This is a diary of the Choir’s tour to the USA taken from the chorister parents’ blog written by the Choristers’ Housemaster, Jill Etheridge.
As Housemaster, Jill has responsibility for the day-to-day wellbeing of the Choristers and the opportunity to observe everything at close hand. Read on to experience the tour through her eyes.
New York: a few precious hours of sightseeing…
After lunch we dash through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art – and when I say dash, I want you to imagine a long line of boys going at differing speeds stopping at every blade of grass to take a photo. Oh, here’s another blade of American grass, let’s take a photo!
We’re late for our 1.45 rendezvous, but it’s like herding cats. However, the up side is that we do see many of the highlights, although the boys are more interested in the lady doing yoga by the Alice in Wonderland sculpture than the sculpture itself, and I can’t really blame them.
Despite arriving really quite late, we nonetheless get a very warm welcome, and we embark on our tour, which has been specially organised by a good friend of the Choir’s.
We tour the museum’s stunning collection of European musical instruments, which were given to the museum by one Mrs Brown. We are shown round by Mrs Brown’s granddaughter Sally, herself now quite elderly (what a treat!) and Alex gets to play a 19th Century organ – very competently as it happens.
…and then the reason why we’re here:
The first concert comes at the end of another afternoon of sightseeing (though this time in the snow). I sit next to the lovely lady who organised the Metropolitan Museum trip and very much enjoy her enthusiasm for this beautiful programme of music.
To my ear, the Choir sounds magnificent, not at all jet-lagged, and I personally love the Widor Toccata encore which gets a standing ovation. No falling asleep at this concert!
Washington – an unexpected death in the Washington National Cathedral
The coach journey to Washington in the morning is divided by a half-hour stop at a service station. Sammy buys a quick snack (two cheese burgers and a large fries) that’s just to keep him going, apparently.
We arrive at the enormous majestic National Cathedral a couple of hours later, just in time for yet more food. The lunch is good, but not good enough to distract the boys from the dead mouse that is in the corner of the room.
Don’t worry, the food has been produced by a catering company and brought in... I shrug it off by saying that cathedrals are old places and are bound to have mouse families living there. Ugggh. The boys cover it with a napkin, and then try to trick people into picking the napkin up. Horrible children!
Minneapolis – Basketball: Minneapolis Timberwolves vs Charlotte Hornets...
I really had no idea what to expect when we booked this one ‘sporting’ event - I presented it as ‘cultural’ to the Director of Music, Stephen Cleobury, and indeed it is; it’s nothing like anything I have been to before!
We miss the National Anthem at the beginning, which is a shame as it was apparently quite something special – not at all like our own reserved offerings at home. Once the game gets going, cameras are often more focused on the cheer-leaders than the game itself. There are competitions, and there are games and opportunities to get onto the central screen – all of which our boys make the most of.
The game itself is very close, but the hosts lose. They are third from bottom in the league, but then Colchester (one of the boys’ favourite teams) is second from bottom, so we can empathise.
There’s a ‘howlometer’ to see how loud we howl (Wolves...) and at one point a pest control man comes on to squirt the large soft-toy hornets which fall from the ceiling. Oh boy. All thoroughly unforgettable – Cambridge United football matches will be dull by comparison for ever after.
...and fun at the 7 acre Nickelodeon in the middle of the Mall of America.
The Mall of America is one big mall – in fact it has more visitors per annum than any other mall in the USA. We’re not there for the shopping, but for the Nickelodeon – a 7 acre theme park in the centre of the mall.
One boy is already looking green at the thought of the roller coaster, and so we despatch him with Mr Matron to the aquarium instead, where it turns out that he knows more about the fish than the attendants.
Meanwhile, Alex seems to think that it would be good fun to go with me on the nastiest roller coaster we can find. The men of the Choir are horrified that we are going to put ourselves upside down deliberately post lunch, but I’ve never been on a roller coaster that’s called ‘the rather odd roller coaster’ – and quite frankly I don’t think that I ever will again.
