BLOG: Rhineland Tour

The Music department is on tour in Germany until Tuesday 27th October 2009. Kieron Howe, QE’s Director of Music, is keeping parents and other members of the School’s community up-to-date with the Tour’s events through this blog.

Tuesday 27th October 2009

We have just docked at Dover having had a good and sun-blessed journey from a very rainy Bielefeld. We crossed Holland, Belgium and France, and were just in time to catch our scheduled ferry at 1655, even after having to get everyone off the coach and through passport control.

I hope that you will hear good things about the tour from the boys, they have certainly been saying only good things to us. I asked a few of the boys at the back of the coach what aspect of thetour they thought was good and they just said ‘All of it’.

As I told the boys, we were in Germany to do our musical job to the best of our ability. The boys surpassed any preconceptions we had. We have performed three wonderful concerts in three very different venues and situations. I am really glad that we were able to finish our tour in Bielefeld for a number of reasons. Firstly that we were able to join together in last night’s brilliant concert; and also that we were able to stay with our very generous hosts last night. To see how the boys got on with their German counter-parts was wonderful. They also had a chance to experience life for a German teenager, to the extent of coming to school with their hosts this morning.

The behaviour of the boys has been exemplary at every stage and they are and will be congratulated for this. The only misdemeanour being when 2 boys were 10 minutes late into their room on one night! Their overall behaviour has made this a very easy and enjoyable tour to oversee.

I would also like to thank the staff for their commitment and hard work on the trip. Mr Chakravarty, Miss Lancelot, Mr Lewis and Mr Radford have been fantastic in their support of the boys as well as all of their excellent musical efforts.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog, keeping up to speed with our activities while we have been away. I wish you and the boys a pleasant rest of half-term and thank you for your support for this venture.

I hope to see you in as little time as the M25 will allow us.

Monday 26th October 2009

What a day! Early breakfast, early start, all the boys at the coach by 8, fully packed and ready to go. We then had a trouble-free trip to Bielefeld where the boys got all their instruments and cases off the coach in the rain before putting the cases back on the coach because I had mis-translated our German instructions!

We rehearsed for about 90 mins before heading to the Friedrich von Bodelschwing Schule for wonderful home-made cakes. We then met our hosts and went back to their houses for dinner.

Every single boy I spoke to at the Ringlokschuppen said that they had had a gorgeous dinner and that their hosts were lovely and had fantastic houses. Bodes well for tonight.

I write after the most fantastic concert. The Ringlokschuppen, where we played, was totally full, with around 400 people, as we started to become accustomed. The Big Band from the Friedrich von Bodelschwing played the first half of the concert and then we came on for the massively well-received second half which finished with the two bands playing two pieces together, God Put a Smile on Your Face and Children of Sanchez. Brilliant performances from around 80 performers in the very Big Band. The pounding rhythms could not be ignored by Mr Chakravarty’s hips any longer and the group’s focus shifted from the stage to the audience!

Meeting at the school at 8 tomorrow morning, perhaps a few tired faces will get on the coach?

Sunday 25th October 2009

Today has been a wonderful and varied day. After yet another sumptuous breakfast we went to St Goarhasen to catch our boat for the cruise down the Rhine. Unfortunately being the efficient group we have now become, we were over half and hour early! How to fill 35 minutes on the side of the Rhine in a two-house village with one cafe which isn’t even open?! A first for QE: we had a rehearsal, however as there wasn’t time to get our instruments off the coach, we had a vocal rehearsal! All the boys, standing in their requisite ensemble places of course, ‘sang’ their parts for the pieces that we were to play at Rudesheim later. A very useful and interesting activity.

Our 90-minute cruise was bathed in sunshine for the majority of the trip, highlighting the beauty of the river and the surrounding hills and towns. A particular point of interest was arriving in Bacharach and hearing the guide tell us about the wonderful church in Bacharach, and we were able to say "We played there."

We then continued our journey by coach into Rudesheim where we spent an intriguing hour visiting Siegfried’s Musikkabinett looking at and hearing the plethora of mechanical musical instruments. After having heard one Bechstein piano playing itself, we were asked if there was anyone who played the piano. I’m not sure the guide was prepared for hearing the virtuosic performances from Luka and Rowan, followed by an improvisatory ‘Happy Birthday’ for Shanil, our second of the day.

Our performance in the Markt Platz drew as many people as would comfortably fit into the area, by my estimations, somewhere between 250 and 300 extremely appreciative listeners. I was so pleased that this performance included every single person on our tour, starting with the Big Orchestra and then the Concert Band. The boys played incredibly well and we have been invited back whenever we want to come back to play here. The performance finished with possibly the biggest round of ‘Happy Birthday’ Shanil will ever experience!

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We are about to begin our awards ceremony at which we will award some prizes to commemorate some ‘achievements’ on tour and the boys will perform their 5 tour songs that they have composed in their groups. We have just had three cakes provided by our hotel for Shanil’s birthday (fourth and final singing!).

After that it will be time to pack and again get as much sleep as possible before we start off for Bielefeld at 0800 and our final concert of the tour.

Saturday 24th October 2009

Today has been a rather more restful day with some time in Cologne. We started at the chocolate museum with our non-guided tour! The boys’ attention was additionally concentrated with the warning that there would be information gleaned from our visit needed for the quiz this evening.

We learned a great deal about how chocolate is made and its history. There were also quite a few free samples which the boys dealt with enthusiastically. They also confused one lady who was demonstrating how chocolate footballs are made, because they applauded her on production of the finished article, something that doesn’t happen often in a factory!

