Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A CELEBRATION OF CHORAL SINGING WITH THE BUNBURY MEN OF SONG



The Bunbury Men of Song 
 An unseasonal cool Monday night is rarely regarded as an appealing time for stepping out but on Monday night, 7th July, it took more than chilly temperatures to stop the music lovers from Esk and surrounds pouring into the Somerset Civic Centre when Western Australia's Bunbury Men of Song, en route to the Pemulwuy National Male Voice Festival in Brisbane, came to town for a collaboration of Choral sounds with the Esk Community Choir.

Sustained with a sumptuous pre-concert meal provided by the Choir ladies from Esk, the 38 member Bunbury Choir, under the outstanding direction of Conductor, Ian Mills and brilliant talents of Accompanist, Greg Ross, did not, as they suggested, have to "sing for their supper" but sing they did for the sheer joy of it. With a vast repertoire of mellifluous harmonies amid commissioned songs by Australian Composer, Paul Jarman, some familiar pieces by Lennon and McCartney, Leonard Cohen and others, their two brackets of songs spoke of the essence and enjoyment that Choral singing is all about.  Their heartfelt rendition of Men of Song was a true reflection of the delight and fellowship that being a member of this exceptional Male Choir can bring.


What a Wonderful World was the theme of the evening and from the looks on the faces of Concert goers, many fortified by a glass of wine upon arrival in the Civic Centre's Joan Burke Room, it truly was a time for celebration.  This Concert, coming hot on the heel of the Esk Touring Choir's return from their overseas odyssey was a testament to the motivation, patience and inspired direction of Alexis FitzGerald and Accompanist extraordinaire, Margaret Philp, both of whom possess talents that know no bounds.  


The Semitones
The sensational little Semitones again set the bar with their opening Anthem followed by their rollickin
g rendition of "On With the Show" after which the members of the Esk Community Choir did just that as they took to the choir risers with their own brackets of sublime singing. The Esk Men, perhaps uplifted by the sounds of the Bunbury Men, were superlative with their performance of Lloyd Webber's 'Til I Hear You Sing.   





The Concert climax, the collaboration of the massed voices for the final two numbers, What a Wonderful World and A Canon of Praise was engaging for Choristers and audience members alike, allowing all who were present to be a part of something quite remarkable in Choral singing.


The Bunbury Men of Song , under the baton of Ian Mills





If this performance has whetted your appetites for more, set aside September 6th at the Somerset Civic Centre for "Cocktails and Classics.  So, glam up for an evening of charm and grace with the Esk Community Choir and Davonski Concert Orchestra! 
By: Susan Walker


More details forthcoming.





Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ESK COMMUNITY CHOIR ON TOUR..AGAIN!! IRELAND AND ENGLAND

Esk Community Choir on tour in Ireland - Blackrock Observatory Cork








Refreshingly cool temperatures and sunlit skies welcomed 38 Aussie tourists as we landed in Dublin on April 24th, 2014 having endured a long twenty-something hour flight from Australia.  Our warm Dublin greeting also happened to be on a par with the level of excitement we were feeling for our first tour performance the following day; ANZAC Day.  
The Dawn Service - Tom, Jenny, Lynn, Robyn and Roger



A handful of eager Aussies did attend the very moving Dawn Service at Dublin's Remembrance Garden but it was the Choir's performance at St Ann's Church which set the bar for our many to follow.


The Choir's beautiful singing was inspiring amid a large congregation and a poignant exhortation by New Zealand's consul-General in Dublin and the touching tributes by each of the armed forces and the New Zealand Ireland Association who later hosted a gala reception enjoyed by the Choir and invited guests at the Dublin Lord Mayor's home.
Alexis presenting the plague to Chris Kinder
President of the New Zealand Ireland Association

Peter Curtain, Tom Byrne  with Chris Kinder


 It was here where Alexis and two of our own highly decorated Vietnam Vets., Tom Byrne and Peter Curtain, were honoured to present the beautiful plaque gifted by Charlie Elwell and the Esk RSL.

The choir with the dignitaries at the gala reception
Trinity College 
The next day Dublin was at the Choir's beck and call.  For most it was the lure of a taste of local cuisine or a tipple or two or "tree" at any number of Dublin's quaint little pubs and eateries, a wee dram of the dark ale at the very source, the historically rejuvenated Guinness Storehouse or a trip on the "hop- on-hop- off" bus which, for the bulk of our travellers, was the most convenient and entertaining mode of making their way around, the drivers' quick wit as much an attraction as their insightful spiel. The visit to Dublin's famous university, Trinity College, to learn of it's still commonly used 400 year old traditions followed by a tour of its vast grounds and historical buildings; The Book of Kells;  the Library's Grand Hall. So Harry Potter..!!! It was truly memorable.  



