A day off on the move

Just a quick update to let you know of the plans for a day off, and travel to Vienna.

First, we piled onto the buses for a short journey to view a working monastry with an amazing history, Kloster Melk or Melk Abbey. Its a Benedictine abbey that still has 30 monks who vow to stay put within the abbey amongst other things. Its a place that is so well known for its hospitality that many imperial guests stay here. We had a wonderful whistle-stop tour as we had to get to the next venue, the pier to catch a boat down the Danube. We had a leisurely time floating down to Krems in 33 degree heat with very little breeze. Next leg was back onto the buses to Vienna.

Another town means another hotel so after a day of travel, its time for some rest.

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Salzburg, the big and the small of it

A relaxed start to  Sunday as the coach for the Salzburg Dom was to leave at 10.15am. The theme of the trip reemerged as the buses could not get anywhere near the Dom so we had a long walk on a day of 35 degrees – a sweaty start. We met outside the Cathedral but couldn´t find anyone to help as there was a mass going on and we were to sing at the following mass. Enter stage left, Paul the magnificent translator par excellence. He not only found who we needed to talk to but helped get the arrangements made. 

The Choir men were taken into a sacristy to get warm up and leave their gear but as there was a mass going on the other side of an open door, warming up was out of the question. There was a very quick turn around between the masses and within minutes, the guys were standing on benches, ready to start the next mass, barely having been introduced to the organist. It was a case of ‘singing by the seat of their pants’ but with a 6 second echo delay, the sound was magnificent and reverberated resonantly around the huge interior. The choir sang the Rhienberger mass and it was very well recieved by the congregation. After the initial worry, the mass went really well.

The guys headed back to the Sacristy to change into civvies as we had 3 hours before we had to be at the next church and it was another incredibly hot day. Unbeknownst to the choir members, the public routes through the Dom were opened after the mass with the main route taking people through the Sacristy. It was funny to see people’s faces when they came across half dressed (on even less dressed) men in a sacred area with nothing but a rope to hide behind.

During the afternoon, the choir dispersed over various parts of the city but as it was so hot, we all kept meeting up in any shaded area we could find. Most found cafes serving Wien Schitznel but once seeing the size of the meat, gave up all hope of getting through a traditional apple struddel too. The rest of the time, we waddled around Salzburg before meeting up again at the Dom and walking to the next venue.

The next venue was Kajetanerkirche, a beautiful church attached to a hospital, that Mozart is said to have frequented. We opened a huge heavy door and entered a small reception area that was barred from the main part of the church and were met by a tiny, aged nun with the most beatific smile possible on one not yet a saint. Paul stepped forward as Super Interpreter Man and the nun got out a huge silver key to unlock the gates and let us in. The church itself only had a small capacity but what a wonderful, reverential setting. Having seen many places of worship, its easy to lose sight of the purpose of the churches amongst the gold and ornate decoration but this place was a sacred setting, ornate but full of atmosphere and presence. Robert put the guys through a well needed practise, well needed not because they were not performing well but well needed to consolidate parts and review dynamics to make a good performance even better. During this time, the nun helped carry chairs, tables and generally set up, not seeming to be able to sit still – all with the ever present beatific smile.

When the time came for the mass to be sung, the members of the congregation included people in dressing gowns, from the hospital wards – not a sight you see at every concert. The church was full beyond capacity as we had many in the congregation who had heard the choir earlier at the Dom and wanted a repeat experience. The Choir were seated to one side of the small church which was almost circular in shape and the sound seemed to encircle and enfold us all as it mingled and interwove on an endless journey. Again, it was a beautiful concert and we were made to feel extraordinarily welcome by both the nun and the priest who showed groups around the areas out of the public eye, that he was very proud of. In all, it was a very uplifting experience singing at the Kajetanerkirche.

Not to forget the theme of Europe, we had to trek for ages to find the buses and this is where Super Interpreter Man became Super Bus Hunter Man; the buses were not where we thought they would be so Paul (the younger, the fittest or whatever accolaide you want to bestow) took off his tie and ran to the end of the road to try and find our transport. Not only did he find the buses, but ran back to tell us where they were. Note to self: don’t travel without a fit interpreter with a skill for finding buses that are missing.

Back at the hotel, there was a meeting to celebrate 3 centenarians -(not in years although some of us might look/feel it) but in terms of performances. It was completed by a rendition of ‘The Brotherhood with a Black Sheep’ to the tune of 12 Days of Christmas, a masterful performance to end another successful day.

