ON THE ROAD WITH FESTIVAL SINGERS
June 28, 2010
Dear families and friends,
We’re off on a new adventure! This past March, we received an invitation through ACFEA (our tour company) to attend the UNISONG Choral Festival in Ottawa, Ontario. This is the 14th year for this festival that brings together choirs from throughout the Canadian provinces to participate in the July 1st Canada Day festivities at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. On occasion, they invite a choir from outside of Canada to participate, and this year, they invited the Colorado Children’s Chorale. Never ones to turn down exciting opportunities for our amazing little troupe, we rallied the forces and with unprecedented support from 33 tour choir families, the Colorado Children’s Chorale Festival Singers was born!
A choir festival offers our young performers a bit of a different experience than our usual performance tours. Less formal, shorter individual choir performing obligations, leaving more time for cultural immersion, sightseeing and play, as well as the opportunity to sing and interact with other choirs from around the world. The “singing and interacting with other choirs” includes, of course, learning common repertoire and, as we just started this process in March, that presented a bit of a challenge! You might remember that the last time you received one of these letters was from one (or both!) of our spring tours – National Tour Choir on a 12-day circle through Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Idaho; and Regional Tour Choir on a whirlwind path through northern Colorado. Those tours came immediately on the heels of Spring with the Children’s Chorale, followed by a week of rehearsals and performances with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and then our 22nd annual Vail Residency with 2010-11 Tour Choir. And if you’re not confused by now, you are either a Tour Choir parent or a dedicated fan, following our every move. So, in the midst of the above, we endeavored to work in some rehearsals for Festival Singers to learn eleven…yes, I said ELEVEN…Canadian folksongs, half of them in FRENCH, as well as turn the 33 of them into a cohesive unit for our individual performances. With four rehearsals, and a rehearsal CD recorded by the staff (with strict instructions for immediate destruction upon memorization!), we did it. Have I mentioned that these are EXTRAORDINARY KIDS we are talking about here??!!
Lynda Fisher, our wardrobe magician, turned around polos and pants from graduates to incoming Tour Choir for Vail, then back to graduates in Festival Singers. Stacey Smith packed and re-packed, keeping us unbelievably organized, as always, from tours to Vail and everything in between. The artistic staff, Travis Branam, Emily Crile, Mary Louise Burke, accompanist Tad Koriath and I, daily shifted back and forth from 2009-10 repertoire to the new 2010-11, then back, with Canadian folksongs and French diction dancing around in between. And those EXTRAORDINARY KIDS? No problem. Their brains seem to endlessly expand, absorbing anything and everything that we pour in.
Last Saturday we finally headed north to begin our adventure. We had a 9:00am call at DIA, where we were met by our ACFEA rep, Hugh Davies. With his help, we quickly checked in, sailed through security and were on our way. This would be the appropriate time to thank all of the parents and grandparents who make it possible, over and over again, to do what we do. 9:00am call time? Everyone is there, with everything they need, by 8:55am. Well…almost. One dad MAY have had to return to Lakewood to pick up the suitcase that, no problem, HE would put in the car. Oops. Fortunately it was Saturday morning, no traffic, and he made it back to DIA with time to spare. Ms. Burke waited at the check-in counter with Sammi and they caught up with us well before boarding time.
Our travel day was quite uneventful, just the way we like it, with backpacks fully loaded for any food emergency, including lunch and snacks along the way. I believe we could have easily fed the entire plane. We had a quick layover in Toronto, spotting Air Force One on the way in, and then on to Montreal for the first leg of the tour. We decided, since we were going to be “in the neighborhood,” we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit the beautiful, very cosmopolitan city of Montreal. Settled on the St. Lawrence River, it is Canada’s foremost port. Though 1,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, it is connected to the Great Lakes and is a leading industrial, commercial and financial center. And, of great excitement for us, home to the world’s largest population of French speaking people outside of Paris.
