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May 15, 2006

Theft kills teen choir's special trip

San Jose Mercury News (CA):

For the students in St. Francis High School's chamber choir, it was the culmination of a year of hard work: a trip to Salt Lake City to perform with the prestigious Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They raised money through bake sales and performances, and for months practiced singing difficult Mozart pieces in Latin and German.

But last week, the students at the Catholic school in Mountain View learned there would be no trip. Most of the $13,000 they had raised on their own or collected from their parents had been stolen. "We all feel like we ran into a brick wall, and there's nothing we can do about it,'' choir director Margaret Durando said Sunday, the day the trip would have wrapped up. "We spent the whole year working toward this.''

Details of the theft remain sketchy. According to Durando, most of the money was taken by employees of a Florida-based company that organized the trip for St. Francis and dozens of other high school choirs across the country. She said she learned of the theft from the company's owner, who could not be reached for comment Sunday. Every year, St. Francis' chamber choir takes a trip, but this would have been the first time the group traveled out of state. It also would have been far more prestigious than past excursions.

The choir was scheduled to sing for two highly accomplished conductors, Will Kesling of the University of Florida School of Music and Mormon Tabernacle Choir Director Craig Jessop. "We've done local performances and competitions, but this was our big thing,'' said Douglas Gibson, a junior at St. Francis who has sung as a hobby since he was in elementary school. ``We were going over all this great music that our choir as well as other students were going to be singing with the orchestra. And we were also preparing some of our own music. A whole lot of work went into it.''

Most of the students stand to lose $400 to $500. Only the cost of the flight, minus a cancellation fee, is likely to be recovered, Durando said. Senior Tim McCrone, 18, said he couldn't believe it. `"You wouldn't expect someone to take money from a company doing choral trips for students,'' he said. Wendy Shue, a 17-year-old senior, said she was saddened less by the money than losing an opportunity to perform on a big stage. Because she turned in her check late, Shue lost only $150. "I was lucky," she said.

Posted by acapnews at May 15, 2006 8:17 PM