Margaret - on tippy-toe
Father Peter Rabbit's ( Ok! Wrong spelling!) warm greeting  at our next place of performance in the beautiful City of Galway as well as the sound of our voices soaring to the lofty Galway Cathedral heights were certainly cause for heart-glow.   Heart palpitation may have been closer to the reaction by Margaret (the Choir's ever composed, always adaptable accompanist), as she was presented with her "spare parts" organ dé jour.  This one appeared somewhat in the style of a harpsichord, having the white keys black and the black, white.  Margaret literally rose to the task though, even standing, only the top of her head was visible above the height of the 3 octave keyboard!  

John, our genial and very capable bus driver, guided us with laughs and lots of highly informative documentary around the stunning Connemara National Park lake-scapes and mountains which looked too lovely to be real and inspiration for the likes of Oscar Wilde. Clifden, where we spotted a number of that hardy breed of ponies famed from the area and visited the magnificent Kylemore Abbey, built in 1863 and subsequently taken over as a Benedictine monastery in 1920. It's later role as a boarding school for girls was short-lived but still it is home to 10 Benedictine nuns, including Sister Noreen Gallagher who was full of the joy of visitors to her isolated existence, save for the 500 or so tourists who wander in and out of her life every day. 
Kylemore Abbey


We passed countless kilometres of dry stone walls separating lush green fields cotton-balled  with sheep;   'The Crying Hills',  though with unseasonably perfect weather they weren't crying this day;  yellow flowering gorse; the town of Ennis and the antiquity of Bunratty Castle dating back to AD 970 and Muckross House's magestic and colourful gardens.  
Alexis with friend Charlie Chaplin
T'ralee, Killorglin, Dingle Bay, Inch Beach, Derrynane, Letterfrak, Waterville,  Charlie Chaplin's Summer home; Loughrea, where Gaelic,  the language of ancient Ireland, still prevails and where Polish too is prominent.  We captured on camera the overwhelming beauty of the 170 kilometre Ring of Kerry as well as one or two looks on the faces of the brave men and women of the Choir who risked life and limb to kiss the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle!! 

All these stunning places reflecting the unique beauty which defines Ireland and our senses overload as we made our way to Killarney then on to Cork and the business of singing which was now to become our priority at the 60th International Choral Festival. 

Day 9 in Cork where the baton for our care and attention held by John, our driver, had  now been passed into  the  very capable hands of Cork's Cay Cooney, our custodian and guide who kept us on track and on time throughout a very busy Choral Festival Schedule.  

This was the 60th anniversary of the Choral Festival which, thanks to Festival Director, John Fitzpatrick and his dedicated team, has attained a reputation as one of the world's premier Choral Festivals, a measure of their commitment to Choral music and its diversities.


Allow me to give you some idea of the logistics of co-ordinating a Choral Festival of this magnitude.  Performances by small ensembles to large performing groups;  Spectacular Gala Concerts;  the International Choirs; National Adult and School Competitions and church performances;  There was The Big Sing and Choral workshops;  Performances at Choral Trails and Fringe Concerts where choirs performed at all hours of the day and evening at supporting venues around Cork and beyond. Fifty five venues in all and all filled with delighted audiences sharing the joy of Choral singing by the visiting choirs from 19 different countries as well as Ireland.  To name a few there was Estonia, Russia, Slovenia, Norway, Indonesia, Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, and of course, the Esk Community Choir from Australia. A first for the Festival as never before had any Australian Choir come this far to perform.   Five thousand voices; One hundred and thirteen performing groups and; twenty three international choirs.    Singing can take you anywhere and we were in Ireland to prove it!!!


To enter Cork's magnificent City Hall, the venue for the Festival's International Competition events and Gala Concerts was both inspirational and daunting. We were up first for the 'Meet 'n Greet' in front of the world's best Choirs.     Oh  the pressure!!  Choking tears from our Musical Director are always a sign that things may have gone well and from the loud cheers following our performance of "Waltzing Matilda",   the audience agreed.  We were away!!



Being one of the non-competitive Choirs, our performances took us to varied venues in and out of Cork.  At Kinsale's 17th century Charles Fort Monument we sang beautifully amongst the ruins of what was once one of the largest military forts in the Country, enthralling a swelling number of tourists, even surprising ourselves given the open spaces!!  From the Blackrock Castle Observatory we wowed an audience with many of our songs from Australia.  In the tiny village of Mallow we gave a Friendship Concert at their Hibernian Hotel and another at one of Cork's heritage Pubs, The Bodega, where patrons were awash with a pint or two and the joy of our singing.  Again, our hearts and voices soared with our sacred songs and the hospitality of our gracious hosts from St James's Church, Ballinora. 
St James' Church, Ballinora 
Following a sumptuous lunch, we headed back to Cork for an afternoon performance under The Atrium in the Clarion Hotel where scores of shoppers and Choral enthusiasts were curious to hear this Choir from Australia and were disappointed when we had to depart (a tight schedule a must for the organizers to maintain).  With a conga line of competition Choirs continually taking to the Cork City Hall stage, visiting Guest Choirs were invited to perform at various intervals.  Our final Festival performance and our welcoming reception as we appeared on stage was no less lauded as it had been from day one.  

