The singers learned during their "farewell dinner" last week that, thanks to an erupting volcano in Iceland, they would not be heading home April 16 as scheduled.
The 40 students who sing in the choir, plus parent chaperones, choir director Jill Denny and a couple of accompanists, have been figuring out ways to pass the time in the City of Lights while they wait for airports to reopen and air travel to resume. With a little luck, they will be flying home on Thursday, April 22, one week late.
Though there are worse places to be stuck, the situation wasn't always fun for the students.
"At first the kids were excited, but as the day went on, there was anxiety," said parent chaperone Cynthia Haines, whose daughter, junior Beth De Vogelaere, sings in the madrigal choir. "The kids are upset that they're missing boyfriends, birthdays, tests, you name it."
The madrigal choir, which goes on an annual international tour, performed Renaissance vocal music in London at St. Paul's Cathedral before heading to Paris and singing at Notre Dame.
But the plume of volcanic ash sweeping across Europe has transformed the two-week trip into a three-weeks-and-counting trip.
"We saw Delta (Airline) employees at the laundromat, and they didn't know any more than we did," Haines said Monday in a phone interview from Paris. "Every day they say, 'Tomorrow we'll see,' but every day everything is canceled."
Despite the stress, Haines said the extra week in Paris is going well. The group, 54 people in total, is still ensconced in its hotel near the Eiffel Tower overlooking the Seine River.
"We're very lucky we didn't go to the airport first," said choir director Denny. "If we had, we'd have been swimming home by now."
Instead, with help from their Parisian tour guide, the group has gotten to experience a lot more of Paris. They've picnicked on a small island in the Seine, staved off homesickness with burgers and fries from the Hard Rock Cafe, and taken a day trip to Versailles, Haines said. They've strolled past the Louvre museum at night, and gone bowling.
The students even gave an impromptu performance in a picturesque alleyway with good acoustics. Musicians from a private party nearby heard them and invited them over, Haines said.
"They played, we sang — we had a whole impromptu little concert. We've had magical moments like that," she said.
Haines said she's been impressed at how Denny has kept the group calm and organized.
"The kids all miss their families, they're concerned that they're falling behind in school, but all that aside, they are trying to make the most of it," Denny said. "We're seeing all the parts of Paris we missed the first time around."
The American Church in Paris is lending the group rehearsal space while its school is on vacation, Denny said. "People have been bending over backwards to make it nice for us," she said.
Besides the stress of keeping a large group of teenagers safe and happy, adults on the trip are fretting over how to pay for the unexpectedly long sojourn in Paris.
"We are running up credit cards," Denny said.
She estimates that every extra day in France is costing roughly 100 Euros per person, "and that's not us being extravagant," she said.
Denny said she looked into finding a cheaper hotel, relocating to a campground, or even taking the train to a less expensive country like Spain.But lots of other stranded travelers have had the same ideas, so the group has had to stay put, Denny said.
Plans are in the works for a fundraiser to defray the mounting costs of the trip, Denny said. The group might hold a concert and serve chocolate lava cakes, or it may make a CD of recordings from its European performances, she said.
"We're going to find ways to use their music to make some money," Denny said.
Anyone interested in helping support the Mountain View High School Madrigals can contact Denny at firstname.lastname@example.org.