ON THE ROAD WITH FESTIVAL SINGERS
Tuesday, July 5, 2016 HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MS. SMITH!!
Dear families and friends,
A year ago, we thought this week would never come, and now, here we are in France!! As I type, we are driving east from Paris to Colmar and it is already half way through the tour. If it weren’t for the road signs in French, one might think we were driving through Iowa. Fields and pastures of varying shades, dotted with farmhouses and patches of trees, all around us. Every one of our 43 Festival Singers is doing so well, enjoying one another while zipping from one adventure to the next. And boy, have we been zipping!
Our travel day was blessedly without incidence and we all survived it extremely well. For those of you that don’t know, this tour is in collaboration with our dear friends in the Colorado Symphony Chorus. In fact, Ms. Burke and Mr. Branam are NOT traveling with us, but busy with their duties as Associate and Assistant Conductors of the chorus. They did, however, share our flight, along with CS Chorus Director, and Chorale founder, Duain Wolfe. Also on board were participants of our Companion Tour – Bridget’s grandmother and a friend; Mellany’s mom and sister; Madeline’s mom, sister, and a friend; Isabella’s mom; alum parents, Ingrid and Leo DeGreef; Andrew’s parents and sister; Emma’s parents, brother and grandmother; Adrian’s grandmother and a friend; Livi’s mom and sister; staff member Roberta Sladovnik and her family (Roberta sings in the CS Chorus); Karina’s two grandmothers; and Audrey’s entire family, including aunt, uncle and grandmother!! The companion tour is being capably led by our Executive Director, Meg Steitz, who is joined by her husband and sister. Whew!! We are a big group, 80 in total!!
We had a quick layover in Frankfurt, with just enough time to board our flight on to Paris. Once we landed, we were greeted by our ACFEA courier, Johan. We have become fast friends with Johan, as he so expertly takes care of us every day, anticipating every need and always several steps (or blocks!) ahead. He whisked us out of the airport to our bus, where we met Stefan, our driver du tour. We drove across town to our hotel, enjoying our first glimpse of Paris along the way. We were tired, but managed to survive dinner – GIANT hamburgers and mountains of fries – before finally succumbing to sleep quickly following the 8:30 call for lights out. Thank goodness for hotel black-out curtains, as it was still light outside when I finally fell in at 10:30!
Breakfast in our hotel has been a welcome feast every morning. You name the breakfast item, and it was surely there! It is always nice to start the day with a familiar and hearty breakfast, all you can eat. We headed out for an official city tour, with city guide Bridget. She was wonderful, very knowledgeable, witty, and perfect for our little troupe. We hit all of the major sites, stopping for the occasional photo op, then lunch, time for some shopping, and a quiet, respectful stroll through Notre Dame, where there was a wedding taking place. The organ resounded through the massive cathedral as the bride and groom spoke their vows and performed the ritual of their wedding ceremony, seemingly oblivious to the hordes of hovering tourists. Shopping was a success, as we were able to find perfect little souvenir shops more than willing to take the Euros burning holes in our pockets. Eiffel Tower keychains ruled the day.
Sunday morning found us up and out early to the Estate of Versailles, the stunning, opulent home of Louis XIV built in the 1600s. We imagined living in that world, in that time, with many plans made for future homes built on that massive scale…and what it might be like to be a king with a court! We had lunch in the charming little town just outside the palace gates, then headed back to Paris for…finally…our first rehearsal and…finally…our first concert. We all love sightseeing, but four days with no performing does not a happy choir make! It’s what they love to do, and they start to get cranky without that purpose. I’m not sure they realize it, but we sure notice it.
We had driven past La Madeleine several times since our arrival, and we were anxious to see the inside. Built in the style of a Greek temple in 1764, it is one of the city’s most distinctive sites, spectacularly surrounded by 52 Corinthian columns, bronze doors that include bas-reliefs of the Ten Commandments, and an ornate marble and gold interior. It is a popular venue for classical concerts, and we are so proud to now include it on our list of venues. We weren’t disappointed. By the time we arrived, we were already hearing about the 8-second delay in this massive space. This phenomenon makes for a beautiful, warm and vibrant mix of our voices, but can also cause ensemble challenges with 150+ singers and an orchestra. Fortunately, we were in good hands with Maestro Wolfe. Thanks to much planning on the part of he and his staff (thanks Ms. Burke and Mr. Branam!) we quickly found our places for each song – on the side for “Wondrous Love,” split up front for “Pie Jesu,” and spread in the aisles for the Franck “Psalm 150.” This performance, in this venue, is why we are here. The “Pie Jesu” is part of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, the one movement written for treble voices only. The work was written to be performed in this cathedral and we are so honored to on this tour, with our Colorado colleagues, singing in this incredible beautiful and historic venue.
