ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR
April 2, 2013
Dear families and friends,
We are safely back at home now, trying to re-adjust to school and office hours. It is good to be home, but not nearly as exciting! The journey back was blessedly uneventful, but interesting. We enjoyed Friday twice, getting to Los Angeles several hours prior to leaving Auckland, and arriving in Denver just twenty-five minutes after leaving New Zealand!
Having now had a chance to re-read my earlier letters, I have a couple of corrections to make. We stayed at the YMCA (not YWCA) in Christchurch, and we were oh-so-graciously hosted at the US Ambassador’s residence in Wellington by Dr. Duane McWaine. Again, apologies to all for mistakes in my hasty, and often late-night, letter writing!
Wednesday morning in Christchurch, we continued our city tour and saw the tragic results of the earthquakes we have been hearing about since our arrival two weeks ago. Two years ago, between September, 2010 and February, 2011, Christchurch was hit with two major earthquakes – 7.1 magnitude in September, followed by a 6.3 magnitude in February, with literally tens of thousands of aftershocks in between and continuing to this day. There were 185 people killed in the February quake, and the damage to the downtown area and the eastern suburbs is substantial. Though we have been hearing about it for several weeks, including the little trembler we experienced on our first day, we were unprepared for the reality in Christchurch. And Rikki, our driver, made it all the more real with his first-hand account of how it has affected his family, neighbors and the entire community. Throughout the city, there is a constant reminder in buildings with entire walls gone, or partial walls being held up by containers filled with hay; windows and doorways boarded up and fenced off; empty lots, where businesses or homes once stood, at every turn; church steeples sitting on the ground next to just about every church; construction cones and yellow tape filling every street and intersection; and the clock tower, now permanently stuck at 12:51 p.m., the time of the February quake.
We were mostly silent as we walked for blocks around fenced off lots and damaged buildings, the kids reflecting on all of this and finally asking their usual intelligent questions. Suddenly, in the midst of the devastation, one business would be open and thriving, somehow unaffected. Why? There was not an adult among us with adequate answers. We weren’t sure whether to attribute this phenomenon to an excellent architect or a higher power. We tried to relate what we were seeing to something that has happened in their lives, with our recent wildfires the closest thing we could compare it to. We talked about infrastructure, and the demands on resources, both human and material, that can paralyze reconstruction. We talked about the difference between sympathy and empathy. We talked about why we are in Christchurch — to bring, in some small way, some healing and hope. Or perhaps just an evening of smiles and laughter; a welcome diversion.
Our final stop of the morning was the ReStart Mall. Aptly named, as that is exactly what they are doing – restarting! All manner of shipping containers, like you see on the back of a semi-trailer or train, in every bright color imaginable, now comprise this perky little corner of Christchurch. From upscale clothing establishments to beautiful arts and crafts stores to tchotchke-filled souvenir shops (our personal favorite), it’s a one-stop-shopping haven. Throw in food carts for every appetite and we could have stayed all day…and almost did! The city government asked us to do a performance on the plaza, and we were happy to oblige. They built us a stage, complete with sound system and keyboard. We sang to a mostly-wandering business-lunch crowd, with the exception of two tourist couples who sat down to watch a few songs and didn’t move for 45 minutes. Each song brought a new crowd of appreciative toe-tappers who applauded enthusiastically before reluctantly moving on. If only for one day, one hour, we brought some new life to the ReStart Mall. Following the performance, we split into staff groups and did our best to contribute to the local economy, knowing this was likely our final shopping opportunity. Much thought and calculation was given as to how to spend those last NZ dollars. And, of course, we had to have our afternoon ice cream – shopping is exhausting!
