ON THE ROAD WITH REGIONAL TOUR CHOIR!
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Dear families and friends,
Monday morning, bright and early, we boarded our favorite Arrow bus, with our favorite driver, Andrew, and headed west with Regional Tour Choir – and for many, their first tour!! Everyone was quite excited as we settled in with homework/backpack explorations, “bus”keeping procedures and journal packet explanations. Monday was a big day, with a workshop, school show and evening concert – all on day one of the tour!
With Leadville as our first destination, we headed west on I-70. We have a wonderful collaborative relationship with the Breckenridge Music Festival, and our residency model perfectly matches their commitment to educational outreach in and around Breckenridge. With their sponsorship, we were scheduled for a workshop followed by a performance for the middle-school kids (at Lake County High School), and then the evening performance on the same stage, with the 45 middle-school workshop participants joining us.
The middle-school kids turned out to be mostly fifth graders. You probably heard the sigh of relief from our middle-schoolers all the way back in Denver! We usually do “Monkeys in the House” and “Do Re Mi” for workshops, but decided to try “Tshotsholoza” for this middle-school crowd. It was perfect. They quickly picked up the words and loved the power of the movements. “Do Re Mi” is a hit with any age – we did it, by request, in S. Africa with a professional youth chorus consisting of mostly college-age kids! Regional Tour Choir jumped in with both feet…and hands…handling their teaching duties with ease.
Lunch in the cafeteria found us looking out over a stunningly beautiful mountain range, capped in snow and brilliant against the bright Colorado sky, that included both Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. With Leadville at 10,000+ feet, the highest mountains in Colorado didn’t look nearly as daunting as they sound!
Back in the auditorium, we prepared for the school show and the evening concert, all at the same time. I LOVE doing an afternoon school show in the same space as the evening concert. By the time we prepare and then do the show, we are pretty much rehearsed for the evening concert, with the exception of a few formal pieces in Act I. The school show was a rousing success, in spite of our reservations about the middle school audience. We always have to remind the kids that, while they might not be able to show it, these audiences are in awe of our performances. One quick comparison to how THEY act in their own school assemblies and they get it. Really, when in middle school, it is simply NOT COOL to get excited about ANYTHING…especially when sitting with your friends. All three of the arts teachers from the school (grades 5-12 band, choral and theater) spent the day watching us, with substitute teachers in their classrooms. They were so impressed with the kids and how they handled themselves both on and off the stage. The choral teacher encouraged all of her students to come to the evening concert, with a promise of extra credit, and they were there and loved it. More than a few made it a point to find me and tell how impressed they were with the kids’ singing and dancing.
We found time in between rehearsing and concerts to get our journals organized and begin writing. It is always challenging to get the kids to understand the nature of this journal. Not a diary, but a journal. Our tutor, Mrs. Proffitt, keeps a detailed chronology of our daily activities (the kids will receive this when we return) ready to paste in the front of their journals so they’ll know what time we got up every day and where and what we ate for every meal. We encourage them to write beyond those mundane details, thinking about what they are seeing and experiencing, from what we see out the window to who we meet, everywhere we go.
Most of them quickly embrace this idea and, after we enjoy a few dramatic journal readings, the rest pick up the pace.
Astounding everyone in the school, from teachers to custodians, we gathered our pillows and blankets and lay down for a power nap. Eyes closed, mouth closed, hold still. It is amazing how quickly the entire auditorium falls into a rhythm of deep breathing and the occasional snore. Just as quickly as we power down, we power up. With blankets folded and pillows stacked, we were off to dinner at Colorado Mountain College, a delicious buffet of pasta, salad and toasted chicken parmesan sandwiches. Back at the high school we took the stage for some final touch-ups on “Danza” – Regional’s first time to perform it without National! – then dressed in our formalwear and did a final warm-up for the show. It’s always great to have Ms. Burke on tour, but I especially enjoy it just prior to a show when she takes over the warm up, reminding the kids about staging details and calmly re-focusing their voices. And I can calmly change into my performance clothes and think about what I need to give both the kids and the audience.
The performance was fantastic. They stood upstage of the grand curtain and beamed as it opened to reveal them for the first time. We started with “Dance into the Day,” then whipped into the frenzy of “Danza.” I was so proud. From there on they had the audience in the palm of their hands. They remembered every transition from song to song – not easy, as we had just put the show on that stage four hours earlier! They sang beautifully on “Beside Still Waters,” and followed that with the power of “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit.” “The Skylark Song” and “Ladybug” were appropriately charming, singing in the beautiful spring weather we were enjoying. And we sent the audience dancing to intermission with “Steppin’ Out.”
Act II was, impossibly, better than Act I. We wowed them with the “Laduma” storm and all of the South African songs, with our workshop buddies joining us on “Tshotsholoza,” and then “Do Re Mi” to close the show. Our friends from the Breckenridge Music Festival were thrilled with how the day had gone, and especially this evening performance. Regional Tour Choir, first day at the “big show,” knocked it out of the park! It took quite a long time to pull them out of the lobby, away from their new fans, but we finally got changed, loaded the bus and headed to Edwards. We had discovered earlier in the day during our map work that we would be travelling on one of Colorado’s designated “scenic by-ways.” Unfortunately we didn’t see much in the dark! We arrived in Edwards at about 9:45pm, snuck into our hotel rooms, showered and hit the pillows by 10:15, tired but happy.
