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Editorial: A chorus of boos turns to cheers at Groton-Dunstable

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It would probably be fitting, if somewhat ironic, to say that prayers have been answered at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.

The Groton-Dunstable Chamber Chorus will be performing at St. Anthony’s Basilica in Padula, Italy on Easter Sunday, an important stop on a tour of Italy and Croatia parents and students had thought was completely out of the question as of last week.

Although the school had previously performed at a Mass in the historic church — an experience students considered a highlight of their 2014 tour — former Superintendent of Schools Kristan Rodriguez canceled a return booking. A former School Committee member, Leslie Lathrop, contacted Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed a formal complaint about the plan. Rodriguez was advised by counsel to avoid the expense of a potential lawsuit.

During the time the Founding Fathers debated the merits of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, we doubt if they would have considered the performance of a public school choir at a church function a violation of the Establishment Clause. But that was the interpretation of Lathrop and the Washington, D.C. group.

Luckily, a compromise was in the works.

The Groton-Dunstable Chamber Chorus, which has performed at the Olympics, won competitions nationwide and turned down the opportunity to perform for Queen Elizabeth II, will once again perform at St. Anthony’s Basilica. It will even perform on Easter Sunday.

It will, however, perform between Masses. While their voices may lift to the heavens, it will be in a space where there is no Eucharist, no sermon, and no celebration of the holiest day in the Catholic calendar.

“Keep in mind that this is a complete break in tradition for St. Anthony’s and it speaks to the level to which they were excited for us to perform,” wrote Chorus Director Tim Savoy, Principal Michael Woodlock and Superintendent Bill Ryan in a letter to the school community. “It is a great honor that they would alter tradition to allow us to perform on this very special day in their religious year.”

This is quite acceptable to Lathrop, who said her argument was never with the venue — just the implied endorsement of students’ participation in a Mass.

And so the show goes on. Before the group can get together for a sigh of hallelujah, there are still a few challenges: the chamber parent group has committed over $96,000 for the group, but another $14,000 is needed to help students who cannot afford the trip.

A benefit concert by Entrain, a Martha’s Vineyard-based six-piece instrumental and vocal group, is scheduled for Sunday at the Devens Common Center at 31 Andrews Parkway in Devens. The event begins at 6:30 p.m., with a silent auction and reception. The chamber chorus sings at 7:30 p.m. Entrain goes on-stage from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. for listening and dancing.

Tickets are $40. A $75 ticket gets you premium seating, appetizers, a signed CD and a meet and greet with the band. A dinner menu and cash bar is available. To order tickets to the event, email chambertickets@gmail.com. For additional information about the chamber chorus, or to make donations for the trip, visit gdchamber.org/home.