A Singer’s Perspective on Touring

Patrick Craig, Alto Vicar Choral at St Paul’s, offers a singer’s perspective on touring with St Paul’s Cathedral Choir

One of Andrew’s recurring jokes to our audiences out here in America involves him pointing out that some of the older members of the back row of the choir look as though they were part of the original 1953 US tour. That’s not strictly true but we do have one of our number that was on the 1998 tour, two from the 1993 tour and five from the last major tour in 2003. My recurring comment to audience members is how rare it is for St Paul’s Cathedral Choir to ever leave our building, so with a twelve year gap since the last big tour our excitement levels were pretty high. I ratcheted that anticipation up by hunting down a suitcase with a picture of St Paul’s Cathedral on it to accompany me on this trip. Imagine my delight when I discovered that two choristers had had the same idea (see pic).

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Patrick Craig and two Choristers model their themed suitcases

What has made this tour particularly special for us is that it hasn’t been organised by an agency in the States but by our own Music Department dream team of Andrew, Angela and Tom. Andrew’s own long experience of touring as a singer coupled with Angela’s meticulous attention to detail has rewarded us with a tour tailored first and foremost to the needs of the singers. The payback for this has been the consistently high level of performance with the boys raising their game for a series of spectacular concerts. They have also been a delight to travel with, and great credit for this must go also to their school support team of Jaco, Rosie and Ed. All our audiences have been wowed by both their voices and their manners.

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The Choir singing in Trinity Church, Boston

An unusual element of our tour has been the spoken presentation of our programmes by both Andrew and Simon, which have increased the connection between what we do and what our audiences feel about it. The most moving example of this was the linking of Nico Muhly’s 9/11 piece to the second anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, which added extra poignancy to our performances.

Andrew Carwood offers musical insights to an audience
Andrew Carwood offers musical commentary during a performance 

This has been a supremely happy tour. Nice hotels, tasty meals, kind schedules with opportunities to let our hair down, and singer friendly programmes all help this, but it’s the people that make it special and this tour has been blessed with a fun, friendly and talented bunch of colleagues.

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Boys will be boys…

Jaco Brand, Head of Boarding at St Paul’s Cathedral School, offers his mid-flight reflections on looking after 21 Choristers on tour.

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The Choristers at the NASA Johnson Space Center

 

“Who is in charge of these boys?” This is the question I dread most. Bravely, I reply, “That will be me” and then comes the relief, “They are absolutely charming!” Well, I know that, of course! It’s just that boys will be boys and you never know who stood on whose toe and whose inquisitive nature has made them wander into the restricted access zone.

The Head Master, Head of Boarding and Tour Chaperones
The Head Master, Head of Boarding and Tour Chaperones

It is my pleasure to travel as a chaperone with the boys of St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, London, on their 2015 tour of the USA. We know each other well back at the ranch: me as their Housemaster and maths teacher and them as very busy choristers, constantly juggling school work, cathedral commitments, sport and music practice. However, here in the USA we can forget about all the other daily pressures and focus on singing 8 concerts in 7 States. This is a task they are performing without stepping on any toes – they are simply brilliant at it – and my respect and admiration for these boys increase daily. The only suffering I have to endure something equivalent to what must be “Proud Dad Syndrome” – not something to complain about!

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Jacob Brand briefs the Choristers

 

We are traveling with 21 boys between the ages of 10-13 years old. It is wonderful to see them grow into seasoned travellers, coping expertly with being away from home and their known routines, making most of the experience, absorbing new cultures and habits, whilst sharing their spirited personalities and talents with all the wonderful new friends we are making. Amongst these are the incredible host families who accommodate the boys and spoil them rotten. People willing to open their hearts and homes, do laundry, provide packed lunches, entertain, ferry to and from rehearsals and attend the concert – briefly becoming proud surrogate mums and dads. Truly generosity without end: we are in debt and very grateful for their care, hospitality and kindness.

The Choristers in their distinctive St Paul's Cathedral robes
The Choristers in their distinctive St Paul’s Cathedral robes

With the cabin being prepared for landing, I should get back to my charges: “Right, make sure you have everything, put that back in your hand luggage, sit down, seat belts on, whose hat is this?” “Tidy up around you, yes, thank you, I have heard your joke before.” “No, I will hear your new joke when we are in the terminal building.” “Now there’s a surprise – do up your shoe laces, will you!”

A Message from Her Majesty The Queen

We are humbled and delighted to have received a letter of support from Her Majesty The Queen in relation to our tour of the USA. Her Majesty is Patron of The Chorister Trust, which was established in 1984 to provide resources for the education and musical training of our Choristers, regardless of the financial position of their families. As a consequence of grants made by the Trust, many boys have had the unique experience of being a member of the choir of St Paul’s.

On the occasion of Her Majesty The Queen’s 89th birthday, St Paul’s Cathedral Choir sends loyal and hearty greetings to Her Majesty.

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‘Awesome!’ Canon Michael Hampel reflects on the first 3 stops of #USA2015

Michael Hampel‘This is awesome’ – a commonly used word in the great US of A to encapsulate the superlatives of a situation. And, even after only a few days, there have been many superlatives already: from Tudor music and the choral sounds of the modern world to trolley buses and duck tours; from Royalty and Remembrance to baseball and fried chicken (with a vegetarian alternative). There have been three standing ovations and repeated expressions of awe and delight at the behaviour of the boys (those aged between 10 and 13 – I can’t speak for the Vicars Choral) and we are making many new friends.

