ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR #4
Thursday, March 28, 2013 HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHARLIE!!
Dear families and friends,
As I write this afternoon, the rest of the staff and kids are across the street enjoying the sun and some last-minute journal writing in the beautiful botanic gardens. And perhaps singing some of their favorite songs, as strains of “Get Up on the Train” are floating out of the gardens and into my window! Our home-away-from-home for these final days of the tour is the YWCA in Christchurch. From here, it has been an easy drive to downtown Christchurch, our final performance last night, and this morning’s trek to the Antarctic at the International Antarctic Centre. We visited the little blue penguins; took a cruise around Antarctica via a 4D movie experience, coming out quite wet and wind blown; watched a giant screen HD movie showing the four seasons of Antarctic from sunset to sunrise; and weathered an Antarctic storm, with the temperature dropping to a nippy -8 degrees Celsius. The Centre kindly provides you with shoe covers and a giant warm, hooded coat upon entering the deep freeze. The snow was real, complete with an ice slide, and the wind was biting. Fortunately, it was a short-lived storm!
Saturday, in Napier, we were finally able to get in some good shopping. Those New Zealand dollars have been burning a hole in our pockets. Matt F. made one of the first purchases, an outrageous kiwi stuffed-animal hat. It has been his constant companion, even at bedtime. Mathew G. and Nate bought kiwi ties for their dads; Logan and Aslan are proud owners of perhaps-slightly-inappropriate rugby boxers; Paige and Sanjali are both thinking of their friends at home, with a magnet and signs filled with poems of friendship; Caroline has a beautiful new necklace with matching earrings; Quinten will be bringing home a scalping sword; Aitana found some poi balls and is practicing her technique; John is enamored with all things kiwi; Sarah has a Haka scroll; Chris found a beautiful wine bottle coaster for a gift.; Tatianah, Leah and Kate fell in love with the paua shell necklaces; Devon bought a model of the waka (canoe); Josh was intrigued with the 3D kiwi cube; and Callia and Clarice each bought a sundress. We do our best to support the local economy!
Saturday night’s concert was wonderful. It was just us, in the acoustically perfect St. John’s Anglican Cathedral. We had another nice crowd and the kids were on top of everything. By the time we did an encore of “Blessing,” we had exhausted our repertoire and everyone left fulfilled, content and grinning from ear to ear. “Psalm 100” and the selections from “A Little Jazz Mass” were as divine as “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” was rollicking. The 96-year old former pastor of the church was in the aisle twisting “like he did last summer!” The kids never cease to amaze me. Sydney, Elise, Anna and Sam sing every note of every concert with such sincerity; Margaret, Xixi and Joey charm the audience from beginning to end; and Josh and Devon sing (and dance!) with abandon.
Wellington is New Zealand’s capital, and we spent some time Monday morning with a bus tour of the city, including the Parliament Buildings. One is the Beehive, a city landmark that houses government offices. It is aptly named, and not unlike our DIA blue bronco, the Beehive is equally loved and hated by the locals. We thought it looked kind of cool. We rode up the cable car and wandered through the upper half of the Botanic Gardens which wind all the way back down into town. It was threatening rain, however, so Denis gamely brought the bus to the top and took us back down to our next stop, the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. The museum is beautiful and, with the help of our expert guides, we explored everything from the flora and fauna to fossils, glowworms, the Maori culture, and even a simulated earthquake. Which was nothing to us, because we’ve experienced the real thing!
Monday afternoon we visited the home of the US Ambassador to New Zealand, where we were graciously and warmly greeted by the Ambassador’s spouse, Dr. Dwayne McWain, and staff. We met some of the girls from Chilton St. James and enjoyed punch, homemade cookies made especially for us by the resident chef, and apples picked that morning from the very-fruit-laden trees on the grounds. Dr. McWain spent the entire time engaging the kids in all manner of conversation and education about the residence and New Zealand. As the reception progressed, it became clear that many of our boys were already twitterpated over the Chilton Saint James girls. Ah, young love.