Day two of the tour started with a delicious breakfast at the Inn at Riverwalk, then right down the street to Eagle County Charter Academy, a small charter school housed in temporary buildings. The show was for 140 K-3rd graders in a classroom size space. They were enthusiastic as could be and we had a grand time. Then right down the street to Vail Christian Academy and a totally opposite situation. Large, new school; very nice performing hall, but with HORRIBLE acoustics; 125 K-8th graders in an audience VERY (as in “too”) polite. We tried our best, and I know they liked it, because they all went out of their way afterward to tell me so, but no immediate response. It was challenging. You want an audience to be polite and listen, but you also want them to respond and get excited. Oh well, one more experience under our belts. RTC took it in stride; we talked about what we might have done to make it better; and moved on to Vail and Red Sandstone Elementary, where we return regularly. These Vail Valley school performances help us recruit participants for our summer residency and workshop, so we love to do them. We always meet friends from former residencies and look forward to who will come this June. From the sounds of things, we’re going to have a great crowd!
IT’S HAPPY STUDY TIME, IT’S HAPPY STUDY TIME. THE QUIET IS SUBLIME; IT’S HAPPY STUDY TIME!! On the bus for several hours means SCHOOL! This is turning out to be a tricky tour for study time, but we are determined and will get it done. For the most part the kids dig right in, though it does take a bit of cajoling and constant monitoring. With a few breaks for windy roads (Berthoud Pass) and snacks, we find ourselves at Crooked Creek Ranch in no time. Just outside of Fraser, Crooked Creek Ranch is run by Young Life and was suggested to us by the music teacher at Granby Elementary. Wow. This place is amazing. We were in a dorm, with commons areas and comfortable bunks – complete with our own little lights and cabinets. The kids had a grand time just exploring their bedrooms! Then we went for a walk around the grounds and discovered a whiffle ball diamond (a small baseball field complete with plastic bats and whiffle balls), a playground, a 70-person hot tub, a huge pool, fully equipped gym, a theater, and a very professional ropes course among other things. It is an incredible facility, dropped down into the middle of beautiful mountain peaks. We took advantage of the lingering daylight to play a little whiffle ball, romp around the playground, and look longingly at the oh-so-high-and-scary-looking ropes course. After a pizza dinner and some time for card games, hide and seek and charades, we hit the hot tub before climbing into our little cubbies for a good night’s sleep.
Up early Wednesday morning and fortified with a breakfast of cereal, fruit, bagel and juice from the congenial camp staff, we drove up the rode to Granby Elementary and a workshop with their 3-5th grade “Minniesingers.” They then performed with us for the rest of the school and this performance was one of our best school shows, with the staff hard-pressed to find someone who WASN’T smiling the entire time! We had a few minutes before lunch to enjoy their ENORMOUS playground; one of those huge wooden structures that looks like a fort. Quite fun. After lunch we had some time on the gym floor to pull out our maps and trace our path these past few days. There was much discussion about how to figure mileage. We discovered three different ways on the map, then issued a challenge to see who could figure out how many miles we will have traveled by Thursday afternoon.
Journal entries thus far include workshops; the Leadville performance; doing my best performance; mountain sketch; Crooked Creek Ranch; tour from the perspective of the bus; my dream playground design. We’re seeing everything from poems to rap songs, some short, some long, some more creative than others, but always interesting.
Wednesday afternoon found us back in Fraser, with the same program of workshop, then performance. Again, we rocked the house, from “Colorado Song” to “Do Re Mi” with our new friends, the Fraser 5th grade choir. And then more HOMEWORK. We really are trying! The drive to Greeley took us right back through Denver, but everyone was so busy with their studies that I’m not sure they even noticed.
Dinner tonight was at the Golden Corral in Greeley, believe it or not a welcome sight after three days of school lunches. With admonitions to make sure every plate had at least one vegetable (jello is not a vegetable…or even a fruit, and pudding is not salad!) we stormed the buffet tables, from salad to dessert. No food category was left untouched. Well, maybe the liver and onions.
We checked into the Days Inn and settled into our rooms for some more homework and journal writing time, then an early lights out in anticipation of an early morning. There was much talk in the hotel rooms tonight lamenting the fact that this was already the last night of tour, with tomorrow the last performances. We do three school shows, arriving back at the Chorale office at 3:15.
It has been a whirlwind tour, but these young ladies and gentlemen have grown immensely in so many ways. Their performing skills have matured and gelled into an easy rhythm and it is so much fun to watch this happen. Just as important, and possibly even more fun to watch, is how they get to know one another and function in this little family away from home. They sometimes argue and tussle, but quickly recover and support one another from morning ‘til night, both on and off stage.
They are, indeed, very special young ladies and gentlemen who touch the lives of everyone they encounter. For some, these are their final days in the Chorale. We say good-bye to Trystan, Teresa, Kevin, Zach and Ben E. We will miss them, but know they will make us proud through high school and beyond.
Signing off until June and Festival Singers,