. There was also original compositions and letters handwritten by Mozart for us to look at. We were all able to ask a few questions, the most important being if Mozart’s laugh in Amadeus was accurate! 

The dinner tonight was chicken free! We all went to an Italian restaurant where we enjoyed spaghetti and a nice dessert. It is safe to say that our last night here in Austria was great and we all enjoyed the wonderful experiences and opportunities we received here.

Felicity Yau, Sophie Isgro-Attwood and Eleanor Dillon 


Post 10 – Cesky Krumlov and Prague
Lucia and Vennisa’s birthday 

After Mr Pensini’s words last night, we were all feeling sentimental about our last three nights on tour and extremely appreciative of the invaluable experiences we’ve had so far. 

We started our day with an attempt at music to wish Lucia and Vennisa a very happy birthday at breakfast with many strange glances from surrounding guests (an experience to which we are much accustomed to by now, through Mr Chung’s attempts to make us sing the Irish Blessing wherever we go). 

We then hopped on the bus to head to our most anticipated destination: Prague, aka the home of the Moldau river, the inspiration for Smetna’s orchestral work which we’re currently workshopping. The Moldau has become somewhat of an icon on our tour, being associated with countless puddles, rivers, ponds, and glasses water, despite Mr Pensini’s yells of: “IT’S THE SALZACH!”. Needless to say, we were extremely excited to see the real thing.

After three hours of travel, we stopped over at Cesky Krumlov and laid our eyes on the Moldau. Here are some direct quotes from when we arrived:

‘Stunning’ *breaks into song*
‘That’s not the Moldau, that’s the Parramatta River’

Not only did we see the Moldau at Cesky Krumlov, but we were also taken aback by the beauty of this small town which is about to celebrate 30 years free of communism. Now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, it felt like a fairytale standing on the cobblestone streets and devouring warm doughnuts filled with ice-cream which caused a few sugar highs. Our tour guides showed us the gorgeous palace where we even met two young bears which are kept at the entrance as tradition. We learnt so much about the history of this place that we never even knew existed.

We drove into Prague at about 6:30pm and were astounded by the beautiful city, seeing what we’d only ever dreamt about. We ended the day with some delicious cake to celebrate Lucia and Vennisa’s birthday. Thank you to Lulu who has lit up the tour with her constant optimistic outlook on everything! And Vennisa, our tour leader, has been the rock of our group and kept us together and alive for this whole tour while somehow maintaining a friendly and always happy face. Happy birthday to you both!

Overall Cesky Krumlov was amazing and Prague will have to work hard to top it. We’re looking forward to more musical experiences in the following days.

Sophia Juarez and Caitlin Murphy


Post 11 – Prague

Today was our second last day in Europe, and our first full day in Prague, Czech Republic where we had our last instrumental workshop. The workshop was run by the principal horn, Ondrej Vrabec, from the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. It was located in the Rudolfinum where we were lucky enough to have a guided tour. During this tour, we saw the amazing architecture and interior design of the building. We were privileged enough to walk on the roof where we were surrounded by statues of famous composers. (Mozart, Beethoven While it was freezing, the view of the Moldau and old town made it worth it. In our workshop we workshopped three of our orchestral pieces, The MoldauHaydn Trumpet Concerto, and Capriccio Espagnol. The sound of these pieces were greatly improved by the end of the workshop as we began to play not only what is on the page but what we wanted the audience to feel. We were let in on some tips and tricks into how the Prague Philharmonic plays the Moldau differently and how they make their performances and depiction of the piece unique compared to every other orchestra in the world. Their new chief conductor Maestro Semyon Bychkov was kind enough to let us watch a rehearsal of the Czech Philharmonic where they were also working on Smetana’s The Moldau. Even though they played a different movement, we were still able to grasp things that we could use to improve our own performance. The sound created by this orchestra was stunning and was extremely enjoyable to listen to. 

It was his first time conducting this important piece of Czech repertoire and he explained to the orchestra how honoured he was to be able to perform this piece of such national significance. He also talked about the fact that nobody owns a piece of music and it’s a musicians job to share music with others. Maestro Bychkov was kind enough to share his time with Mr Pensini where he thanked and congratulated the College on being involved in such an amazing musical tour. 

After finishing at the workshop, we had the opportunity to explore the Old Town of Prague. We all split into our own smaller groups to walk around to look at the scenery and buy lunch. We got to try some more traditional food and see some of the cathedrals and the extremely European architecture which contrasts greatly with what we have at home.

In the evening we had the opportunity to sing at the St Giles church, during a mass (a Dominican church!) It was enjoyable and was our last church service. The church had amazing acoustics which assisted our singing. After the performance we received compliments from two ex-Santa Sabina students, who were brought to tears by our performance. It was really heartwarming to see how our music impacted other people. 

Dinner was at Kavárna Obencí dûm and we ate duck, purple cabbage and beetroot, and some form of potato dumplings. It was nice to have a break from chicken schnitzel (or chicken in any form specifically served with rice). Overall today was an enjoyable day and greatly assisted our improvement as musicians.

Jessica Buckley and Stephanie Roberts

Post 12 – Prague to Sydney

Today was our last and final day of the 2019 music tour. The day started off with a delicious breakfast at 8:00am. After a nice big breakfast, we had the opportunity to have a guided tour of the beautiful Prague Castle. The scenery was truly magnificent and we could even see the Moldau (Vltava)! Following this tour, we were given time to explore Prague’s beautiful old town and to buy ourselves a yummy lunch.

In the evening we went off to prepare our final concert. It was a frantic hullabaloo of movement. First, we arrived at the Church of St Simon and Jude, where we were going to perform that night. We had a surprisingly efficient rehearsal then left the stage so the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir could rehearse. Even if you only heard the choir for a moment you could tell how beautiful and in time they sounded. Finally, what we had all worked endless days for was about to be worth it as the concert started with the bubbly Capriccio Espagnol. The orchestra and choir was a huge success and we ended the concert with a combined performance of Panis Angelicus. When we finished the audience erupted into cheers.   

After our performance ended we went to a fancy hotel with the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir for dinner. The dinner was so delicious and we all helped ourselves to the enormous buffet. All the choristers were so sweet and everyone made friends very quickly. Most of them had never even been to Sydney so it was a great opportunity to make everlasting friendships and find out more about the life of a chorister in the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir. Sadly, our time in Europe was slowly ending. We were all tired and after a long day, we headed back to the hotel. After a motivational lecture and a night of frantic packing, we had to wake up at 4:15am and soon headed to departures at around 6:00am. 

After a long flight, we landed safe and sound back in Australia. We all couldn’t believe that the days in Europe had ended so quickly but we were so happy to be back home. This tour has been an amazing experience and opportunity for not only us as students but to all the teachers too. On this tour, we were able to workshop with some of the best choirs/orchestras in the world such as the Kodály Institute of Music, the Vienna Boys Choir, Philharmonic Children’s Choir, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, Mozarteum Orchestra and of course the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. We thank all the teachers who gave up their time to guide us through this musical journey and we are also so grateful to all the parents who supported us every step of the way.

Lucia Juarez and Chiara Taslim-Handaya