Last week was a hectic one, crammed with all kinds of singing and social events for the lucky 50 or so people on the Medina Community Choir tour bus. From what I can remember it went something like this:
Or it could have been Day 0 (see this post for an explanation).
We departed Fishbourne on the 4am ferry and met up with our tour coach in Portsmouth and loaded it up with our bags and the music/sound equipment (which had been brought over in the car of the kind Gerry, husband of Avril, who returned back to the Island on the 5am ferry).
Nothing of note happened on the cross-channel ferry or on the journey from Caen to Angers, except for our first encounter with a roundabout near our hotel which proved to confuse our coach driver nearly every time he drove around it. This time he took us to the wrong part of the retail/industrial estate that our hotel was in.
That evening we had our first group meal, in the local Buffalo Grill, which surfaced some of the nerves frayed by the early start and long journey, with some complaints about how rare some of the burgers were and a few over-heated discussions about whether or not people should eat the paid-for breakfast.
This was a day of leisure with the choir being taken to La Baule for a day by the seaside. We did struggle to find coach parking in La Baule, which added some delay to folks launching themselves on the markets and beaches of one of France’s most prestigious resorts. Once released, there was a fair degree of hat buying, lunch consumption and even some brave souls going for a dip in the sea. One member of the choir spent 20 minutes talking, in broken French, to another member while they paddled in the sea without realising she was from the choir (‘I had sand in my eyes’ was the excuse). She only realised when she asked where her conversational partner was from, and when the answer was ‘Sandown’, she looked more closely and realised she had not been talking to a French stranger!
On return home, we picnicked on the grass outside the hotel and much wine, bread and potatoes were consumed.
This was the day that we finally got down to the business of the tour, but not before a little tourism with a visit to the troglodytique village of Rochemenier, a medieval set of farms where the inhabitants chose to dig their houses in holes in the plain rather than to have regular homesteads. We sang here in the underground chapel, an event some found very moving, but an elderly Yorkshire couple visiting at the same time were overheard saying to one another “it’s alright, love, they’re coming out” as we left. Not a rave review!
Singing in the underground chapel
From here we went directly to the Eglise Saint Nicolas in Nantes. The pictures we had seen beforehand made it look stunning and it totally lived up to expectation, and more. The church is vast and the acoustic great. We got the equipment setup and had a rehearsal before heading out to find dinner and quickly explore the environs of Nantes closeby.
On our last tour in 2010, the audiences we had at our concerts in churches were quite disappointing. I think the most we people we had was about 50. Therefore when we walked out to begin the concert we were all very chuffed to see around about 140 people filling the pews to listen to our wares. Throughout the night they clapped enthusiastically and, as happened at all three concerts, gave us a standing ovation at the end. Certainly from their reaction the concert was a success, and apart from amusing, verging on rude, mis-pronunciations of the French introductions to the songs, from the choir’s point-of-view, the concert went well too.
Another day without a concert and this time we went west towards Tour. Our first stop was Amboise to visit Clos Luce, the final residence of Leonardo da Vinci. The search for a place to park on this occasion did create some fear, as we came close to the top of the slope above some allotments (but only because further back on a bus you cannot see where the front is, and the front wheels are set a long way back compared to a car, it was all about perspsective). Anyway, once settled into Amboise it turned out to be quite beautiful and ancient and Clos Luce a wonderfully laid out park honouring the inventions of da Vinci.
From here we went to what was probably the most anticipated stop of the tour – the wine cellars of Monmousseau. While folks were no doubt looking forward to wine bargains and free tasting, none of us were expecting the depth of the tunnels (many kilometres) or the very interesting tour we received (who can imagine having a job turning tens of thousands of wine bottles a day?). We also took the opportunity to sing here, although the only audience we had this time were the staff, as it was late in the afternoon. They enjoyed our short performance, and they had looked after us well, even though they did not normally handle coach parties.
