ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR
Monday, March 18, 2013 – HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEN S.!!
Dear families and friends,
In case you hadn’t heard…WE’RE IN NEW ZEALAND!!!!! After almost a year of planning and anticipation (and a reeeaaally long plane ride) WE’RE IN NEW ZEALAND! Last Friday everyone arrived at DIA right on schedule, and with the help of our ACFEA representative, Ken, and an extremely organized and helpful Frontier Airlines staff, all 44 of us were checked in and heading for security in twenty minutes. Even the usual security ordeal was unusual in its lack of difficulty. Only one minor problem, a dinner with a sealed container of peaches in juice, and that was quickly investigated and cleared. Oh yes, and Ms. Smith’s tray went into the X-ray machine with two shoes and came out with only one. It was retrieved and we enjoyed the poetry adorning the bridge on our walk to Terminal A. We were in our favorite spot on the second level by 3:00, with our flight scheduled to leave at 5.
This gave us time to explore backpacks, cameras, etc., use the restrooms, fill water bottles, and we even worked in a quick rehearsal, much to the delight of many passers-by. With gum for all, we made our way to Gate 28 just in time for “all those with nothing to put in the overhead compartments” to board. Woohoo – that’s us!!
Both flights (Denver to LAX and LAX to Auckland) were blessedly uneventful. We had time in Los Angeles to eat dinner (Thanks, Mom!) and get started with our journals. The Companion Tour, 26 of our most ardent, or soon-to-be, fans caught up with us and joined us on the flight to Auckland. The kids settled easily into their “beds” for the night, with the most amazing selection of movies I’ve every seen. From “Grease” and “Love Story” to last week’s “Hobbit” and everything in between, there was something for everyone. Dinner, sleep, breakfast, and the 14 hours really passed very quickly…kind of…! Some slept a solid eight hours, others a bit more fitfully, but as I wandered the plane they were doing just fine, actually sleeping more than they thought. And in true Chorale fashion, every flight attendant commented on the incredible behavior and manners of the kids. The best they had seen in 18-20 year careers. What an honor for me to just smile and say “thank you.”
We arrived in Auckland at 8am. It took us over an hour to get through the arrivals process. Robert and Jenny Latimer, our husband-and-wife-team couriers were waiting for us. We gathered all of the luggage and loaded the bus with help from driver Denis, who will also serve as our guide while on the north island. The first stop was for a “light” breakfast at Butterfly Creek, about ten minutes from the airport. The “light” breakfast turned out to the full-English variety with eggs, sausage, bacon, tomatoes, etc., or eggs benedict, or pancakes topped with bacon and bananas. It was delicious and we are now fans of second breakfast! Butterfly Creek is home to a small butterfly pavilion with crocodiles and all sorts of spiders and snakes, as well as Buttermilk Farm, with goats, roosters, bunnies, guinea pigs and birds. Also a lovely playground. Unfortunately, it rained most of the day, so weren’t able to enjoy the playground.
We did a short city-drive, with Denis filling us in on the history of New Zealand, and we began the first of many discussions about the differences between America and NZ. Driving away from the airport, you wouldn’t notice any. We could have just as easily been back in Los Angeles. As you look closer, however, you begin to see the many British influences in the language and the signage. Oh yes, and they drive on the opposite side of the street. Not the wrong side, but the opposite side! We took a short walk through Parnell Village, with its lovely villas, boutiques and antique shops. And we desperately tried to stay awake. After checking into the Kiwi International Hotel, there was time for relaxing and refreshing in our room, but NO SLEEPING! Fortunately, dinner was at the hotel and we had some time to continue our orientation with Robert, as well as charm the hotel staff and other guests with a few songs. Finally, it was time for bed. We negotiated the first-night jitters, and most slept the night away, waking up refreshed and ready to go this morning.
CRIKEY!!! I almost forgot to tell you the most important thing! We’ve had an earthquake! Shortly after getting the kids into the rooms, Mrs. Crile and Mrs. Nieto (our pianist for this tour) came down the hall talking about the floor rumbling and their beds shaking. We tried to blame it on exhaustion, but they weren’t having it. Soon it became clear that they weren’t the only ones that had felt it. And, indeed, there was a 3.9 magnitude earthquake! Just when I thought my worries were over because we had safely arrived. I called Robert and we met in the lobby to discuss emergency plans. According to him, it was all a part of the ACFEA New Zealand experience! We didn’t immediately tell the kids. None of them realized there had been an earthquake and first night jitters are bad enough without the added worry of an earthquake! We did talk about what to do if an alarm goes off.
This morning, we told them about the earthquake, and some of them had noticed something, but didn’t realize that’s what it was. We also talked about the possibility of after-shocks. As I write this Monday evening, over 24 hours after the event, we have felt no aftershocks, much to everyone’s disappointment. Well, everyone but me, that is. I’m not a fan of natural disasters while on tour with 36 children I have borrowed. Actually I’m not a fan of natural disasters, period!
We had our first performance today at Park Lane Retirement Village, a lovely little community not far from downtown, where we also learned how to lawn bowl. Ben S., who celebrated his 14th birthday today, got to try his hand and he did pretty well! The performance was attended by about 100 very gracious and appreciative residents. They sang along with gusto and seemed to immensely enjoy both the singing and the kids. Following the performance we were treated to juice, tea, coffee and sweets, including some delicious shortbread.
Next stop, the Auckland Museum, where we wandered for several hours and had lunch. It is a beautiful museum, with something for everyone. The DeSantis Dudes, Logan, Royce, Parker, Ben R., Joey and Josh, wanted to start in the war rooms, and specifically the armory. From there we went straight to the volcano exhibit, where we experienced what it felt like to be in a house when the 2006 volcano erupted in Auckland. These boys don’t seem to share my aversion to disasters, natural or un. We also spent time in the Maori rooms, looking forward to our visit later this week to the Maori Cultural Center.
On our way from the museum to our workshop with the Auckland Girls and Boys Choirs, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and went to Mt. Eden where we hiked up so that we could look down on the city and into the crater left by the volcano. It was beautiful and, of course, a perfect spot for “On Top of the World.”
We spent a delightful two hours with the Auckland Boys and Girls Choirs. They taught us the lovely NZ folksong “Pokarekare Ana,” and we taught them “The Gift to Be Simple” and “Do Re Mi.” The kids visited easily with one another, and I am sure the emails will be flying the minute we get home! We will share the performance with them tomorrow evening at Freedman Arts Centre. We also had the honor of working with David Hamilton, the composer who arranged “E Pari Ra,” the NZ folksong we brought as a part of our repertoire.
Back downtown, we finally got to go to the Sky Tower, which we have been admiring from every angle since we arrived. It is a 1,082 feet high observation tour that affords an incredible view of the north island. We had a delicious buffet dinner in the tower, with something for everyone, including sushi and lamb shanks – the favorite among our adventurous young eaters. Ben S. was serenaded for his birthday by a group of Samoans who were also celebrating a birthday. I do think he was thrilled, and perhaps just a little bit embarrassed! The lights of the city and harbor were beautiful, and it was the perfect way to end our first day.
I will now pass this off to my younger colleagues, photographer extraordinaire Ms. Smith and tech-savvy Mr. Branam, and they will pass it along to you. Enjoy!
With many adventures ahead,