OAKLAND — Regional School Unit 18 choral directors Kevin and Pam Rhein are bringing an international flair to choral students this winter through a collaboration with their daughter and son-in-law in Italy.

Their RSU 18 students in grades five through 12 are collaborating with the Marymount International School Chorus in Rome, Italy, to record a 16th century processional, “Gaudete,” sung in Latin and associated with the third Sunday of Advent, which this year falls on Dec. 13.

“Through music, we find a way that we can join from all across the world,” said Kevin Rhein, RSU 18’s lead choral director. “The Messalonskee music program has always been dedicated to crossing borders, and if there’s anything in our way that says to stop, we just look for alternatives and for ways to get around that.”

Kevin Rhein and his wife, Pam, RSU 18’s assistant choral director and district accompanist, have been at RSU 18 for 40 years.

The Rheins’ daughter, Nia Passmore, and son-in-law, Andrew Passmore. live in Rome, which is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Andrew Passmore leads the choral department and serves as a general music teacher at the Marymount International School, and Nia, a 2006 graduate of Messalonskee High School, is a freelance soprano soloist, lay clerk and private singing teacher in Rome.

The idea came during a family chat one night as a means to foster hope during the coronavirus pandemic. The district’s students said they were excited about learning with contemporaries from across the world.

“We got this opportunity before we saw the whole piece come together with everyone,” said Abigail Worcester, an eighth-grader at Messalonskee Middle School. “We got to see them for people, not just voices in a song.”

Members of the international choir rehearse outside Wednesday at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Then, Andrew Passmore cut the song into three parts, and he and Nia recorded the practice tapes.

RSU 18 students said they are appreciative of the social aspect of the collaboration. The students have been sending videos back and forth introducing themselves to one another.

“It made me feel proud in a way that we’re part of this scale of music with people across the world,” said Ethan Martin, an eighth-grader at Messalonskee Middle School. “It makes me feel good about it, and I think it gives a lot of people hope that their chorus is going.”

Martin’s classmate, Alex Wyalsoatt, expressed pride in continuing chorus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because of this quarantine, I was definitely scared that we weren’t going to be able to do chorus,” Wyalsoatt said. “I am so glad that we were given a way to be actually able to connect with other choruses in different countries, in different places, to create this entire thing.”

The Passmores met in 2010 at the University of York in the United Kingdom, where Nia Passmore was working on her postgraduate degree in early music and Andrew Passmore was beginning a doctoral program.

Andrew Passmore began at Marymount in the middle of October and wanted to get the students singing for Christmas. In a normal year, the school puts on a 90-minute-long outdoor show of Christmas carols and other music, but in a compromise in the interest of health and safety, Marymount school officials decided to produce a 20-minute video with “Gaudete” and other readings that will go out to the school’s community.

“Because of the time frame, bearing in mind that I hadn’t sort of met any of the students or the staff, I thought ‘Gaudete,’ it’s singable,” Andrew Passmore said. “It’s easy to learn, but sounds great.”

At Marymount, the middle school is in person while the high school is mostly virtual. Andrew Passmore said he teaches about 110 students in grades six the eight, and the virtual high school chorus involves about a dozen students.

“We wanted to give them something that they could achieve, that would give them a morale boost, but also be really impressive,” Nia Passmore said.

The Rheins and Passmores will then combine the audio tracks from all of the schools involved to create an international choir of sorts.

Students from James H. Bean School in Sidney, Belgrade Central School and Williams Elementary School, Messalonskee Middle School and Messalonskee High School in Oakland are involved in the project.

Kevin and Pam Rhein, left, choral directors in Regional School Unit 18, and their daughter, Nia Passmore, and son-in-law, Andrew Passmore. Greg Levinsky screenshot/Morning Sentinel

“They did everything we’d do for our students when we want to give them some chorus homework,” Kevin Rhein said. “And Pam said, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if we took our students and we taught them the parts and used Andrew and Nia’s tracks.'”

The RSU 18 students use Google Classroom to post materials for at-home rehearsal, and all of the students in the district have state-provided laptops to record from home.

When students from RSU 18 schools record, they sing along with the Passmores’ recording, but the Rheins only hear the student recording to evaluate.

“They have the programs, like GarageBand. Some of them are comfortable recording on their phones, but a lot of them use the apps provided,” Pam Rhein said. “They’re listening to the recordings, singing along, then recording and some of them are sending them to us for feedback.”

When at school, RSU 18 students sing outdoors. They are 14 feet apart and in masks. The final recordings are done in this setting.

“In the snow, in the cold, we’re still out there,” Kevin Rhein said.

Health and safety protocols make music a challenge, and the Rheins and Passmores are all about finding a way.

“Everything’s against us at the moment as musicians,” Nia Passmore said. “There’s just so much against music making and especially live music making, and these children hadn’t been singing at all and certainly not together, so our biggest thing was how can we get them singing?”

At the RSU 18 schools, music was presented in classes before Thanksgiving. At some point this week or next, Andrew Passmore will send the final tracks to a friend in Bogota, Colombia, who will do the final editing and sound engineering.

“It really is quite an international project,” Pam Rhein said.

This is not the first time the family has collaborated, but this time is even more meaningful.

“This is the latest one, but also because of COVID and the situation that we’re in, it’s become a digital challenge,” Nia Passmore said. “Workshopping it with the kids has taken it to a whole other level.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.