On offer every night at the City Hall were Gala Concerts for the entertainment of the masses.  A brilliant world class performance of Carl Orff's ' Carmina Burana' ; another by  Internationally famous  'Voces8' - an English ensemble whose harmonies were so sublime it was hard to believe they were human voices making them.  Concerts by Irish Chamber Choirs and always Choral singing by the world's best choirs competing in the' Fleischmann Trophy Competition'. Beauty beyond words! At the closing Gala Concert, incomparable choral singing and the announcement of the winners in each Competitive section,  their exuberance  a measure of the degree of competitiveness and competency required to even participate at this  level.  A youth choir from Slovenia was the deserving winner of the Fleischmann Perpetual Trophy.  

While this Cork Choral experience was all encompassing, it would be remiss of me to suggest that choral performances were the only activities that brought Cork to life for the visiting Aussies. Shopping was high on the list for many. Most nights many of our group managed to find Cork's unique, often rustic, 'watering holes' for a pint or two and a bowl of delicious seafood chowder.  Alexis and Margaret had the privilege of attending a gala reception and dinner for Conductors and Accompanists to connect and collaborate with many of the visiting Choir leaders.  On other nights, entertainment for the energetic by way of Ceili dancing - not for the faint hearted - or so I'm told! Then there was the '50s Night' transporting partygoers back to the Festival's first year, 1954.  Fancy dress optional, dancing and singing mandatory!!
Day 13 dawned and the time for the Esk travellers to bid a sad but inevitable farewell to our new friend, Cay Cooney, to fabulous Cork and indeed, to Ireland, whose breathtaking beauty was surpassed only by the warmth and friendship of her people.  England now beckoned.  

The Circus in Bath
A quick 'Aer Lingus' flight to Bristol from where we boarded our coach for the trip to Bath.

Our guides delivering such articulate overtures to this most courtly of Cities could very well have come straight from the pages of a Jane Austin novel where Bath, it seemed, played a significant role in the 18th Century.    It was a time when England's rich and celebrated members of fashionable society gathered to bath in the hot, now legendary healing mineral springs; a time when The Royal Crescent, overlooking vast verdant lawns and vibrant gardens was and still remains home to illustrious residents.  On to the 2000 year old Roman Baths and, wired for sound, we were able to learn so much of the city's spa culture as we roamed at our leisure  through rooms and ancient cobbled pathways filled with mystical artefacts and to visit, but 'don't touch' the thermal water in the main pool that still steams today.


Day 14 and Bath offered something for everyone. Many chose to visit the pre-historic monument, Stonehenge, the purpose of which continues to be a mystery, followed by a stunning exploration of the nearby 13th Century Salisbury Cathedral. Others enjoyed a pleasant paddle up the Avon while a few opted to unwind in the warm waters of the Thermal Spa.  For those who chose to discover Bath on foot, a reflective wander through the splendour of Bath Abbey was a must and for some, a heart pounding climb up the 212 stairs to the top tower to ring the bells and receive a bird's eye view of this beautiful city.  Always there were places for some serious retail therapy. Pultney Bridge, The Pump Room where one might  'take tea' like a lady or the obligatory pub for a glass of the grape or a pint and a pick-me-up meal.
Our next performance, the first in England, was at the stunning Gloucester Cathedral.  We again thrilled an unsuspecting congregation and ourselves. 'Unsuspecting' being the operative word, when Rosemary Wycherley from Esk, appeared sitting in the front row with her delightful and delighted Mum - Perhaps an added incentive for our truly beautiful sound.  So much catching-up to do but with so little time and a schedule to maintain, it was on to Stratford-Upon-Avon.  

Jo Brown and Susan Walker
(Hmm! some more basic drill required)
Along the way, a tour through the bucolic Cotswolds proved to be all and more than the reputation which preceded it.  So quintessentially 'English' it was a plethora of tea rooms, arts, crafts, antiques and local produce - simply a haven for tourists with a yen to spend and our bus had 38 of them itching to immerse themselves at our stops at the beautiful Trout farming village of Bibury and again at Bourton-on-the-Water.
Next, Stratford -Upon-Avon and the warmth of our welcome to our early morning rehearsal inside Stratford's United Reformed Church was in stark contrast to the blasts of Siberianesque morning air on the outside, but to come to Stratford and not digest the story of the life and times of Shakespeare could possibly have been against the law!! So, on a walking tour following rehearsals, absorb ourselves we did in the eloquent anecdotes of Shakespeare's life, delivered at Shakespeare's birth place as well as Nash House and the home of his wife, Anne Hathaway, a large Elizabethan farmhouse set amid its own charming English gardens and adjoining orchard, all of which have been beautifully maintained and preserved by the 'Birthplace Trust'.