Finally, keeping to the theme of the underground and les caves (wine cellars) our evening meal was at Restaurant La Cave in Montlouis-sur-Loire. We had a very fine meal here, swiftly delivered with an amazing flambeed desert which contained ice cream. Again we sang here, as we left, energised by a few glasses of wine and the manageress was very impressed, and generously gave us a case of wine she was so overcome with emotion. Of all of our busking events of the tour, this was the one that Hannah, our musical director, picked out as her highlight.
A much more simple day – Nantes. This time we had the day to spend visiting the sites of this city as people wanted, from the impressive chateau to the amazing Machines de L’Ile to the wealth of shopping opportunities.
We did busk again, in the Place Royal, handing out leaflets for our concert. The priest at the church was of the opinion that our concert on this day (Thursday) would have a much smaller audience as the locals would already be heading away to their seaside houses for the weekend, so we knew we had to drum up custom. That meant when we walked out to our ‘stage’ in the evening we were even more pleased than on Tuesday to see an even bigger audience, some of whom we had captured through our leafleting. The audience probably numbered around 200.
Singing in Saint Nicolas
The concert went well again, with improved introductions to the songs in French, and the audience was great, with much swaying during the Gospel Medley.
This was the first of two days staying local in Angers. After the short trip into the town from the hotel, some of the choir headed from the drop-off to the church of St Joseph where we were to perform to check it out. Our reconnaissance was held up, as a funeral was finishing up in the church, and twenty boisterous Brits blundering in would have been something of a faux pas. Once inside we were impressed by the acoustic here. Internally it is a much more straightfoward church compared to Saint Nicolas, but the echo was immense, so much so that Sally, our wonderful pianist for the week, debated whether or not she should bother using the sustain pedal on the piano.
Our busking in Angers that evening was a different experience to Nantes, where we had gathered in a random square. This time members of the choir had discovered a piano in the central square of Nantes, Place du Ralliement, in front of the Grand Theatre, with a sign encouraging people to use it. So we did, and produced a lovely sound that echoed around the square.
The audience for our last concert of the tour was a lot less than those of Nantes, but no less enthusiastic. They got to see Ella, our youngest soloist at six years old, high five Ben, our cameraman for the week, on her walk back down the church aisle after her solo. One audience member, who leads a gospel choir in Angers, remarked to Hannah that our singing had surpassed those of her choir and she now felt very embarrassed for all of the weddings and events her choir had sung the same songs at. Praise indeed.
On return to the hotel (B&B Anger 2), we may have been a little noisy in the salle du petit dejeuner as we ate the last of the potatoes and drank some wine and beer and reminisced about the events of the tour until the small hours of the morning.
Days 6 & 7
Our last full day in France was a free day and most folks headed into Angers by local bus to further explore the town, its castle, museums, bars, shops and restaurants. There is a lot of history and art to be found in Angers and we had a great time there. Your writer can recommend the Terra Botanica on the outskirts of Angers. I would not have expected a plant-based theme park to be an enjoyable experience, either for me or a six year old or a sixty year old, but all three of us thoroughly enjoyed six hours there, and arrived slightly late for the final group meal of the tour.
The final meal was in the same venue as the first, the Buffalo Grill of Angers. Due to some prior organisation, it was a much more slick experience and after our hearty meals we had the prize giving for the tour. Everyone got a medal, with awards such as ‘Colours of the Wind’ and ‘Don Juan’ bringing much merriment to the members of the tour.
The return home once again started very early in the morning, with a 3:30am departure from the hotel. We made good progress to Caen and the crossing back to Blightly was as uneventful as the trip over the week before.
Our last singing engagement was on the Wightlink ferry back over the Solent, in return for Wightlink’s generous support through their community programmes of our tour. Our fellow passengers were regaled with May It Be and Circle of Life for the last time of the tour, and a shock inclusion of My Heart Will Go On from Titanic, its only performance of our busking events.
So the tour of 2013 is now complete. All that remains is for the 40Gb of video to be edited and played back to the choir at a future social event. We all had great fun, made many new friends, learnt a lot about each other and about France, sang in some amazing and varied venues and created some aural pleasure for our audiences.