BY REBECCA ISENHART
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Aug. 19 was Italian-American Day at the Saratoga Race Course, and the Saratoga Pavilion was lively with the sounds of beginners learning Italian phrases and hot, hungry patrons snapping up gelato and cannoli. But when Niskayuna High School music teacher Christina Pizzino-Catalano and her students stepped to the stage, all was quiet.
Family and friends held up smartphones to record video, and complete strangers settled into folding chairs, listening to every bouncing consonant and pure vowel with smiles in their eyes.
Pizzino-Catalano went first, a change from her usual station with her back to the audience at school concerts. She let loose a performance of “Caro mio ben,” an Italian classic that temporarily distracted the sweltering audience from their Pellegrino water.
With her, she brought five Niskayuna voice students, some of whom are Italian and some of whom simply love to sing the lively language.
In addition to embracing a unique opportunity to perform alongside their teacher, the students also enjoyed the rare chance to watch their vocal coach show off her skills. Pizzino-Catalano admitted it’s not a common occurrence; outside of short demonstrations in the classroom, most of her students get to hear her sing just once or twice each year.
“I once in a while sing for them,” she said.
The younger performers represented a wide range of ages, from seventh to 12th grades. Virginia Moraga, the youngest in the bunch, sang a piece called “Gia il sole dal gange.”
“It’s about the sunrise over the mountain,” Moraga said. She thinks of the song as a metaphor for the promise that tomorrow will be a better day.
The young vocalist, who began singing just a couple of years ago and typically prefers per- forming pop music, said she was nervous before taking the stage.
“I just take a couple big breaths,” she said. “My mom always tells me adrenaline is the best thing for my voice.” That seemed to be the case, as Moraga received enthusiastic applause from the tent’s visitors and vendors. Her mother, Sandra, was perhaps the most moved. “I am absolutely elated,” she said. Lauren Gabriele, Jessica Seitz, Jessica Thomas and Caitlin Denney also performed. Jake Purington, music teacher at Van Antwerp Middle School, provided accompaniment piano.
For the leader of the group, whose Italian grandmother’s friends were among the vendors, the musical engagement was a satisfying punctuation on the summer.
“I just think it’s wonderful that we’re celebrating our heritage, and outside of food,” Pizzino-Catalano said. “There’s so much more than that.”