Ann Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-upon-Avon

That evening at Stratford's United Reformed Church, the colourful poster heralding our performance and the all embracing welcome by Pastor Peter and his flock did make us feel just a little bit special.  A large captivated, perhaps curious audience came that evening, no one more so than Pastor Peter himself who was swept up by our songs, both Sacred and those with our uniquely Aussie flavour - due in part to the rhythms of Tom and his Lagerphone.  Subsequently the bonhomie continued to flow around our host's sumptuous supper table.
Day 17 of our tour and a conga line of black-parka-clad tourists again boarded the bus.
The Black Wind-Cheaters
that become a favourite part of our wardrobe. 
The sizes of towns and villages appeared to swell on a par with the volume of traffic as we neared London.  However,  there is a peculiar pleasure in seeing anything for the first time and for many of us, the ride into London, despite the traffic,  was filled with an air of heightened expectancy. Or was it that we were now headed for our long awaited performance at St Paul's Cathedral?!!  


This highly recognized Christopher Wren Masterpiece appeared a Mecca for tourists so crowded was the scene as our bus pulled into the curb.  

A double rainbow over London,  taken from our motel,
foretelling a successful performance in St Paul's Cathedral
Upon our arrival we were escorted through a side door to prepare for a scheduled rehearsal and tour.  Photography is prohibited and my words could never do justice to this magnificent edifice which embodies the spiritual life and heritage of the British people; where, since AD604, Christians have worshipped and Royalty celebrated jubilees and birthdays.  It has been the site of State Funerals and of Royal marriages on the very dais from where we were to perform.  Perhaps the words of the Dean of St Paul's might help. "In welcoming you to St Paul's, we invite you to follow in the steps of those pilgrims, worshippers and visitors who have experienced something of the excitement and spiritual power of the place.  We trust that you will find time during your visit not only to see the glories of the building but also to be still in the presence of God."   Our final tour performance on the Dome Dias at 1.15pm in St Paul's Cathedral was inspired, emotional and heard by the largest audience yet on this tour.


Esk Community Choir in St Paul's Cathedral. 


Voces8 with the beloved 'Lagerphone' 
While many of our group continued to absorb their surroundings at St Paul's, it was with gratitude to Roger and his 'choir boy' connections that others walked the short distance to a 'Voces8' rehearsal at a nearby Church Hall.  This was the 8 member ensemble that had wowed us at a Gala Concert in Cork and again we sat, listened, and were captivated by their mellifluous harmonies. We were also gratified by their reactions when Tom presented them with his uniquely Aussie instrument, his Lagerphone, for use in their innovative work with Children, and as an adjunct to their extensive and inspirational music workshop programmes.

That evening we took up our seats at London's Royal Albert Hall. Three weeks prior we were singing in St Agnes's Hall, Esk. Over the past 24 hours we had performed to the masses in one of the world's largest, most prestigious Cathedrals, St Paul's and now here we were,  the majority of the Esk Choir in plush red velvet seating, rubbing shoulders with concert-goers from around the World at The Royal Albert Hall in London in preparation for the almost 200 voices of the Royal Choral Society together with soloists and the London Philharmonic Orchestra performing excerpts from Karl Jenkins' most popular works,  Karl Jenkins conducting his own 70th birthday celebration concert. Pinchworthy in the extreme!!

London, a tourist magnet with so much to see and do and with the next day at our disposal many of our group, some reunited with friends and family,  headed for the Underground to take their chances on a rail system which transports and disgorges passengers all over the city. Some boarded the big red buses or the uniquely London taxis to take them to 'The Palace' for the Changing of the Guard, to Museums and Galleries or the plethora of Musical Theatre Productions playing in town at the time. Others simply walked up Kensington's Cromwell Road to admire the exquisite Victorian architecture, visit the spectacular Museums or ogle at the offerings on display at Harrods, perchance afford a token souvenir.  Staving fatigue, many gathered that evening in the Hotel's bars and restaurants to chew the fat over their day's adventures.

'Typical English weather greeted us for our final full day in London but neither blustery wind nor London drizzle could deter our group from enjoying each other's company on our lunchtime cruise up and down the Thames.  What a wonderful way to view so many of London's famous landmarks!   With a taste of the town still yearning, many went on to enjoy an illuminating walk across the Tower Bridge while others revisited in more detail some of the sights like Tate Modern or Globe Theatre, earlier identified during our Thames commentary.