We then followed the girls back to their school, and rehearsed for the evening concert. We learned the New Zealand folk song “Hine, E Hine” and they learned our “The Gift to Be Simple.” It all blended together quite nicely and quickly!
This was to be the day for eating. By this time, we had already had breakfast, lunch, and cookies, apples and punch at the Ambassador’s home, and it was only 3:00. Time for afternoon tea! The parents of the CSJ choirs put on an unbelievable spread. Scones, muffins, breads, fruit and sweets of every variety completely filling four ten-foot tables, with coffee, tea and punch. There were almost 100 kids, plus the accompanying adults, and we didn’t make a dent. And we tried really hard! I am a tea drinker, so this afternoon tea plan suits me…well…to a tea!
The boys continued to flirt with the high school girls, while the girls chatted away as if they had been friends forever. We did another short rehearsal in the performance space, and we got to hear some of their songs for the first time. It is always a joy to share the stage with accomplished choirs from around the world, and this was no exception. In addition to the choirs, the orchestra played. We knew it was going to be an evening to remember.
And then it was time for dinner! BBQ, and more sweets, of course. Yummmmm!! Even after dinner, there was still enough left over from afternoon tea for the audience to enjoy during the interval.
As predicted, the concert was a brilliant success. There was a full house, beautiful music, much applause, and cheering all ‘round. The CSJ girls sang several songs written or arranged just for them, including a powerful Maori piece, and they were excellent, as was the orchestra. The middle school choir was sweet as could be, and our little troupe was brilliant…if I do say so myself!
The kids have been doing extremely well on this tour, thanks in large part to excellent planning on the part of our courier, Rob. Our schedule keeps us well-rested and well-fed. We continue to fight a cough/cold ailment running amok amongst us. Everyone soldiers on, however, and we have taken to group nose-blowing sessions. It’s amazing what just clearing things out can accomplish. Add a couple of skirmishes, also helped by some “clearing out,” and it is business as usual here on tour. On another random note, a couple of “teams” have appeared on the tour. We have Ben S., Matt F., Ben R., and Parker as “The 3 Gingerteers…and Parker.” And the songwriting team of Matthew B., Logan and Royce will premiere their first collaboration at dinner this evening.
Tuesday morning found us up and at breakfast by 6:00am so that we could be at the Wellington Ferry Terminal, packed and ready to move on, by 7:30. Sadly, we had to say good bye to bus driver Denis. We crowned him an honorary CCC member with a baseball cap and moved on to our next adventure. The Interislander Ferry goes from Wellington, out through the bay to Cook Strait, then across to the South Island, and down to Picton. They call it a ferry, but it looked like a cruise ship to us, both inside and out. We had a grand sailing! Beautiful blue sky and stunning sunrise and brilliant clear, calm water the entire way. We moved back and forth between our private sitting lounge, complete with reclining chairs, and the upper deck. It was a 3-hour crossing, giving us time to enjoy a mid-cruise hot chocolate and then lunch on board. Thousands of photos later (some even included the view!), we arrived in Picton and met our new bus and driver, Rikki.
Rikki is of Maori ancestry, and is wonderful about sharing his family history and Maori culture with us. Everything we have learned in museums is coming to life. The drive down the eastern side of the south island has been the most stunning of the tour. Mountains lushly covered with green trees and bush on our right, and the crashing, glittering Pacific Ocean to the left. We stopped at an overlook and watched hundreds of seals frolicking on the rocks and in the water. On the rocky (black, volcanic) beach in Kaikoura we skipped rocks and had our daily afternoon ice cream. We know that afternoon tea can’t always be as refined and sumptuous as it was at Chilton St. James, but we find ice cream bars on the beach to be a nice substitute!
You are almost caught up with us now. We are off this evening to our Farewell Dinner and party. We have had a very moving two days here in Christchurch. We came here to bring joy and hope to this battered community, and I believe we have done just that. I also believe that our young ladies and gentlemen have grown by leaps and bounds in their understanding of our world, its people, and their lives, from celebrations to devastations. I want to close for now, so that you get this soon. We have had some trouble uploading photos and videos, so those will be coming later, as well as one more letter.