We then walked from the chocolate factory to Cologne’s wonderful gothic cathedral. The boys then had a couple of hours’ free time to explore Cologne and its bustling pedestrian areas.

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We had another wonderful and plentiful dinner at the hotel before retiring to the function room for our quiz. However the intrigue and animation from the boys for the round of questions based on our staff, was something I have not seen for a very long time! Questions included working out the collective age and height of our staff! Also slightly worrying that the scores on the sport round were slightly higher than that on the music round.

As I write the boys are making the most of the extra hour in bed by practising their group songs ready for the performances tomorrow night.

Friday 23rd October 2009

There were a great deal of tired faces this morning at breakfast at 0830. However they seemed to have woken up by the time we started our very successful rehearsals at 1000. After another fantastic lunch at the hotel we travelled to the other side of the Rhine to Boppard where we took a ride on the chairlift to the top of the hill where we saw the "bendiest bend of the Rhine"! After a very cloudy morning the sun came out just as we arrived in Boppard and we had a lovely hour or so, the boys even tried out the acoustic opportunities offered by the hillsides around Boppard.

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We then went to Bacharach where our concert was and unloaded our equipment into the church.We had a small but extremely appreciative audience, many of whom were almost literally pulled off the streets by the boys who were not performing this evening.

The boys pulled everything out of the bag and played a fantastic concert. A very sociable evening was had by all and another hopefully full night’s sleep before our day in Koln tomorrow.

Thursday 22nd October 2009

23:00 – Well after a fairly eventful journey we have arrived at the hotel safe and sound. All we lost was a bit of time. The boys were all very patient and calm through it all. They even learnt something en route, that on the continent we normally have to pay a few cents to use a public toilet. Useful lesson. The hotel was a very welcome sight at the end of our 16 hours travelling. The hotel staff have been very accommodating and put on a lovely meal for us, even at this late hour. We have also met our rep Rick who is going to be looking after the organisational side of the tour for us over here. Time to get us all settled in our rooms and a good night’s sleep. Fingers crossed!

10:30 – Just left Maidstone services after having a repair of a flat tyre.

Slight mis-communication also led to the coach picking up in Queen’s Road rather than by the music department, but some swift carrying by the boys and parents meant we weren’t too late leaving.

Off to Dover now to catch the next ferry, whenever that is, as we missed our 10:00 sailing. Ah well, hope we won’t miss dinner!

Tuesday 20th October 2009

All rehearsals are now completed and packing is (hopefully) well under way. The rehearsals have gone really well over the last couple of days, albeit with some very tired looking boys. However once we get to Germany I’m sure they will rise to the occasion and perform brilliantly in all three of our concerts.

Last few things to remember to pack. After an unfortunate accident on the river cruise on the Seine two years ago, it would be sensible if all those who wear glasses bring a spare pair. Also because it is going to be cold in Germany and we are playing one concert outside and we are spending quite a bit of time outside, I would recommend that the boys, particularly the brass players, take some lip-protection such as Blistex or at least Vaseline.

I also mentioned to the boys today that we are a bit short on folding metal music stands, so if you have one at home I would be really grateful if you could put your son’s name on it and bring it in to school either tomorrow, Wednesday or Thursday morning. I’m not sure if we will be able to fit our usual black stands on the coach so if we have some folding stands on standby that would be very useful.

I hope all your final preparations go well and I look forward to seeing you all at 0500 or 0515 on Thursday.

Thursday 15th October 2009

Only 1 week to go now! The final Big Orchestra rehearsal is tonight and we are thinking about making sure we have enough clean clothes ready.

A couple of thoughts have surfaced since Monday’s meeting. Firstly that if the boys bring a mobile phone then please don’t forget to pack the charger and a european adaptor as well. Secondly, a couple of people have asked for the web address for the hotel; click here.

Also, I forgot to talk about instrument insurance at the meeting. Unfortunately neither of our insurances cover the instruments so please make sure that you have arranged cover privately. The weather in Germany is still chilly, night-time temperatures down to -2, so please pack those gloves, maybe a hat, and of course pyjamas!

As you know the meeting time is 0515 next Thursday but I have asked those with responsibility for the percussion etc to be here for 0500 so that we can get the big instruments ready to get on the coach first.

I will be meeting with all of the sixth form boys on Wednesday lunchtime to talk through their roles and the expectations we have of them. If there are any questions please do not hesitate to contact us in the department.

Monday 12th October 2009

Final Preparations: We are now 10 days away from leaving for Germany and it becomes more real with every step. We have received the itinerary, copies of the poster publicising our concert in Bielefeld and also these fantastic photos of St Peter’s Church in Bacharach where we are performing our first concert on Friday 23rd.

We are into the stage of the last few rehearsals. Some ensembles such as the Orchestra, Concert Band and String Orchestra have only one rehearsal left in this country. The boys are even starting to get excited! Though they may not admit it.

If you are reading this you have probably been to the briefing evening and that again brings everything into even more sharp focus. To talk through the itinerary and discuss packing makes it seem really close.

I hope that this blog will help you to keep a track on events while we are away and make you feel more involved in the boys’ musical work. It will also help in that conversation when we get back when you ask your son "How was it? What did you do?" and get the response "It was good. We did some concerts and stuff."

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Saturday 10th October 2009

Don’t forget Monday’s briefing evening for parents. The event starts at 7 p.m. in the Main School Hall. See you there!