The choir tour of the UK had been building to this day – the Australian Welsh Male Choir would join 15 other choirs to form a massed choir to sing at the Royal Albert Hall. After all the hard work and cramming I was ready as was my fellow choir members.
The day would prove to be a long one! We gathered at the RAH at 11.45am and were escorted – choir-by-choir up the many flights of stairs to our section of the top gallery which would be our ‘green room/changing room/waiting area.’ After a lot of sorting out and dry runs – we were marched to our door and led on stage, at 1pm! Facing the stage – our section of Baritones from the AWMC are on the right and three tiers up!
We rehearse for about 3 hours till about 4ish, when we are escorted off stage and marched to the Imperial College next door for an early dinner. Well, it takes a good hour and a half to get 800 or so men fed, and we are marched back to the RAH by about 6pm. We are on stage by 6.45pm and the concert starts at 7pm. On stage we are accompanied by the members of the Royal Welsh Guard Military Band. They are fantastic! High-lights for me of the concert are getting through the 7 difficult Welsh pieces with confidence; including singing ‘Llan Owen’ and ‘Gwinllan a Roddwyd I’m Gofal.’ (look up on you tube – versions of these beautiful but difficult songs to sing!) I especially enjoy listening to the band. Our MD Tom and accompanist Michelle conducted and played piano for the singing of the National Anthem – an honour for them (and us also!)
The concert finished at 9.30pm and it was nearly 11pm by the time we got back to our hotel and into the bar! Given that four other choirs were staying at the same hotel – it proved to be a noisy and glorious place to be as we sing and drink in celebration of a wonderful occasion. I call it a day around 1am and collapse into my bed exhausted. I can’t believe that it’s all over and tomorrow I will be flying back home after nearly seven weeks on the road.
I thank everyone who has been following my deeds via this blog. This entry will be the last for a while. But stay tuned – you never know!
We came down from Northampton on Wednesday (10 October) – we stopped at Bicester for lunch. Not the pretty tiny village near Oxford – no, the extraordinary fake shopping village that is basically a DFO for the large brands. Think (Melbourne people) ‘Chadstone’ stretched out into one street and outdoors! There is a chain of these ‘villages’ in China and Europe. It was one of the most surreal experiences I have had wandering up and down – looking for somewhere cheap to have a bit to eat and thinking to myself – this is truly the sad end of civilisation.
We arrived at our hotel in Kensington – after a massive battle with the London traffic – now the countdown was on for Saturday night’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall
Thursday (11 October) was for me a day of intense swotting. I had been to London several times before so didn’t feel the need to go out and about but many of our party did. West End shows were seen; many took the ‘hop-on-hop-off’ tour around. Others had specific places and things to see. However, the one thing on all our choristers’ minds was the fact that this night we were rehearsing with all the other international choirs, under the watchful eye of the host choir – the renown London Welsh and their imperious Musical Director. It is one thing to blend in with 800 others on the stage of the Royal Albert – another thing altogether to be with 100 and be examined! As it turned out the baritone section from the Australian Welsh were in the front row – mere metres form the ‘ears’ of the MD!
We survived – and two things emerged. One, we were not the worst choir to be participating, and two, thanks to Tom our MD, and some bloody hard yakka we did know most of the required material! We drove back to our hotel that night a confident choir ready to sing our hearts out!
On Friday (12 October), feeling that I could sight-see a bit, I took a No. 10 bus to the British Museum. It was my first time on an official London bus and I sat up top – watching Hyde Park; Kensington Palace; Marble Arch and Oxford St pass by. I love the British Museum and it was a delight to visit once more an ‘old friend.’ It was ironic that, having been in Cairo Museum six weeks ago, I felt better acquainted with the Egyptian section – but also sad that the ‘Rosetta stone’ is here and not there!
We had the great delight and privilege of singing this night at Australia House at a reception put on in our honour. Mr George Brandis, Australia’s High Commissioner in London, was very pleased with our performance, and in fact, it was one of our best. An important occasion to shine and it may be the catalyst for other concerts back home.
One night to go to the BIG concert – very excited!
Yesterday morning (Monday 8 October) we left Cardiff for the scenic drive to Northampton. Unfortunately, the air-conditioning broke down in the bus and so we made an unscheduled stop in the little village of Stow-on-Wold. Once fixed we went onto our lunch stop at Banbury, a little market town made famous by the poem – Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse; Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes. And she shall have music wherever she goes.
The cross, one of three from the ‘middle-ages’, has long gone, replaced by a mid-19th century memorial to the marriage of Princess Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria, to Prince Frederic of Prussia. Truth be told, apart from this memorial and the very modern statue of the lady on a horse, I didn’t find anything else to warrant a two-hour lunch stop!
We made our way into Northampton and the Park Inn – our accommodation for the next two nights. Being the first night in a new place, we had a choir dinner and of course, yours truly, along with my good Baritone friend John L, issued fines for misdemeanours committed by fellow choristers. All the money raised will go to charity – so far over 70 pounds!
After rehearsal on Tuesday morning we were led up to the Guild Hall of Northampton for a civic reception by the Mayor and Lady Mayoress. After a brief chat where he seemed eager to leave, we were passed to an aide who gave a very passionate talk about the history of Northampton and the beautiful guildhall. At the 50-minute mark we were still outside the hall examining each carving on the exterior of the 1864 building. I decided enough was enough – raced in for a private view of glorious main hall and then made my own way back to the hotel via the chemist for restocking on the drugs I am using to clear the voice. Many however took the opportunity to visit the leather museum- Northampton being of course famous for making leather shoes since the 12th century.