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Paris to Salzburg with military precision

Another early start to get on the road to Salzburg, first the coach to the station then… well we had to wait for the coaches for a while then off to the station to get a train to get to Zurich. We had very little notice of what platform to use and then even less time to get the whole tour party, including the ever heavier suitcases on before the train left. Picture this – a line of 70 complete with luggage, looking for carriages 14, 15 and 16 on a train at least half a mile long. Success – we found it. We only had a few minutes to get on and we knew the train would leave regardless of suitcases on the platform, people half hanging out of doors so we ended up throwing the last of the luggage on and people on top of the pile just as the whistle blew. Phew.

Arriving at Zurich after 4 1/2 hours, we had to change trains so once again the military plan was put into action and we left the train (this time without throwing anyone on a pile of luggage), collated the baggage and grabbed some lunch whilst trying to track down the next  platform which was signaled in code. Finally after an anxious wait, the platform number came up and we were off – a line a mile long trundling suitcases under strict orders of who was to get on, who was to throw luggage and who was to catch the luggage. It was the Male Choir performing luggage ballet, a symphony to behold. We all got on just before the whistle went so big relief was felt all round. However, military planning began again in earnest when we were told we had only 3 minutes to disembark at Salzburg. After another journey of 5 hours 20mins, we threw ourselves off the train and prayed no-one or nothing was left behind.

Salzburg greeted us with torrential rain and the coaches to take us to our hotel were a long walk away so off we trundled, the mile long snake continuing the theme of Europe – walking- to the buses avoiding puddles, leaky gutters and getting too wet.

We arrived at the hotel to find it in a bit of a state of array. There was one poor guy on reception who dutifully handed out the room keys only to have many return because rooms hadn´t been serviced, had leaks etc. Full marks to the lad, he managed to serve Kiwis at the bar, service rooms, placate everyone and keep smiling! A decent sleep and a reasonably late start to Salzburg tomorrow.

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Paris Invasion on Bastille Day

For bloggers following us, apologies for the delay, we have had some interesting  times trying to log on…. and stay logged on long enough to post anything but here is the next installment following the Windsor Concert.
Wednesday morning seemed to come along very quickly and with suit cases packed and black tour t-shirts re-donned we were off to France. Getting to Kings Cross/St Pancras station  and getting on the Eurostar was a breeze for all, except our beloved conductor who seemed to have had enough and tried to board the train for Brussels. After having to re-direct the director (again) the journey to Paris was very fast. At Gare du Nord in Paris, our first introduction to walking, (which became the theme for the city) came with our first trek to find the bus. It was pouring with rain and their were puddles (lakes) to be negotiated but eventually we found the bus. We set off for the hotel but, alas, the bus could not get close to it so we had to troop with suitcases, programmes, CD’s etc, down cobbled streets to find our hotel. The Hotel Les Provinces Opera was a lovely little hotel and welcomed us warmly. It had a broom cupboard for a lift (and there was only one broom cupboard) which could fit 4 people or people with suitcase to a maximum weight of 300kg’s. With a tour party of over 70, we had an option, wait forever or yet again, walk but this time, up sloping stairs to the 3rd to 5th floors. Thankfully the rooms were lovely and bathrooms larger than 4 lifts put together.
As we arrived on Bastille Day, those that had any energy walked around town, exploring Paris and being rewarded with a 35 minute fire-work display at 11pm better than I have ever seen in any part of the world. Others with less energy found a bar across the road called The Horizon with its generous host Stephan. No matter what you ordered, the bill seemed to be 7.50∈. The Horizon became very popular with the Kiwi group partly because of it’s proximity but also because it was deemed a safe bar after two of our senior choir members went to another bar and were bought beers by a friendly Parisian man. After an arm wrestle that ended up in a chest to chest clinch, they realised he was interested in more than just their company and ran to The Horizon for safety!
On Thursday, we all had to make our own way to Notre Dame which meant conquering the Metro (the easy part) and getting the tickets (the hard part). Once we had all mustered outside the monumental Notre Dame Cathedral, the men were escorted through a side gate while the WASP’s were allowed in the main entrance. The choir stalls, where the men were taken to, are not for public viewing so it was a real privilege to see the church from that angle. Robert settled the men and asked them to listen to the rumble from the Cathedral visitors as that would be what they had to sing over. One or two looked puzzled and asked ‘what rumble?’. It seemed to emanate from the ground and reverberate through the walls, making it a like a building that was alive.
Sylvie got her fingers on the small organ as it was nearer to the choir; however, it was behind the choir’s backs so she had to rely on watching Robert’s arms waving to keep in time. Thankfully she is an excellent accompanist and Robert is an expressive conductor. The choir’s sound was rich, warm and deeply resonant and moved through the Cathedral in waves. Many came to sit in the nave and appreciate the glory of the sound in the reverential setting. We fielded many questions and expressions of congratulations; there was even applause from the listeners which is a big no-no in the Cathedral but it was a spontaneous reaction to the moment. It was a wonderful performance, well appreciated in a magnificent setting. If I mention the stained glass windows, I’ll just go on and on so best just say – wow.
The next performance venue was La Madeleine near Place de La Concorde. It is a lesser profiled church dedicated to St Mary Magdalen, beautiful and impressive with even more beautiful stained glass windows reflecting rainbows of light and immense statues throughout the church. Here the men warmed up in the Sacristy,  not dissimilar to the broom cupboard lift at the hotel so it was very close and harmonious. The sound the choir made in La Madeleine during the performance was as rich and warm as Notre Dame but it seemed brighter and wowed a large audience. As in Notre Dame the men sang brackets of sacred songs in Maori, English and Latin. Here in La Madeleine, John Masters sang a beautiful version of Panis Angelicus accompanied by Sylvie on the organ and Keith Spragg who turns out to be a clarinet virtuoso along with his singing talents. Again, the audience was very appreciative (with more ‘no-no’ clapping) and the beauty of the sound matching the surroundings.
In all, Thursday was a very successful day with two concerts performed and everyone managing to navigate the metro, the ticket booths and the warren of tunnels connecting the platforms when we had to change. I mention this as the tunnels linking the platforms are very long with multiple sets of stairs so by the time you get to the place you need to be, you feel as though you have walked half way across Paris. Actually I think they make the tunnels long deliberately to offset the over indulgences in red wine, croissants and patisseries. Whatever the reason, Paris certainly was a ‘pedestrian’ experience and thoroughly enjoyable. Its a free day tomorrow so I’m blogging off until Saturday’s update when we travel to Salzburg – should be interesting if previous train experiences are anything to go by.
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Sent to Coventry and Royal Windsor