I make the obligatory screams, and Thomas gets very excited – “Puv’s screaming!” he screams. I scream louder, just for the theatre of it.
Chicago – the Assasins’ hotel...
If you were 20 something, backpacking around the US, and you wanted somewhere funky to stay, then this would be for you. But – quote from Thomas – ‘a bit too retro snazzy for me’. The rooms. Oh my. Where to start. Firstly they are big, and some have a separate lounge area. There are blackboards on the doors, and the children are quick to chalk their names or messages on their boards.
Above the beds hang white sheets with black hands printed on them. Especially creepy when Billy tells me that he has been reading a book where this is a sign that you’re next on the assassination list.
We discover that the minibars haven’t been emptied, and are the kind that automatically register a purchase if something has been removed. The younger, less experienced boys, think that they’ve just arrived in heaven, and start to help themselves to the contents... uh oh. Quick intervention gets them locked, and Joe gets a free coke as a result.
Dallas – the final stop
We find a book shop, and it's next door to a huge Texas University store. Most descend on the poor unsuspecting staff in the Uni Store – it's so quiet that at least we liven up their day. The Texas University colour is a rather unattractive brown, and this store has just about everything you can think of – and much beyond – in this lovely colour.
We have fun with pompoms and baseball bats (yes, the two do go together) and Alex hits a ball further than he intended down the length of the store... time to go. We make a few brown purchases, and the boys are given brown bags. Very exciting.
Later, dinner is in a restaurant called Season 52. It's the first time that the entire choir has been out together. We have fun: the party splits into men and boys, mostly, and the boys are good company at my end of the table. Marcus steals my phone and takes over 1000 selfies. It takes me over 15 minutes later in my room to delete them. Thanks, Marcus.
Day 2 in Dallas – not so elementary, my dear...
Earlier in the day we go down town to the Perot Museum of Science and Nature, but not so much for the science and nature, but for the Sherlock Exhibition. Many of the boys now know that Sherlock Holmes is not just a Benedict Cumberbatch series, but a character dreamt up by Arthur Conan Doyle. I get asked if Sherlock was a real person. A real American person...
We have a crime to solve, and my group finds it absorbing, albeit a little complicated. It’s got suitably gory moments, and Gabe finds me with his hands covered in ‘blood’ as a result of putting them in one of the exhibits. We fail miserably to solve the crime, but it’s all good, harmless fun.
And so to the last concert...
The concert is lovely. We are minus two of the men who were ill in the night. But the four remaining basses rise to the challenge, and the acoustic is in their favour. Two encores tonight – the final piece is Stephen Paulus’s The Road Home, which is fairly appropriate in the circumstances. Another standing ovation, and lots and lots of hugs with the boys as they come off stage – we’ve made it!
We go to the reception afterwards, which is entertaining. Lucas is convinced that the non-alcoholic punch is alcoholic and acts drunk, but Matron told Joe that she in turn had been told by a ‘good Christian lady’ that it contained no alcohol, so it must be true.
Several boys go round selling CDs, until there are more boys selling CDs than people to buy them. Abrial goes round offering to sign the CDs that the other boys have just sold. It’s hilarious.
The last day: shopping!
Oh my, the children are born shoppers… Bargains galore, and not all tat, although a fair number of sweets; when you have names like Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory or Uptown Popcorn who can resist?
We meet at the food court and compare bargains, and we make sure that everyone has a good meal. As I help Tom choose a beef sandwich at the Which Wich outlet I marvel at what an incredible industry fast food in the US has become...
As we leave, we realise that Abrial, who has made a single purchase of a camera which sprays water (oh joys to come) has his sonic screwdriver with him, and has been turning off all the TV sets in the Bose store with it. A security guard runs after us and gives Abrial and me a sound telling off. Oh dear – time to go home!