Today ended up being a fantastic day on tour but it didn’t start that way. At our usual morning rehearsal, we found out that over 60% of the choir have come down with a cold or are not well and not performing at full strength and voice. Tom was rightly concerned and cut our rehearsal in half and decided to do some warm-ups on the bus down to Oswestry – about half-an-hour away.
On the drive there in the afternoon we stopped at the Pontcysylite aqueduct – a 130ft high beautiful structure finished in 1805 after a ten-year build. It is breath-taking. When we arrived at our venue we were overwhelmed by the hospitality put on by the local Women’s Institute – if I had one, I had five cups of tea! And there was no way we were going to finish all the lovely sandwiches and cakes spread so lovingly before us.
On the short walk to the church we stopped for a photo at the ruins of an old castle. We were all taken in by the lovely swan family on the banks of the river. I have realised that it takes for ever to get a group photo of our choir, but we are managing to hold a pose and smile for the five or so minutes it takes every time for all the spouses and friends to make sure they have just the right photo. Ayşe takes great delight in taking ‘selfies’ and tonight I get to star in one.
Our concert with the Orthopaedic Male Voice Choir is a great success. They formed just on 50 years ago and are named after the renown Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry. We have a quick after-glow in the pub next door – The Old Boote Inn and make it back to Chester by about midnight.
Today was a rest day for the choir and given the state of our voices Tom let us off from having a general rehearsal. And while the weather has turned, and it was overcast and cold and a bit rainy today – that certainly didn’t stop me going in and admiring the wonder that is the old city of Chester. Like York – it is a walled city with picturesque shops in the Elizabethan style. I have been to Chester many times and it never fails to amaze me each and every time I come. I took the opportunity to pick up a few souvenirs for family, take a few photos and wander back to the hotel via the canal.
After my visit to the town centre I was picked up by Trevor and Evelyn, old friends from the parish of Waverton who took me to the restaurant 1539 at the Chester racecourse. The restaurant is so named because it was in the year 1539 that the first horse races were held on this spot! We had a fantastic meal and then went off to the parish of Tarporley, where Trevor is an assistant priest.
Back to the hotel for a choir dinner and an early night – officially half-way through the choir tour already – it is going fast!
Eleven years ago, in early 2007, I had the great honour of doing a three-month exchange with the Priest of St Peter’s Church of England, in the little village of Waverton – about 4 miles from Chester. Knowing that the choir were to be based in Chester for five nights I took the opportunity to contact the parish to see whether anyone remembered me and would like to come to the concert last night and have the opportunity to have a meal together. As I mentioned in the last post – a number did come last night to the concert. We arranged for a group get together today and it was a great time. I was picked up at the Mercure by Peter and Maureen and driven to the Grosvenor Arms for a wonderful lunch and a few pints as we walked down memory lane. Tomorrow, another couple, Trevor and Evelyn, who couldn’t make it last night or today will take me out to lunch. Today, it was like no time had passed since I was last in Waverton. Given that my home parish church is also St Peter’s – it was decided we should see about having the two St Peter’s twinned! Whether that happens or not – it was a lovely catch up with old friends. Another wonderful day on tour!
I have also included some other photos from last night’s concert in Chester.
We are getting used to the routine now – straight after breakfast we are into Tom’s sessions! However, our daily singing rehearsal is certainly paying dividends as our ‘sound’ is becoming more blended and unified and most importantly – confident. We are only about 30% the size of our regular choir back home, so with so few on stage – we all are needed, and we need to get used to a new smaller sound.
On the bus for the trip from York to Chester. We stop at Holmfirth for a lunch stop. Unbeknownst to anyone on tour, including the drivers – they were in the middle of a two-day food and wine festival and the place was packed. It made moving the bus around a bit difficult. We had arranged for a local guide to join us and regale us with tales of the town plus of the two major series – Call the Midwife and Last of the Summer Wine that have been filmed in this town and area! He was funny and engaging and spoke nonstop for the entire 40 minutes he was on the bus. A particularly interesting tale from the town’s history involves a former Vicar who was the leader of a gang of thieves chipping the gold and silver off the old English coins and making their own coinage from them. The son of the vicar was also charged but let off because it was felt he was forced into the crime. The nice irony is that he went on to become head of the Royal Mint! Now whether any of this story is true is besides the point – it’s this story which I will remember from our time in Holmfirth!
Onto Chester by 3.30pm and the choir members had to be back on the bus for our trip to the Chester Town Hall. Our fifth concert of the tour was to be with both the Chester Male Voice Choir and the Flint Welsh Male Voice Choir. Each choir had a bracket of five songs; our Ayşe had two brackets of two songs; and the combined three choirs had a bracket to close the concert of six songs finishing with the impressive ‘World in Union.’ It was a truly memorable concert and for the boys of our choir who hadn’t sung with so many before, it was a small taste of what to expect at the Royal Albert if only a tenth the size!