And so it was that on this 'high' in the exciting city of London, we slept our last night as a group.  For some, a spot of last minute souvenir snaffling or a stroll through the nearby Kensington Gardens before we boarded the bus for a whistle stop tour of Windsor Castle and its adjoining St George's Chapel.  A wander through the Windsor Village at the foot of the Castle and it was back onto the bus and heading for Heathrow and the long flight to a Dubai stopover, en route to Australia. For others it was on to further adventures around the British Isles and Europe, all taking with us new friendships forged, old ones strengthened and memories to last a lifetime.

To borrow some words from the pages of my Souvenir book from St Paul's Cathedral... "Music transcends cultural barriers to become a language of the human spirit that enables people of every nation, whatever their background, to reach out to something beyond themselves". We are a Choir from Esk which, thanks to the dreams and aspirations of an amazing Musical Director, has discovered what is possible when you believe.  


We ARE the luckiest Choir in the World!!!
Beautiful scenery everywhere you look. 
The most wonderful accompanist in the world is Margaret Philp. 


John Doyle - Bus Driver extraordinaire. 

Connemera National Park

The Ring of Kerry. 


There's a clown in every group



Beautiful flowers. 















ESK COMMUNITY CHOIR ON TOUR..AGAIN!! IRELAND AND ENGLAND

Esk Community Choir on tour in Ireland - Blackrock Observatory Cork








Refreshingly cool temperatures and sunlit skies welcomed 38 Aussie tourists as we landed in Dublin on April 24th, 2014 having endured a long twenty-something hour flight from Australia.  Our warm Dublin greeting also happened to be on a par with the level of excitement we were feeling for our first tour performance the following day; ANZAC Day.  
The Dawn Service - Tom, Jenny, Lynn, Robyn and Roger



A handful of eager Aussies did attend the very moving Dawn Service at Dublin's Remembrance Garden but it was the Choir's performance at St Ann's Church which set the bar for our many to follow.


The Choir's beautiful singing was inspiring amid a large congregation and a poignant exhortation by New Zealand's consul-General in Dublin and the touching tributes by each of the armed forces and the New Zealand Ireland Association who later hosted a gala reception enjoyed by the Choir and invited guests at the Dublin Lord Mayor's home.
Alexis presenting the plague to Chris Kinder
President of the New Zealand Ireland Association

Peter Curtain, Tom Byrne  with Chris Kinder


 It was here where Alexis and two of our own highly decorated Vietnam Vets., Tom Byrne and Peter Curtain, were honoured to present the beautiful plaque gifted by Charlie Elwell and the Esk RSL.

The choir with the dignitaries at the gala reception
Trinity College 
The next day Dublin was at the Choir's beck and call.  For most it was the lure of a taste of local cuisine or a tipple or two or "tree" at any number of Dublin's quaint little pubs and eateries, a wee dram of the dark ale at the very source, the historically rejuvenated Guinness Storehouse or a trip on the "hop- on-hop- off" bus which, for the bulk of our travellers, was the most convenient and entertaining mode of making their way around, the drivers' quick wit as much an attraction as their insightful spiel. The visit to Dublin's famous university, Trinity College, to learn of it's still commonly used 400 year old traditions followed by a tour of its vast grounds and historical buildings; The Book of Kells;  the Library's Grand Hall. So Harry Potter..!!! It was truly memorable.  



Margaret - on tippy-toe
Father Peter Rabbit's ( Ok! Wrong spelling!) warm greeting  at our next place of performance in the beautiful City of Galway as well as the sound of our voices soaring to the lofty Galway Cathedral heights were certainly cause for heart-glow.   Heart palpitation may have been closer to the reaction by Margaret (the Choir's ever composed, always adaptable accompanist), as she was presented with her "spare parts" organ dé jour.  This one appeared somewhat in the style of a harpsichord, having the white keys black and the black, white.  Margaret literally rose to the task though, even standing, only the top of her head was visible above the height of the 3 octave keyboard!  