We were met at the airport by our ACFEA courier and new best friend, Emily. She was our oh-so-capable-and-accommodating escort for our time in Montreal. Emily led us to our bus and other Montreal companion, driver Roger. By then, backpacks and tummies were devoid of food, so we were grateful for the first stop at Buffet Vichy for dinner – a huge buffet reminiscent of the Golden Corrals and Chuck-o-Ramas we frequented on our spring tours. The only difference we discovered was more seafood and fried stuff, less beef. And always pizza, thank goodness! Our hotel was conveniently located just around the corner from Vieux- Montreal (the old town), and we quickly settled in for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday morning we tried to ignore the fact that we were still on Colorado time, with that 7:30am wake-up call felling like 5am in our bodies and, after a good breakfast, Roger was waiting for a morning of sightseeing. Martin, our local guide, joined us and we set off on the quiet Sunday morning streets, enjoying the beautiful architecture, both old and new; the Olympic Park (1976); over the bridge to drive through Parc Jean-Drapeau, past the Biosphere (originally the American Pavilion from Expo ’67), and around the NASCAR track on the Isle of Ste-Helene. Yes, I said the NASCAR track, in the bus, and competing with hordes of bicyclists…who were beating us. Then up to Parc du Mont Royal, which looked suspiciously like a hill to us, though Martin adamantly referred to it as their “mountain.” Roger dropped us off at the Basilica of Notre Dame and we spent some time marveling at both the beauty of the stone exterior and the magnificent stained glass windows, as well as the exquisite detail inside, most of it carved from rare woods that have been delicately gilded and painted. The colors are incredible, and I know many weddings were planned by forward-thinking young ladies. Note to dads: There will be room for 4,000 guests, but with the variety of rich colors and so many statues and painted pillars, the flowers should be kept very simple, saving some money in that area.
We lunched in Vieux-Montreal, trying a local favorite, poutine – french fries doused (translate: limply floating) in gravy and cheese curds. Opinions varied. Mine? In a word, yuck. Perhaps I’ve spent a bit too much time with 12-year-olds these past few months. We met Roger back at the hotel and headed off to our first performance at Manoir Montefiore, a local senior residence. They were waiting for us, and having warmed up on the bus, we walked straight into the community room and started singing and dancing. Our very sweet audience laughed, sang, clapped and tapped along with every song. When I invited them to visit Colorado with my usual spiel of “you can come by covered wagon, Chevy, airplane, or spaceship,” a gentleman in the front row shouted out, “How ‘bout by walker??!” Following the performance, we spent some time visiting, learning that many of them are Jewish Holocaust survivors. They proudly pulled out photos of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, wondering if anyone was available for marriage. Tianna, our grad-de-tour, was immediately snatched up as the “perfect match” for a single grandson, and a chorus of “Matchmaker” began. Cheeks were patted and kissed; hands held for just one more moment. It was truly an enriching experience, from one generation to another and back, particularly moving for those of us in the middle.
We spent the afternoon wandering through Vieux Montreal (the old town) with its tiny back streets, towering limestone castles, beautiful gardens and bustling market, and we felt as though we were in a different world. We enjoyed the street performers and shopped for local treasures. Hannah and Sophia are on a hunt for maple syrup, in a maple leaf bottle, of course; Makenzie, Sydney and Jayda are looking for the perfect sweats, with “Canada” and a maple leaf written in just the right spot; Andi is saving her money for something yet-to-be determined; Sammi is looking for a hat; Royce, Henry, Kaela and Makayla have trendy new sunglasses; Panteli was sporting maple leaf boxers, over his pants; Brian and Zach bought French action figures of some sort that came in handy for the game that was invented in their hotel room later that night; With the hotel so close, we were able to zip back and clean up before dinner, which was right around the corner. Salad; a choice of steak, chicken or pasta; rolls and dessert. We were quite happy and ready for bed by our usual 9:15pm bedtime.