Our final concert of the tour was held at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, and we shared the stage with St. Andrew’s College Staccoro (akin to a US high-school SATB choir) and Preparatory/Senior Choirs (elementary/middle school). They expertly opened the concert, giving us a tough act to follow! Emotions were running high for the final concert of the tour and the final tour for our graduating members. This National Tour Choir sang beautifully and performed with a maturity way beyond their years…as usual. Then into the lobby, meeting and greeting, performing ambassadorial duties to the end of the evening. “Proud” does not begin to describe how every adult on tour feels as we watch them work their magic both on and off stage.
With the final performance behind us, we had Thursday night’s “Farewell Dinner” to look forward to. It was a veritable feast at Speights Ale House. Our Companion Tour participants, who have been faithfully following us for the entire tour, while at the same time enjoying their own adventures, joined us for this festive evening. Paige’s family; Leah’s mom and aunt; Ben R.’s mom; Joey’s grandma; Sanjali’s parents; Logan’s mom; Chris’ mom and friends; and Clarice’s mom and grandma, along with several Chorale friends including Zach Corwin, who graduated with a voice change last spring, and his dad. We have also seen Mathew G.’s family at several performances, and Caroline’s family picked her up after tonight’s dinner, as they are continuing their travels together.
Word is that they had a fabulous time on the Companion Tour – you should all try it sometime!! I cannot adequately describe the impact these kids have on an unfamiliar audience, and the companion tour experience lets you see that up close and personal. Plus, you get to have some adult time and incredible sight-seeing adventures along the way, all capably led by CCC Executive Director Diane Newcom.
Back to the evening’s festivities. Dinner was delicious, while constantly interrupted by squeals of delight and laughter as everyone talked about the last two weeks. There were speeches and presentations to be made. We thanked our ACFEA tour guides and organizers. We thanked our bus drivers. Tour Choir sang “For Good” to the staff, reducing all to tears. Bradow, LaLo (Logan) and Royce-a-Roni brought the house down with “The Big NZ,” an original Matthew Bradow composition.
The boys had worked all day on a special surprise with Rikki and Mr. Branam. YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS THE SPRING CONCERT, and that’s all I have to say about that! We cried and laughed and hugged until we were cried, laughed and hugged out…if that is possible. We continued celebrating on the bus, enjoying our last “lucky dip” into Robert’s bottomless candy bucket. And we fell into bed, yet again, tired but happy. Actually, I sat, yet again, on the floor of one room full of boys (You know who you are!) until the fidgeting stopped and the snoring started.
Friday morning came all too soon and we were packed and at breakfast by 8:30am. We said good-bye to Paige, Leah, Ben and Joey, who were joining their families for the extension of the Companion Tour to Milford Sound, then headed back to the Botanic Gardens across the street. We took some pictures, sang “Blessing” to Robert and Jenny, added some more thoughts to our journals, staged the aforementioned “The Big NZ” for its Facebook premiere, and even spent some time reversing the boy/girl numbers. The boys quickly turned out a decent “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun,” much to the amusement of many passers-by, and the girls discovered that the “Cowboy Medley” is waaaay harder than they thought! The night before at dinner, driver Rikki made the mistake of telling me about his favorite childhood Maori folksong, as well as the fact that he plays the guitar, and we talked him in to joining us earlier than planned this morning. After loading the bus, he arrived with guitar in hand and taught us “Rona,” complete with the actions. If only we could get him here for the spring concert!!
With that, I believe you are all caught up. With most of the highlights, anyway. If you have a chance, please make time to visit with one or more of our intrepid young ambassadors. They can tell you way more than I can, and hearing it through their eyes will be way more interesting than anything I have written. I salute them with pride and am honored to have shared this experience with them. Josh, Matthew B., XiXi, Paige, Mallory, Sanjali, Leah, Charlie, Chris, Matt F., Aitana, Mathew G., John, Parker, Anna, Logan, Sam, Caroline, Devon, Margaret, Kate, Emily, Clarice, Royce, Aslan, Ben R., Quinten, Sydney, Ben S., Callia, Tatianah, Elise, Joey, Sarah, Cynthia, and Nate…you are my heroes!