John, our genial and very capable bus driver, guided us with laughs and lots of highly informative documentary around the stunning Connemara National Park lake-scapes and mountains which looked too lovely to be real and inspiration for the likes of Oscar Wilde. Clifden, where we spotted a number of that hardy breed of ponies famed from the area and visited the magnificent Kylemore Abbey, built in 1863 and subsequently taken over as a Benedictine monastery in 1920. It's later role as a boarding school for girls was short-lived but still it is home to 10 Benedictine nuns, including Sister Noreen Gallagher who was full of the joy of visitors to her isolated existence, save for the 500 or so tourists who wander in and out of her life every day. 
Kylemore Abbey


We passed countless kilometres of dry stone walls separating lush green fields cotton-balled  with sheep;   'The Crying Hills',  though with unseasonably perfect weather they weren't crying this day;  yellow flowering gorse; the town of Ennis and the antiquity of Bunratty Castle dating back to AD 970 and Muckross House's magestic and colourful gardens.  
Alexis with friend Charlie Chaplin
T'ralee, Killorglin, Dingle Bay, Inch Beach, Derrynane, Letterfrak, Waterville,  Charlie Chaplin's Summer home; Loughrea, where Gaelic,  the language of ancient Ireland, still prevails and where Polish too is prominent.  We captured on camera the overwhelming beauty of the 170 kilometre Ring of Kerry as well as one or two looks on the faces of the brave men and women of the Choir who risked life and limb to kiss the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle!! 

All these stunning places reflecting the unique beauty which defines Ireland and our senses overload as we made our way to Killarney then on to Cork and the business of singing which was now to become our priority at the 60th International Choral Festival. 

Day 9 in Cork where the baton for our care and attention held by John, our driver, had  now been passed into  the  very capable hands of Cork's Cay Cooney, our custodian and guide who kept us on track and on time throughout a very busy Choral Festival Schedule.  

This was the 60th anniversary of the Choral Festival which, thanks to Festival Director, John Fitzpatrick and his dedicated team, has attained a reputation as one of the world's premier Choral Festivals, a measure of their commitment to Choral music and its diversities.


Allow me to give you some idea of the logistics of co-ordinating a Choral Festival of this magnitude.  Performances by small ensembles to large performing groups;  Spectacular Gala Concerts;  the International Choirs; National Adult and School Competitions and church performances;  There was The Big Sing and Choral workshops;  Performances at Choral Trails and Fringe Concerts where choirs performed at all hours of the day and evening at supporting venues around Cork and beyond. Fifty five venues in all and all filled with delighted audiences sharing the joy of Choral singing by the visiting choirs from 19 different countries as well as Ireland.  To name a few there was Estonia, Russia, Slovenia, Norway, Indonesia, Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, and of course, the Esk Community Choir from Australia. A first for the Festival as never before had any Australian Choir come this far to perform.   Five thousand voices; One hundred and thirteen performing groups and; twenty three international choirs.    Singing can take you anywhere and we were in Ireland to prove it!!!


To enter Cork's magnificent City Hall, the venue for the Festival's International Competition events and Gala Concerts was both inspirational and daunting. We were up first for the 'Meet 'n Greet' in front of the world's best Choirs.     Oh  the pressure!!  Choking tears from our Musical Director are always a sign that things may have gone well and from the loud cheers following our performance of "Waltzing Matilda",   the audience agreed.  We were away!!



Being one of the non-competitive Choirs, our performances took us to varied venues in and out of Cork.  At Kinsale's 17th century Charles Fort Monument we sang beautifully amongst the ruins of what was once one of the largest military forts in the Country, enthralling a swelling number of tourists, even surprising ourselves given the open spaces!!  From the Blackrock Castle Observatory we wowed an audience with many of our songs from Australia.  In the tiny village of Mallow we gave a Friendship Concert at their Hibernian Hotel and another at one of Cork's heritage Pubs, The Bodega, where patrons were awash with a pint or two and the joy of our singing.  Again, our hearts and voices soared with our sacred songs and the hospitality of our gracious hosts from St James's Church, Ballinora. 
St James' Church, Ballinora 
Following a sumptuous lunch, we headed back to Cork for an afternoon performance under The Atrium in the Clarion Hotel where scores of shoppers and Choral enthusiasts were curious to hear this Choir from Australia and were disappointed when we had to depart (a tight schedule a must for the organizers to maintain).  With a conga line of competition Choirs continually taking to the Cork City Hall stage, visiting Guest Choirs were invited to perform at various intervals.  Our final Festival performance and our welcoming reception as we appeared on stage was no less lauded as it had been from day one.  

On offer every night at the City Hall were Gala Concerts for the entertainment of the masses.  A brilliant world class performance of Carl Orff's ' Carmina Burana' ; another by  Internationally famous  'Voces8' - an English ensemble whose harmonies were so sublime it was hard to believe they were human voices making them.  Concerts by Irish Chamber Choirs and always Choral singing by the world's best choirs competing in the' Fleischmann Trophy Competition'. Beauty beyond words! At the closing Gala Concert, incomparable choral singing and the announcement of the winners in each Competitive section,  their exuberance  a measure of the degree of competitiveness and competency required to even participate at this  level.  A youth choir from Slovenia was the deserving winner of the Fleischmann Perpetual Trophy.  