The national all male choir of NZ singing from a balcony in Coventry's 10th century Guild Hall.

Post Eisteddfod, bleary eyed, we met for breakfast (huge again) and the after match analysis in Chester.

It seemed everyone had the same feedback, that the Choir had performed really well and maybe we deserved a different result, but however, it was a valuable experience and we won’t talk about northern hemisphere judges!

What do you mean you couldn’t grasp the Maori songs?

Back on the buses and off to Coventry for a wee (both meanings intended) stop-over on our way to London.

Apart from coach drivers who couldn’t see the signs for the bus park (even though every backseat driver did) it was a very enjoyable stop.

Most people had a look around the modern cathedral with its amazing stained glass windows and enormous glass engraved panels but we were all enchanted by the ruins of the original Cathedral that was extensively bombed in the Second World War.

Here the choir sang in front of the ‘peace altar’ (photos included) and it was a resonant, beautiful performance in a evocative setting.

From there, we all squashed into the Guild Hall which dated back to the days of Mary, Queen of Scots’ incarceration.

The men squeezed themselves into the gallery (built for people 4′ 11″ and under and weighing less than 55kg) and gave a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Oh What A Morning”.

Most of the party (males obviously) were entranced by the statue of Lady Godiva who, in protest to her husband raising the taxes on the poor, rode around town naked. There wasn’t a horse statue but there was a clothesless Lady Godiva.

With dreamy grins, the choir (and WASP’s – (see previous blog) without grins) piled back on the buses and off to London.

St Giles Hotel, where we were staying is a stones throw from Tottenham Court Road tube station and at the beginning of Oxford St.

For those who don’t believe there is such a thing as an English summer, I take great pleasure in telling you it was stinking hot (some men more stinking than others after a days travel) but no pleasure in mentioning there wasn’t any air conditioning!

The evening of our arrival was celebrated in many different ways but nowhere could we escape from the football world cup final. Thousands were crammed around any TV screen they could find, streets were gridlocked and the police vainly trying to instill some sort of order.

It was a great atmosphere and very enjoyable until about 3am when the Spanish were still celebrating! Breakfast seemed to come around very quickly that morning.

Our next performance venue was at the very exclusive St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle (thanks to Margaret for her contacts enabling this to happen); it is known as The Queens Chapel and was where she had a memorial service for Sir Edmund Hillary. Getting there was a bit of a mission as one of the buses broke down on the way.

We tried selling Choir CD’s on the pavement so we could afford a taxi but commuters and people rushing to get to work seemed strangely reluctant to stop – can’t think why? Aren’t they regularly accosted by women wearing black shirts trying to sell foreign CD’s on the street every morning?