We’re here to share something of our spiritual inheritance with people who, though geographically distant, are historically close. And we’re here to make new friends – not least so that we can reinvigorate our network of US supporters. The people we meet on this tour we will stay in touch with.

Audience

‘Do you have to attend every concert?’ an elderly lady at Vineville United Methodist Church in Macon leant forward and asked me yesterday afternoon. I beamed a large yes back at her. She nodded approvingly and, I think, rather enviously before sitting back misty-eyed as the choir began its next item. At least she didn’t say, ‘Do you come here often?’ ‘No, mam, not since 1953!’ And then afternoon tea with donuts and popcorn.

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On choir tours, you do the ambassador for the Anglican choral tradition thing and encourage people to visit your home turf – ‘back at the ranch’. Apparently, I don’t pronounce ‘ranch’ correctly but I’m working on it. There’s also the team bonding thing. At St Paul’s, the different components of the choir can sometimes feel like ships that pass in the night in the Dean’s Aisle. On tour you lunch with choristers – and one of them gives you a concise history of the whole of the twentieth century over macaroni cheese (thanks, Arthur). That wasn’t as bad as being asked what predestination is while going through airport security. ‘The right to avoid purgatory,’ I answered, ‘and, if you want to know what purgatory is, it’s airport security.’ Reach for the Haribos.

Hot Dog

And we had our own church service yesterday morning in a sports hall at the Methodist Church – instant liturgy with a score board. The assistant director of music of St Philip’s Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta said it was the finest concert he had ever attended. St Paul’s Cathedral Choir is up there on the world stage, thanks to Andrew Carwood and the many people who make up and support it. Even when the Organist sounds the chimes stop in ‘The Call of Wisdom’ (thanks, Simon).

The USA Tour has begun!

The USA tour has got off to a flying start and we are looking forward to giving our first concert today in Trinity Church, Copley Square. The tour got underway very early on Tuesday April 14 as we boarded a coach for Heathrow. The flight to Boston was smooth, and the boys enjoyed sampling an array of films on offer!

Arriving

The first afternoon was spent on a private bus tour of Boston, stopping off to see various points of interest associated with the American Revolution, as well as the world’s oldest battleship! The boys demonstrated unrivalled military order outside the USS Constitution.

USS Constitution

The highlight for the Choristers of the first leg of the tour was undoubtedly their trip to Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox play the Washington Nationals. The chaperones had told the children to expect a visit to the (non-existent) Museum of Mathematics, and there was huge excitement when we actually turned up to the Baseball stadium.

Baseball 2

It hasn’t all been play, however. The boys have rehearsed hard and our Organist, Simon Johnson, has spent time familiarising himself with the Aeolian-Skinner organ at Trinity ahead of our concert.

Simon Johnson 2

Now that our Vicars Choral (gentlemen singers in the choir) have joined us, we are gearing up to perform ‘St Paul’s in the Modern World’ and ‘Royalty & Remembrance’, two contrasting concert halves which display the vocal and musical colours which worshippers at St Paul’s can expect to hear on a regular basis. Musical highlights include Patrick Gowers, Viri Galilaei, Alec Roth ‘Jubilate’ (which features on our ‘Canticles‘ disc), Will Todd, ‘The Call of Wisdom‘, and Parry’s famous ‘I was Glad‘.

St Paul’s Cathedral Choir and the USA: 1953-2015

St Paul’s Cathedral Choir has long been part of the ‘special relationship’. It was in 1953, shortly after the Coronation, that the choir undertook a gargantuan 2-month, 40-concert tour, travelling aboard The Queen Elizabeth as a symbol of friendship between our two nations.

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The choir’s 1953 tour was related to Winston Churchill and President Eisenhower’s creation of the American Memorial Chapel, which commemorates 28,000 names of US servicemen who lost their lives in Europe during the Second World War. Following a dedication service at St Paul’s, Canon John Collins wrote: “No one who was present at that service could doubt that it manifestly symbolised the best which binds our two nations in friendship which can never be broken so long as we share those common aims for which the sacrifice commemorated was made.”

The choir tour which followed the chapel’s dedication, and which received Royal blessing, was remarkable in many ways. The tour required travelling some 8,500 miles by bus and train, staying in numerous hotels for short periods with the associated logistical problems for dealing with laundry and moving music and equipment. These challenges were overcome and the tour proved a resounding success.

The programme for the concert in Carnegie Hall

Canon Collins wrote: “Everywhere the Choir was received most enthusiastically. The Choir went to America with its gift of goodwill, it returned to Britain the bearer of this same gift enriched a thousand-fold from the American people.”

In 1953, one rehearsal had to be conducted in a train carriage which Sir John Dykes Bower (seen below) had commandeered for the choir’s use, en route to the White House. Our 2015 rehearsals will not need to take place on the move, and transportation has greatly improved since that time. However, in many ways, little has changed since 1953, as we carry with us the same sense of pride and a spirit of friendship as we prepare to meet audiences across the USA.

Since 1953, the choir has regularly toured the USA, including a 1953 anniversary tour in 1993, and again in 2003. We travel to the States next week with an overwhelming sense of history, support, and friendship, not least because of the warm encouragement we have already received from friends diplomatic and otherwise. Follow our progress on Facebook and Twitter.

The Choir rehearses ahead of the epic tour

Credits: Peter Chapman, Chorister on the 1953 Choir Tour and St Paul’s Cathedral’s first Lay Canon.