Monday morning we were on the way to Ottawa, packed, loaded and breakfasted by 9:00am. We modified our usual state-crossing “oooooooooh” crescendo to “ehhhhhhhhhhhh” for the province crossing into Ontario, then on to the capital of Canada, Ottawa. Originally named “Bytown” after early settler Colonel By, the name was changed to Ottawa, an Algonquin Indian word, in 1855. In 1858 Queen Victoria named Ottawa the capital of the new United Province of Canada. Different from the very French Montreal, Ottawa feels a bit more British, with its stately Parliament Buildings and a Changing of the Guard ceremony every morning, many national museums, and our favorite feature, the Rideau Canal flowing through the city and becoming the longest ice-skating rink in the world every winter.
On the way into town, we passed the Parliament Buildings, noting the gigantic techno stage and screens being erected for the Canada Day festivities. We headed to the Byward Market for lunch, eating among the flower and fruit stands, then across the street to the mall for a bit more shopping. Mr. Koriath’s girls (Sophia, Revann, Rachel, Lyric, Maddie, Matti, Michelle and Anna) wandered among the flowers while he snapped beautiful photos of both flowers and girls. We had to say good-bye to Emily, our ACFEA courier, in Ottawa, and we met our UNISONG host for the remainder of the week, Phyl. The festival is based at the Travelodge Hotel in west Ottawa, complete with…insert drum roll here…a WATER PARK! Okay, it’s not Water World, or even close, but there is a WAVE POOL and a SLIDE! That’s the good news. The bad news? It is only open from 6-10pm. WHAT???!!! Put 100+ kids in a hotel, with rooms overlooking a WATER PARK and only open it four hours a day? In the evening? When we all have rehearsal and/or performance obligations? Yikes. I thought there was going to be a mutiny in our usually-cheerful ranks. We did some quick investigative work with Phyl’s help and discovered that this week it will open at 4pm. Okay, that’s a little better. It was 3:00 by that time and we were hungry, so we hit the hotel gift shop and cleaned out their candy bars and ice cream – Kaela, Sophia, Lyric and Rachel bought a half gallon! — then headed back to our rooms, which are all in a row and have balconies overlooking the water park. BALCONY PARTY!! We all went out on our balconies, ate our snack, and waited…patiently…for the pool to open. By 3:55pm, we were in our swimsuits, standing at the pool door, resisting the temptation to pound and say “open, open, open.” By 4pm, 33 little fishies were totally soaked, and on their way to the slide. Which didn’t open until 5pm. Hmmmm. Oh well — a wave pool takes our usual bobbing activities to a whole new level.
We met the other choirs at dinner, and here’s the line-up, in no particular order:
Menihek High School, SATB, 14-18 yrs. old, from Newfoundland
Choeur Neil-Michaud, SATB (French), adults, from Moncton, New Brunswick
Harbour View (high school) Choral Ensemble, SATB, 14-18 yrs. old, from St John, New Brunswick
Choeur Classique de l’Outaouais, SATB, adults, from Quebec
Fanshawe Chorus London and Gerald Fagan Singers, SATB, adults, from Ontario
Ottawa Children’s Choir, Treble, 10-14 yrs. old, from Ontario
Ottawa Regional Youth Choir, SATB, 14-18 yrs. old, from Ontario
Churchill High School Choir, SATB, 14-18 yrs. old, from Manitoba
Medicine Hat College Girls Choir, Treble, 12-18 yrs. old, from Alberta
St. Patrick’s Elementary School Choir, Treble, 9-12 yrs. old, from British Columbia
Colorado Children’s Chorale Festival Singers, Treble, 10-14 yrs. old, Colorado, USA!!
Our first rehearsal went quite well, I thought, as I relaxed in the back of the room and watched conductor Gerald Fagan turn 200+ voices ranging in age from 9 to ?? into one. He was calm and kind, complimenting and cajoling, and it worked. There is lots more music to make, but I think the concert will be wonderfully warm, stirring and patriotic, exactly what is expected for the Canada Day festivities.
We’re having a wonderful time with the kids, and we can’t wait to show them off with our own repertoire over the course of the next few days. As always, life is good here on tour!