Grace Pignolo: Music speaks a universal language of happiness

My choir's trip to Greece was a surprise and a delight.

Grace Pignolo, Post Bulletin Teen Columnists February 2020. (Ken Klotzbach/

“I have had many people come and taste my wine, but never has someone sung for me,” Maria, a lively cosmetics, honey, and wine seller, told us after we had surprised her with "What a Wonderful World" in three-part harmony. We sang, "The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people going by.”

I’ve always heard that the power of music transcends all borders and connects people of all backgrounds and life experiences. The first time I saw the truth behind this message was last summer when I traveled to Greece with Bella Voce, a young women’s choir in the Sing Out Loud organization in Rochester to which I belong.

At first, I didn’t want to go. The idea of heading to a country far away with a group of 50 high school girls seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, but I am glad my mother convinced me to go. Every day we traveled somewhere new. It didn’t matter where we were, we were always singing -- in planes, buses, streets, restaurants, and town squares.

In the Minneapolis Airport, we took up two gates and, to the annoyance of several travelers, we were sprawled out all over the floor. We took that opportunity to impromptu sing in the middle of a disgruntled crowd. Not even an hour later, we were singing on an airplane going through turbulence. At that time, I couldn’t see the impact of our singing other than confusing passengers on our journey.

When we arrived in Athens, we were hit with new things. The elevators in our first hotel were one-quarter the size they are in the U.S., so we were shoving 10 girls in a three-person elevator. We couldn’t flush the toilet paper, and to switch on the electricity in our room, we had to use the key.


Despite the differences, it was clear the people there were just as vibrant as our music. The streets of Athens were filled with bright wall art and graffiti, the shopping districts were alive with excitement, and the community centers and churches welcomed us.

Half a world apart, I felt at home in Greece. Wherever we went, we said thank you with our music. When we performed at a home for girls, they, in turn, danced with us. All 50 singers joined in a giant circle outdoors and learned the steps, smiling in the sweltering heat. That day we sang "What a Wonderful World" and it came true. Even with some language barriers, we were able to laugh and play as if our little corner of the world was linked to theirs through music.

As we sang through the streets, people would come out onto their balconies to listen. Strangers were instantly connected as we all joined in singing the Greek National Anthem.

We had worked hard to learn the correct pronunciation and took the time to understand the lyrics and the freedom of which it spoke. When we visited an olive oil mill and sang for the staff, they cried, and one of them explained that he had never before heard girls sing the national anthem. He had only heard male soldiers sing it, but when we sang, it reminded him of happy times instead of conflict.

Just standing in the mill, I could feel that we had truly crossed barriers we hadn’t even known were there. The room we filled with music and hope every Sunday at practice had followed us each step of the way and left behind a few moments of happiness in the lives we touched.

Not only had we shared our gift, we had realized the importance of music and of coming together to sing it. The true universal language is music; it speaks volumes of people, their trials and experiences, and the emotion it brings to all -- something that unites.

Grace Pignolo will be a senior at Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters,

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