While this Cork Choral experience was all encompassing, it would be remiss of me to suggest that choral performances were the only activities that brought Cork to life for the visiting Aussies. Shopping was high on the list for many. Most nights many of our group managed to find Cork's unique, often rustic, 'watering holes' for a pint or two and a bowl of delicious seafood chowder.  Alexis and Margaret had the privilege of attending a gala reception and dinner for Conductors and Accompanists to connect and collaborate with many of the visiting Choir leaders.  On other nights, entertainment for the energetic by way of Ceili dancing - not for the faint hearted - or so I'm told! Then there was the '50s Night' transporting partygoers back to the Festival's first year, 1954.  Fancy dress optional, dancing and singing mandatory!!
Day 13 dawned and the time for the Esk travellers to bid a sad but inevitable farewell to our new friend, Cay Cooney, to fabulous Cork and indeed, to Ireland, whose breathtaking beauty was surpassed only by the warmth and friendship of her people.  England now beckoned.  

The Circus in Bath
A quick 'Aer Lingus' flight to Bristol from where we boarded our coach for the trip to Bath.

Our guides delivering such articulate overtures to this most courtly of Cities could very well have come straight from the pages of a Jane Austin novel where Bath, it seemed, played a significant role in the 18th Century.    It was a time when England's rich and celebrated members of fashionable society gathered to bath in the hot, now legendary healing mineral springs; a time when The Royal Crescent, overlooking vast verdant lawns and vibrant gardens was and still remains home to illustrious residents.  On to the 2000 year old Roman Baths and, wired for sound, we were able to learn so much of the city's spa culture as we roamed at our leisure  through rooms and ancient cobbled pathways filled with mystical artefacts and to visit, but 'don't touch' the thermal water in the main pool that still steams today.


Day 14 and Bath offered something for everyone. Many chose to visit the pre-historic monument, Stonehenge, the purpose of which continues to be a mystery, followed by a stunning exploration of the nearby 13th Century Salisbury Cathedral. Others enjoyed a pleasant paddle up the Avon while a few opted to unwind in the warm waters of the Thermal Spa.  For those who chose to discover Bath on foot, a reflective wander through the splendour of Bath Abbey was a must and for some, a heart pounding climb up the 212 stairs to the top tower to ring the bells and receive a bird's eye view of this beautiful city.  Always there were places for some serious retail therapy. Pultney Bridge, The Pump Room where one might  'take tea' like a lady or the obligatory pub for a glass of the grape or a pint and a pick-me-up meal.
Our next performance, the first in England, was at the stunning Gloucester Cathedral.  We again thrilled an unsuspecting congregation and ourselves. 'Unsuspecting' being the operative word, when Rosemary Wycherley from Esk, appeared sitting in the front row with her delightful and delighted Mum - Perhaps an added incentive for our truly beautiful sound.  So much catching-up to do but with so little time and a schedule to maintain, it was on to Stratford-Upon-Avon.  

Jo Brown and Susan Walker
(Hmm! some more basic drill required)
Along the way, a tour through the bucolic Cotswolds proved to be all and more than the reputation which preceded it.  So quintessentially 'English' it was a plethora of tea rooms, arts, crafts, antiques and local produce - simply a haven for tourists with a yen to spend and our bus had 38 of them itching to immerse themselves at our stops at the beautiful Trout farming village of Bibury and again at Bourton-on-the-Water.
Next, Stratford -Upon-Avon and the warmth of our welcome to our early morning rehearsal inside Stratford's United Reformed Church was in stark contrast to the blasts of Siberianesque morning air on the outside, but to come to Stratford and not digest the story of the life and times of Shakespeare could possibly have been against the law!! So, on a walking tour following rehearsals, absorb ourselves we did in the eloquent anecdotes of Shakespeare's life, delivered at Shakespeare's birth place as well as Nash House and the home of his wife, Anne Hathaway, a large Elizabethan farmhouse set amid its own charming English gardens and adjoining orchard, all of which have been beautifully maintained and preserved by the 'Birthplace Trust'.


Ann Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-upon-Avon

That evening at Stratford's United Reformed Church, the colourful poster heralding our performance and the all embracing welcome by Pastor Peter and his flock did make us feel just a little bit special.  A large captivated, perhaps curious audience came that evening, no one more so than Pastor Peter himself who was swept up by our songs, both Sacred and those with our uniquely Aussie flavour - due in part to the rhythms of Tom and his Lagerphone.  Subsequently the bonhomie continued to flow around our host's sumptuous supper table.
Day 17 of our tour and a conga line of black-parka-clad tourists again boarded the bus.
The Black Wind-Cheaters
that become a favourite part of our wardrobe. 
The sizes of towns and villages appeared to swell on a par with the volume of traffic as we neared London.  However,  there is a peculiar pleasure in seeing anything for the first time and for many of us, the ride into London, despite the traffic,  was filled with an air of heightened expectancy. Or was it that we were now headed for our long awaited performance at St Paul's Cathedral?!!  