In the afternoon we made our way to the Abington United Reformed Church for our 10th concert. We were singing with the Northampton Male Voce Choir. The ladies of the church provided a wonderful afternoon tea and light supper. Their choir had 70 members. The interesting thing about them was an exceptional recruitment drive they did last year which gained the choir 35 new members! We did take notes! After the concert Tom, our MD was full of praise for the concert overall and for our performance – high praise indeed. The afterglow in the local pub was excellent but we were on such a high coming back on the bus that several of us went onto another pub for a few late night/early morning celebratory drinks.
Woke up today to a glorious sunrise. A rest day for the drivers and choir. A group of us make our way to the St John the Baptist Church – right in the middle of the city! We did however have to dodge the thousands of spectators lining the route for the ½ Marathon being run today. I spotted an Australian flag and found out later that Australian Jack Rayner won the race in 1-hour 1 minute and 1 second. An Australian lass – Celia Sullohern – came second in the women’s section. It was however sad to learn later that, for the first time in the race’s 15- year history, two people had heart attacks at the finish of the race and both later died in hospital.
The church service was light on for people – many couldn’t get into town because of road closures for the marathon. Our small party from the choir certainly boosted the singing. The sermon focused on Gospel text where Jesus tells the disciples that to enter the Kingdom of heaven you need a child like faith. The preacher also touched on the part of the gospel where Jesus is answering the Pharisees’ question regarding divorce. He preached about relationships being at the heart of everything, including our relationship with God. A good cuppa and warm fellowship followed the service. The sun was out, and the city was beautifully bathed in a warm glow. The centre was packed with people and it was a fun atmosphere. It certainly is a wonderful city to walk around and enjoy.
We woke up to an overcast sky and a light misty rain. However, according to Tom – our rehearsal this morning is the best so far on tour. It’s a pity it has taken two- and a-bit weeks to get here. Unfortunately, my voice is a bit thin and I can’t quite shake the irritable throat bug I seem to have acquired and so I have no power in the voice! After rehearsal I make my way back to my room to stay warm, rest the voice and continue learning for the concert next Saturday – one week to go!!
The weather improves in the afternoon and our 9th concert on tour is with the renown Beaufort Male Voice Choir at the glorious little village of Abergavenny. We are singing in Our Lady and St Michael’s Catholic Church and the acoustics are fabulous. We arrive for a rehearsal at 6pm and the concert goes off with a bang from 7pm. The boys from the Beaufort choir have a stunning sound. Among many Welsh favourites they performed a medley from Jersey Boys (with some chorography) and the highlight for me was their rendition of ‘Solidarity Forever’ from the musical Billy Elliot. Along with the as always spectacular Ayşe, draped in a Welsh flag, we held up our end and the audience were very appreciative of the concert. When we sing, especially in joint numbers with other choirs, I must pinch myself to make sure it is real. It is such a good feeling and I am very thankful to be part of the Australian Welsh Male Choir but extremely grateful to be on tour to experience nights such as these.
We enjoyed a lovely afterglow in the parish hall and are safely back at our hotel just on midnight. Another wonderful day.
Far away a voice is calling
bells of memory chime,
come home again, come home again.
They call through the oceans of time;
we’ll keep a welcome in the hillside,
we’ll keep a welcome in the Vales.
This land you knew will still be singing
when you come home again to Wales.
This land of song will keep a welcome
and with a love that never fails;
we’ll kiss away each hour of hiraeth –
when you come home again to Wales.
We leave Liverpool this morning for the drive to Cardiff, capital of Wales! As soon as we crossed the border many broke into song – singing the words above. The mood in the bus is certainly great and cheery and aided by the fact that Tom is in the mini-bus today so we can sing whatever we like in the bus with no frowns coming from our MD!
We stop however for lunch back in England at a wonderful town called Ludlow, Shropshire. It has a glorious towering church, quaint old shops and a spectacular castle. We are given a couple of hours to savour and soak up the atmosphere. Ayşe of course ends up singing an aria along side a busker!
The drive along the backroads into Wales and on to Cardiff is just breath-takingly beautiful. We arrive at around 5pm at our hotel – The Holiday Inn – opposite Cardiff Castle! Straight in for a rehearsal and then a choir dinner. The hotel is very prepared for us as each table has a list of names of whom is sitting where and what each person ordered (which is good because I can’t remember what I filled in on the form a week ago!)
The weather has turned and is fore-cast to be rainy and cold tomorrow. One can feel it in the air already and after a long day in the coach I decide to hit the sack early. Just on a week to the big concert – we are getting a bit nervous!
We have a better rehearsal this morning than yesterday and are on the bus to Liverpool by 10.30am. First stop is the Catholic Cathedral which is very stunning. Built ‘in the round’ with lots of open space and a soaring centre part – it does look like a giant wigwam from outside! We were in front of the altar on the marble steps, but it was hard to hear our small piano and the echo was a good 3 seconds making our sound a bit mushy!
I pick up my fridge magnets and we make our way in the afternoon down Hope St to the Anglican Cathedral. This is the largest Cathedral in the UK and I had forgotten just how immense the space is inside. However, we were assaulted with a cacophony of sound and lights that was very disconcerting! It turned out that Barclay’s bank was having a dinner in the Cathedral that night and this was the three singing groups and bands doing their rehearsal. You could hardly hear yourself think. Not the quiet reflective zone one is used to when entering sacred space.
This ends just before we are to sing. For those who know the Cathedral – we sing under the arched bridge at the top of the Narthex. It goes well and while there is an echo – it isn’t as bad as in the other Cathedral and those listening appreciated our efforts.
We have a time for sight-seeing on the Liverpool dockland area and many get to the Beatles Museum. Back to Chester by 7pm for a quiet night in. Tomorrow we are off to Cardiff. Finally going to Wales!