Alumni Stories

Danielle Piccinini
Choir Alumna 1999-2006

Imagine over 1,000 elementary school children lined up before school singing together…that was my reality every day in Khula Village.  I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural Zulu village in South Africa for two amazing years, and not a day went by that I didn’t hear these children sing.  Looking at them, with their worn uniforms and bare feet, one would find it hard to believe that they could effortlessly make such beautiful music.  With laughing eyes and bright smiles, from the youngest to the oldest, each one sang at the top of their lungs in glorious, perfect harmony and danced as if no one was watching.  Despite the hardship that each of these children faced on a daily basis nothing brought them more happiness than music.  Every day I felt privileged to be a part of this gift.

Throughout my time in the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir I learned that music had the ability to transcend all language and cultural barriers.  My experience in Khula Village was no exception.  It was music that gave me the sense of belonging in a place so foreign to my own home.  It provided me a way to connect with the community, as I was always so happy to dance and sing along.  Yes, seeing a tall white American woman attempt traditional dances and Zulu songs never failed to get a laugh, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was my willingness to fully embrace their culture that helped me to be a successful volunteer. 

When I was a young singer in the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir we sang a song called, “Hope for Resolution.”  Part of that song is written in isiZulu and I will never forget the humor we all found in the ‘clicks’ we had to make.  During my time in the village I shared the recording of this song with many of my students and friends who were all shocked to hear Americans sing in their language. Yes, they too laughed right along with me when they heard the attempted ‘clicks!’ 

I truly believe that the international exposure I received as a young girl in Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, both through musical and cultural exchange, instilled in me an eagerness to see the world and to find the particular beauty in its variety of people and places.  It was this foundation that served as a catalyst for me to join the Peace Corps as well as to continue my education in global health.  I know that great changes are needed in our world and I believe that youth are the key to our future. Upon completion of my MPH and MBA at Johns Hopkins I hope to take my passion for youth empowerment and be a part of that needed change.

Lisa D'Annunzio
Choir Alumna 1990-2002

Fresh out of law school, and ready for adventure, I accepted a Legal Advocate position with Asylum Access, a small NGO in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that provides legal aid to refugees. Armed with 3 years of rigorous academic instruction, I was confident my law school experience had adequately prepared me to take on this new challenge. However, I soon discovered that the most valuable asset I brought to the table was not my Juris Doctor; it was my ability to connect with people from cultures very different from my own. And this skill was not learned in the classroom, it was cultivated through 12 years of singing and traveling with the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir.

I graduated from the Choir over a decade ago, but I still keep in touch with many of my international host families. When you travel with the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir, you serve as an ambassador for the United States. We knew that immersing ourselves in a different culture, and respecting that culture, was just as important as singing beautiful music. Developing friendships with those with whom you did not share a similar background, or even a common language, was always the most rewarding part of traveling. At the time, I did not recognize the profound effect choir tour would have on my professional life. However, two weeks after landing in East Africa, I realized that the ability to connect with people would be incredibly important for my work with Asylum Access.

The foundation of any attorney-client relationship is trust, but this is especially true when working with refugees. Most of my clients were tired, hungry, homeless, and had just fled unimaginable brutality in their home countries. In order for Asylum Access to provide legal guidance, we first needed our clients to recount their stories of persecution, and relive the often-treacherous journey to Tanzania. I had to be more than just a lawyer; I needed to be a friend and confidant. Initially daunting, I quickly realized that years of singing with the Piedmont Choir had already prepared me for this challenge.

I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned through the Choir. My time as a young, traveling singer will continue to be one of the most significant and compelling experiences of my life.