On a personal note, I also had the pleasure of catching up with members of St Peter’s Waverton Church – where I had been the Vicar for twelve weeks on exchange back in 2007 – Waverton is only 4 miles out of Chester and many had made the trip in for the concert. I was touched that they even remembered me yet wanted to come out to see me again. It was another wonderful day on tour!
Yesterday, Friday (28/9/18) was a rest day for the choir. We had our usual rehearsal first thing but then were free to explore the delights of York. I have had the pleasure of having been here a few times before so didn’t feel the need to exert myself in sight-seeing. My main priorities remain (1) learning the music and words for the big concert at the Royal Albert in two weeks (!!) and (2) keeping my voice free of the bugs and coughs and nasties that are floating around the choir.
I did however wander up to the street named ‘Shambles.’ It is said that this street was the inspiration for ‘Diagon Alley’ in the Harry Potter movies and having a few of my family who are very keen H.P fans (fanatics!) – it was a must-see. Our guest Soprano Ayşe invited a few of us to join her for dinner and a lovely night was had by all – especially at the local pub where we had a night cap at the end of the night. Ayşe is not shy and made friends with the rather large bulldog in the pub and then proceeded to set him off barking (nicely of course) by breaking-out in song!
Saturday was an early start for several of the choir who wanted to watch the AFL Grand final between Collingwood and the West Coast Eagles. Up at 5am the game kicked off at 5.30am local time and the hotel kindly arranged for us to have the main lounge area. I was keen for Collingwood to win, not for any love of the ‘pies’ but because our musical director Tom is a mad keen supporter of them. I figured that if Collingwood lost then Tom would be grumpier than usual and a grumpy MD is not what a choir wants! It was an exciting game and after a promising start by the Pies it came down to less than a goal at the end. To be fair to Tom he seemed gracious after his team lost and didn’t say a word about it for the rest of the day.
We had our fourth concert on tour tonight, combining with the York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir. We didn’t know till later that they are an award-winning choir and after hearing them and singing with them we know why! They were superb with a rich deep sound and under wonderful control by their energetic conductor. It was delight for us to be part of the night. We felt this was our best performance yet of the tour. Not perfect by any means but an improvement on what has gone before thus far. The daily rehearsals and the stern warnings from Tom that we need to listen more closely to each other seem to be working. It was a twenty-five walk back from the venue to our hotel – the venue for the traditional ‘after-glow’ – and we were ready for a song or two and a pint or two. I must say that thus far – this has been one of the best concerts I have been involved in over my three overseas tours with the choir. Another great day on tour with the AWMC!
After our now regular morning rehearsal, today was primarily to be a travelling day. Our group is too many for one single coach but too few to use two coaches, so we have one coach and one minivan. Today was my turn to travel in the minivan and it was grand! We had a brief stop at Durham and I took the opportunity to amble up the winding step road that then gives up the vista that is Durham Cathedral! Not enough time to go in but I had to be satisfied with the view of what I believe is one of the most ascetically pleasing Cathedrals in all of Christendom.
Onto Whitby and the statue of Cook and the beautiful inlet that shelters this glorious town. The weather has been perfect the last few days and we all wish it will last! The town is packed with tourists of all ages and nations and it’s a colourful cacophony of sights and sounds. Lunch of course was fish and chips! We finally make our way to York and to our hotel just outside the wall. We are here for the next three nights and have a rest day tomorrow before a challenging set of concerts on the weekend. Our group dinner goes well and our touring party are starting to relax into the trip and so far – so good!
We started the day with a rehearsal with Ayşe taking the warm-up instead of Tom. A welcome change and with it coming from a professional singer – even more valuable. After rehearsal I realised I needed to learn/relearn several of the items in our concert program as well as a number of the tricky Welsh songs for the Royal Albert Hall performance. While I spent most of the day inside working on my music, I did take the opportunity for a few photos along the quay side – including the one of the bridge that all Australians would recognise at once – except it’s about a third the size! It was built around the same time as Sydney’s bridge.
In the afternoon we made our way to the venue for the joint concert with the Backworth Male Voice Choir. We realised straight way we would have our work cut out for us in that the room was not the best for singing and the fact that we were not on risers but three rows flat on the stage with each of the two back rows singing into the bloke in front! Also, the Backworth choir had almost 60 choristers to our twenty-six!
The high-light of the night was our first public performance of a joint number with our Soprano Ayşe. She has already added a sparkle and professional edge to our tour, but she learnt a welsh piece in under 40 hours word and tone perfect and it was a delight to sing Anfonaf Angel with her. At the afterglow presentation its was ironic for the Backworth choir to make a presentation to us of a kangaroo and joey – given we were in Newcastle. Just as well we didn’t have a lump of coal to give in return. Given the difficulties of the venue it turned out to be a wonderful evening and again the audience seemed to really enjoy the concert. Tomorrow we make our way to York via Durham and Whitby.