DOWNERS GROVE – Singing Mozart in the cathedral he composed it to be performed in turns the structure itself into a sort of giant, resonating instrument.
"When you sang, your sound literally went like a pinball machine off every surface, and it came back and hit you," Downers Grove South choir singer Caitlin Carlson said. "It was our last song, and a lot of people started crying, as well as the choir members because we worked so hard, and that was the moment when it paid off."
Caitlin Carlson and about 30 other members of the South High School choir performed in the marbled interior of the Salzburg Cathedral in Austria this June at the Mozart International Choral Festival. The choir was invited by one of the festival's guest conductors to sing a piece Mozart wrote for the building, along with some American spirituals and other music.
"The sound was unbelievable," South High School singer Mara Alvarez said. "We've all done tons of concerts and things at our school, but that was definitely such a treat to be able to sing at such a great place."
The expensive trip was a culmination of hard work for many of the choir remembers, some of which paid their own way by selling tickets to a raffle organized by parents and by working the kind of jobs synonymous with teenage summers.
When Carlson, and her friends and fellow singers Alvarez and Andrew Mahlan heard from their choir director Joy Belt-Roselieb about the trip last spring, they agreed to work hard to make it happen.
Each choir member got to put $9 out of every $10 raffle ticket they sold toward the cost of their trip, and the remaining $1 went to a trip emergency fund. The parents collected an array of donated prizes, including a grand prize trip for two to Paris.
"There are many kids who went on this trip who didn't just have their parents write a check," said Caitlin's mom, Rita Carlson. "They worked through the entire school year to make this trip a reality for themselves. It's not just their hard work as musicians, but also their realization that this was a unique honor to be invited to this."
Caitlin raised the full $3,400 for her trip between the raffle and working for a year at Marshalls. Alvarez covered a large chunk through selling raffle tickets, and Mahler worked as a pool lifeguard and sold tickets to fund his portion.
For the trio of South High School seniors-to-be, working hard for something made it even sweeter.
"It made it so much more special for all of us," Mara said.
The beauty of Austria was also nearly overwhelming, right off the plane, Caitlin said.
"We took pictures that you'd think we stole off of Google," she said. "It's like (the scenery) came with its own Kodak editor. It was too pretty, it felt like it was beyond us."
And as a huge "Sound of Music" fan, seeing the picturesque hills of Austria, and the two main cities in the movie – Salzburg and Vienna – were more than just a little added bonus for Caitlin.
"We got to go to the exact places they filmed the movie," she said. "It was really cool. We felt like total dorks, but it was fun."