This highly recognized Christopher Wren Masterpiece appeared a Mecca for tourists so crowded was the scene as our bus pulled into the curb.  

A double rainbow over London,  taken from our motel,
foretelling a successful performance in St Paul's Cathedral
Upon our arrival we were escorted through a side door to prepare for a scheduled rehearsal and tour.  Photography is prohibited and my words could never do justice to this magnificent edifice which embodies the spiritual life and heritage of the British people; where, since AD604, Christians have worshipped and Royalty celebrated jubilees and birthdays.  It has been the site of State Funerals and of Royal marriages on the very dais from where we were to perform.  Perhaps the words of the Dean of St Paul's might help. "In welcoming you to St Paul's, we invite you to follow in the steps of those pilgrims, worshippers and visitors who have experienced something of the excitement and spiritual power of the place.  We trust that you will find time during your visit not only to see the glories of the building but also to be still in the presence of God."   Our final tour performance on the Dome Dias at 1.15pm in St Paul's Cathedral was inspired, emotional and heard by the largest audience yet on this tour.


Esk Community Choir in St Paul's Cathedral. 


Voces8 with the beloved 'Lagerphone' 
While many of our group continued to absorb their surroundings at St Paul's, it was with gratitude to Roger and his 'choir boy' connections that others walked the short distance to a 'Voces8' rehearsal at a nearby Church Hall.  This was the 8 member ensemble that had wowed us at a Gala Concert in Cork and again we sat, listened, and were captivated by their mellifluous harmonies. We were also gratified by their reactions when Tom presented them with his uniquely Aussie instrument, his Lagerphone, for use in their innovative work with Children, and as an adjunct to their extensive and inspirational music workshop programmes.

That evening we took up our seats at London's Royal Albert Hall. Three weeks prior we were singing in St Agnes's Hall, Esk. Over the past 24 hours we had performed to the masses in one of the world's largest, most prestigious Cathedrals, St Paul's and now here we were,  the majority of the Esk Choir in plush red velvet seating, rubbing shoulders with concert-goers from around the World at The Royal Albert Hall in London in preparation for the almost 200 voices of the Royal Choral Society together with soloists and the London Philharmonic Orchestra performing excerpts from Karl Jenkins' most popular works,  Karl Jenkins conducting his own 70th birthday celebration concert. Pinchworthy in the extreme!!

London, a tourist magnet with so much to see and do and with the next day at our disposal many of our group, some reunited with friends and family,  headed for the Underground to take their chances on a rail system which transports and disgorges passengers all over the city. Some boarded the big red buses or the uniquely London taxis to take them to 'The Palace' for the Changing of the Guard, to Museums and Galleries or the plethora of Musical Theatre Productions playing in town at the time. Others simply walked up Kensington's Cromwell Road to admire the exquisite Victorian architecture, visit the spectacular Museums or ogle at the offerings on display at Harrods, perchance afford a token souvenir.  Staving fatigue, many gathered that evening in the Hotel's bars and restaurants to chew the fat over their day's adventures.

'Typical English weather greeted us for our final full day in London but neither blustery wind nor London drizzle could deter our group from enjoying each other's company on our lunchtime cruise up and down the Thames.  What a wonderful way to view so many of London's famous landmarks!   With a taste of the town still yearning, many went on to enjoy an illuminating walk across the Tower Bridge while others revisited in more detail some of the sights like Tate Modern or Globe Theatre, earlier identified during our Thames commentary.


And so it was that on this 'high' in the exciting city of London, we slept our last night as a group.  For some, a spot of last minute souvenir snaffling or a stroll through the nearby Kensington Gardens before we boarded the bus for a whistle stop tour of Windsor Castle and its adjoining St George's Chapel.  A wander through the Windsor Village at the foot of the Castle and it was back onto the bus and heading for Heathrow and the long flight to a Dubai stopover, en route to Australia. For others it was on to further adventures around the British Isles and Europe, all taking with us new friendships forged, old ones strengthened and memories to last a lifetime.

To borrow some words from the pages of my Souvenir book from St Paul's Cathedral... "Music transcends cultural barriers to become a language of the human spirit that enables people of every nation, whatever their background, to reach out to something beyond themselves". We are a Choir from Esk which, thanks to the dreams and aspirations of an amazing Musical Director, has discovered what is possible when you believe.  


We ARE the luckiest Choir in the World!!!
Beautiful scenery everywhere you look. 
The most wonderful accompanist in the world is Margaret Philp. 


John Doyle - Bus Driver extraordinaire. 

Connemera National Park

The Ring of Kerry. 


There's a clown in every group



Beautiful flowers.