The busiest December for the choir yet, with lots of flights, and concerts in three countries!
A depressingly early start for the Christmas tour, leaving campus at 6.30am. We’re in an oddly hysterical mood, much to Rupert’s confusion. As I said, it was very early…
We arrive at Gatwick and following a quick drugs sniff by an adorable police dog we check in and head through security. First port of call for us is of course, Milka, and for those new to the choir this is a big part of any RoHo tour.
We arrived in Treviso not long after we were originally meant to. James and I had a gorgeous room with a lovely Juliet balcony overlooking a canal. We met with Emily and headed for an authentic Italian McDonald’s. On the way, we waxed lyrical about how everything is just better in Italy. Firstly, the people are just stunning. In particular, I contend that Italy has the best silver foxes in the world, with their gorgeous long locks and sumptuous beards. Moreover, everyone is dressed impeccably. Walking around Treviso felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.
Even the McDonald’s looked better, although it smelt… ripe. The Italians seem to think you need to add ‘Mc’ before everything on the menu and had the interesting idea of putting cheese and bacon one their chips which I promise looked far worse than it sounds.
Much hilarity ensued as we ordered our food half in Italian and half in English, and after we’d finished eating, we went for a spot of shopping. We came across a shop by the name of Dan John, which has now become my favourite shop in the world. Dan John is a one stop shop for the most gorgeous menswear, from ties to suits and everything in between. I very quickly spent €55 on three ties and a pocket square, which is really good value.
Shopping done, we headed for a rehearsal at the venue. In typically Italian fashion, despite being “fully restored”, the ceiling murals were half missing. Still, the acoustic was delightfully swimmy, and Rupert went a bit nuts with some fancy stage management.
Rehearsal over, we headed to a nearby Pizzeria for dinner, all paid for by the choir. After a delightfully scrumptious Margherita pizza, the choir surprised the diners with a rendition of Ben Parry’s Jingle Bells, which was a really special moment we’ll remember years from now.
The concert was pretty bloody brilliant, proved by the Italians’ ability to make every round of applause uncomfortably long. We even had to take a second curtain call after we’d left the stage, such was their applause.
After the concert, two people named Veronica and Matteo took us to a bar situated in a disguised toll booth, and where I was served beer in a wine glass whilst others drunk negronis and the smoothing, creamiest prosecco I’ve ever tasted.
This was mainly a travel day and started with us meeting at Heathrow at 2. Anyway, we all managed to get on the plane, where a glass of prosecco was enjoyed by many a chorister. After landing, we met our host and the bus driver Rheiner (or Ryanair as we Christened him) and he took us from the airport to the hotel, the Smartino outside Schwäbisch Hall. We dumped our stuff, and headed, ironically, for a local pizzeria. In my humble opinion, the pizza was nicer than in Italy, and the beer was scrumptious. Tobias is a lovely man, who informed us that last year’s artistes were the Prague Philharmonic and Sergei Nakariakov — no pressure then…
Concert day arrives and so does our first opportunity to see Schwäbisch Hall in all its glory, and what a town it is. The church sits proudly atop a very steep incline with a set of vertigo-inducing steps taking one down to the central square, where a scene from Christmas heaven awaits. Wooden huts litter the square, selling mulled wine, Christmas crafts and a wide variety of sausages. The wine comes in a mug which, if so desired, can be taken or returned for a €2 deposit.
We spend the morning taking in the gorgeous Bavarian architecture. Some are oddly excited by H&M — I’m reliably informed that continental H&Ms are just better.
The church itself inside is gorgeous, but not as cavernous as first feared. Such is the size of tonight’s audience, there are another ten rows of seats behind us in the quire, and there’s a balcony for seating too. Again, no pressure. The returnees slot back in as if they’ve never been away, and the rehearsal goes swimmingly. After a quick trip back to the hotel to change under a gorgeous setting sun, we return to the church for concert time and my, is it packed. There are even rows of people standing both upstairs and down, and the applause sounds like a downpour beginning like a wave from a different corner of the church each time. After Es ist ein Ros, when we were positioned in the aisles, a lady just whispered “wow” which was ironic given that I’d just spent three minutes humming an F in her ear.
A highlight of the concert had to be Oh da Fröliche, a rousing carol sung in Germany every year, there wasn’t a single audience member who didn’t sing all the words with gusto, and it was a humbling experience to join them in their festive traditions.
The final concert of the year done, we head to a restaurant for a lovely slap-up meal and lots and lots of beer. Inevitably being a choir, we can’t help but sing before we depart, starting with jingle bells before bringing out the old favourites like Pärt’s Bogoroditse Devo and Rutter’s It was a lover and his lass.
As I write it’s 7.30am and we are wearily on our way to the airport. This tour has been an odd, encompassing three countries and different personnel for each concert. The slightly smaller forces in Treviso produced a concert bubbly with energy, and when joined by the rest of the choir we managed a pretty decent carol service at St. Bart's.
The sound in Germany was beefy to say the least, and a huge thanks to the oldies for their return — the banter has been wonderful, and the singing top notch. It’s the people, in the end, that make this choir so special, so a huge congrats and thanks to you all for being top-notch singers and a bunch of pretty bloody fantastic people. Thanks also to all those who organised the whole thing, Tobias, the concert organiser and Rheiner for his top-notch driving! Danke.
- Ben Richards, Bass