At the castle , the WASP’s were sent in one direction while the men were sent in another. The women were first coraled into age groups (?), then told they couldn’t be a group as they hadn’t booked to be in a group in advance, then finally told, after 20 minutes of waiting, they could be the group that they were but only if there was one payment only!

After much money changing between the patient, tight lipped women they managed to gain entry. They were given their tickets with great fanfare and huffing – only to walk two steps and give the tickets back to someone else and they were in!

Great British Bureaucracy in (non) action.

The men were far more appropriately treated. After having passports checked, they were taken to the Dungeon. Honestly!

They all had to get changed there in a gloomy, musty room with no toilet facilities but it did have a piano, the barest essential. Every step of the way we were escorted and supervised and there was little room for mischief or minor anarchy.

When the time came, we were taken across to St Georges Chapel where they were to perform. It was an amazing sound as the chapel has a 5 second echo so the place was awash with music. Several hundred people stopped to listen and we were inundated with questions and requests for programmes.

In the audience was a very special listener, Air Commander Ian MacFadyen who is in charge of Windosr Castle when The Queen is absent. His attendance was a real honour and it was very special when he came to talk to the men after the performance.

Later, the special moments continued when we were given permission to have the Official Choir photograph on the steps leading into the chapel as they are reserved for the Queen only. Windsor Castle and the performance in St Georges Chapel will remain very special memories for us all.

Back onto the buses and back to London for an evening of entertainment and rehydration after another hot day in the elusive English summer.

The following day was a free day and many of the Tour Party took the opportunity to visit shows in the West End. Ticket prices ranged from $180 down to $40 so expectations of the shows was high.

The results – Wicked, some loved it and some were pretty ambivalent, ‘Love Never Dies’ – great special effects, great singers, unmemorable songs and a very weak story line, ‘Sister Act’ – amazing set, amazing singers, great songs and hugely entertaining, a definite must see from everyone who went.

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Eisteddfod and the Competition – missed the bronze by a single point

The choir singing in the Church of La Madeleine.

For those that know nothing about Eisteddfod, it’s a huge music and dance festival/competition (not unlike a musical A & P Show) with the main stage inside a permanent marquee seating around 3000.

Outside there are stalls selling cultural artifacts from many countries plus lots of satellite stages with performances ranging from jesters to choirs to dance groups.
The colour and diversity of the festival was amazing. It’s organisation worked like clockwork, feeding everyone, keeping audiences and performers well hydrated and toilets with enough toilet paper all day – amazing.
It has a really fun atmosphere, well did have a really fun atmosphere until one of the choristers asked a policeman to fulfill his fantasy.
Obligingly, the policeman whipped out his handcuffs and the wife was done for. Little did he know the wife loves a man in uniform. Anyway back to the event.
The event itself is where selected groups are invited to perform under the banner of World Competition. In the Male Choir section,  we competed against choirs from Sweden, Germany, England and Wales.
Some of these choirs are professional and some surprised us by being allowed (or even wanting) to read from their scores!

We did really well on the day, but missed out on bronze by one point – that’s the news you have been waiting for and we are very disappointed with the result but very pleased with our performance.
We had so many positive comments about our performance, the quality of the sound the beauty of the singing and the uniqueness of our songs which was heartening.
Many expressed surprise at our placing which also helped ease our disappointment, but what an experience.
From a WASP’s point of view (Wives and Supporters and Partners) we were really proud of the men and the music team. Everyone looked amazing, sounded brilliant and were excellent ambassadors for New Zealand.
Guys (and accompanist Sylvia) we are so proud of you.

In the evening, they had a concert for the winners of each category which by all accounts was a great show; others opted to try out the local hospitality and found a beautiful pub by the river which was equally enjoyable.
After a late night, back on the bus to the hotel for a well deserved sleep.
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Emergency status – we’ve been Susied

Just a quick report to let you know of the greatest threat to the Kiwi success at Eisteddfod.

Many came down to breakfast on THE BIG DAY only to see the time for the bus to Eisteddfod had been changed from 10.00am to 11.45am. With some relief, many planned morning activities, relaxation time or celebration time after watching the All Black’s/South Africa test match .

But alas, we’ve been Susied.

Remember Susie who poisoned the All Black’s at the Rugby World Cup in South Africa so they couldn’t win the cup? Well someone is so terrified The National Male Choir of New Zealand might just take the cup at Eisteffod today, they brought Susie over to change the bus sign. Alas she was foiled by Camp Father who spotted the change in time and now everyone is just chuffed that the opposition is so scared, they tried to make us miss our competition spot.

Next update – the results!!

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