The concert was amazing. There were 900+ people in the audience, which helps a bit with that sound delay, and they were warm and welcoming. I was so proud of the kids. With only one rehearsal, they bravely walked out and did their thing, having no idea how difficult it really is. Johan, our courier, was astounded at the entire rehearsal process, the focus of the kids, and the precision and team-work that made everything happen so efficiently. The sound was breathtaking, from the opening notes of the chorus, “With Shouts of Joy,” written specifically for this occasion by Maestro Wolfe to the final “Hallelujah” in Franck’s “Psalm 150.” Another world premiere, “Hallelujah, Rejoice!” was written by our favorite composer, Gary Fry, and he was here to proudly take his bow. And one more beloved Chorale favorite, Samuel Lancaster’s “Wondrous Love,” stunningly beautiful, with its soulful, uniquely American sound, and the kids’ voices soaring over the top of the adults with “Amazing Grace.” The Fauré Requiem was glorious and the kids delivered a flawless “Pie Jesu,” with their pure voices ringing through the church. I am so glad we get to do this performance two more times.
Monday, of course, was the Fourth of July! We began celebrating by sleeping in and enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Then off to the first performance on our own at the Foundation des Etats-Unis, the United States Foundation, on the campus of the University of Paris. For our warm-up, we sang every patriotic song we could think of as the bus wound its way through the busy streets of Paris, where it was definitely not a holiday! The Grand Salle of the Foundation is a beautiful little hall, complete with a good-sized stage and a full size grand piano. Often on tour we must make do with an electronic keyboard, or a piano in such disrepair that we are wishing for an electronic keyboard. Ms. Snyder was in heaven. We did a quick rehearsal, bathroom and snack break, and then took the stage. There was a small, but very appreciative audience of about 100 foundation staff, students, locals, our companion tour friends, plus Rachel’s family and Morgan’s family who are also traveling through Europe.
We sang for about 30 minutes, mostly Americana, but I couldn’t resist showing off with the “Pie Jesu,” easily stunning on its own, with just the piano accompaniment. And, of course, we always travel with a local folk song in our back pocket, so we charmed our French guests with “Je Danse la Polka,” then ended with “Of Thee I Sing America,” in honor of the holiday. The kids were spectacular. I am so proud of our last year’s Concert Choir friends – Annisa, Mary, Margot, Greta, Madeline, Emma, Linna, Reagan, Zoe, and Beckett. They are touring and performing like old pros! The audience loved the performance, and especially enjoyed visiting with the kids at the end. Language was no barrier, with smiles and hand gestures easily bridging any communication problems.
And then we were off on a cruise down the River Seine. We started at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, excitedly boarding the boat and making our way to a prime spot outside on the deck. The weather was, and has been, perfect – not too hot, not too cold, no rain. As we were settling in, I heard an odd little jingle behind me, turned around, and…all 43 kids had on Santa and elf hats! They then broke into a rousing rendition of “Santa Claus Boogie,” much to the surprise and delight of other passengers, people on both banks of the river, and most of our staff…except for Wardrobe Manager Ms. Landauer, who carefully packed Santa and elf hats for 43. Apparently when Katy was in Ms. Landauer’s office for her fitting, she hatched this plan, and Ms. Landauer, who has been wanting to use those hats all year, was quick to jump on board. It was hilarious! This explains why no one was ready for bed at lights out the night before. They were all too busy with elf mischief. Well-played, Katy and Ms. Landauer!
With that, I have caught up with myself. It is now Tuesday afternoon, and we are continuing on our way to Colmar. We enjoyed lunch in Reims, a lovely little town. It was nice to walk on quiet streets, away from the traffic and bustle of Paris. Reims is the center of the Champagne district so we, of course, had to celebrate with a toast. Pepsi for all!! We walked through the cathedral, especially enjoying the stained glass windows, a mix of original and more modern by the artist Marc Chagall. Mrs. Stylianou and I zipped into Le Chocolatier to purchase some chocolate for Ms. Smith’s birthday, and macaroons for our afternoon snack. The kids have spent the day on the bus catching up in the journals, and they are now napping. We will make a “technical stop,” as Johan calls it, in a few minutes and then enjoy our macaroons and the French countryside.
The kids are all doing spectacularly well. We have the occasional tummy ache and allergy flare-up, but that’s it. They are hearty, adventurous, curious, energetic, and just plain fun to travel with. Life is good here on tour!