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Suffolk Youth Orchestra 2018 Tour Diary

Friday 27th July

Anticipation was high at Northgate Arts Centre as the tour was about to get underway. Once instruments had been bundled onto the bus, the teachers gave the nod and then we all undertook the race for the back seat. Unfortunately, the brass won.

Having arrived at Dover and endured the long wait at customs, embarkation began. Following a conventional safety briefing, it was time to hit the ferry.

Despite a lot of griping about prices, we then boarded the bus with our bags made heavier by overpriced commodities. The journey then resumed. At maybe 19:00 or so local time, we stopped off at a service station in France. It was beautiful. Behind the complex lay a planked walk and beyond that a wonderfully clear river that was full of ducks. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes into our stop, the heavens opened and rain drenched everyone in a collective groan.

As we trailed through France, gossip consumed the back of coach one. There were jibes and hollering about who liked who, I do believe the phrase “one-week-wonder” was coined. Following this, the coach transformed into “the Party Bus.” A speaker had been brought and loud disco music filled the bus, prompting a loud sing-along. The percussion section, crazy as they are, brought hand percussion and it was then the party truly began.

We arrived at approximately one thirty in the afternoon and there was a huge cheer at the fact we had:

  1. Reached Palencia
  2. Beaten the other coach to it.

When we got to the hotel we were stared in the face by a rather deprived looking tower block. Our heartfelt jubilation was shattered by the prospect of a terrible hotel. However, as soon as we passed the doors, we were greeted by a very grand foyer and our doubts were thusly ceased, it looked marvellous.

We were given an hour to settle into our rooms and then we could go and explore Palencia. It’s a beautiful Spanish city. The streets were clean and well kept and the architecture was amazing. We walked about for a while before approaching a square that was so very typical Spanish. In it lay the magnificent Palencia cathedral. There were traditional Spanish houses and benches and trees. In addition, a man played classical guitar very beautifully and the sun shone on our backs. Rather like the British do on holiday, we constantly slathered on yet another coat of suncream. Following a welcome dinner from the hotel, we all went to bed in a jovial mood, but possibly a little sick of listening to “Come on Eileen”

Sunday 29th July

In the morning, having eaten a hearty breakfast, we once again walked into Palencia and gazed upon more stunning architecture. As per yesterday, the sun brazened our backs and lifted the mood. Spain was wonderful.

The swimming pool opened and so we undertook the plunge. The water was so unbelievably cold! So much so that it froze our very swimwear to our legs.

After we had thawed out from the pool, the teachers bundled us up onto the buses to Melgar de Fernamental. When we arrived we set up and rehearsed. As soon as we finished, we headed out on foot to the restaurant where we ate a laudable meal.

Perhaps a little nervous, we entered onto the platform and played for a full house. The concert was very good and in return the audience gave the orchestra a standing ovation, which lifted the mood for everyone.

On the way back to the hotel, 80s music was playing at full volume and the party bus was truly alive.

Monday 30th July

Today the orchestra was in high spirits following last night’s heroics.  The bus departed for the Spanish city of Burgos.

Now Burgos is a beautiful city that is famed for its cathedral. It towers over all else in the city and can be seen for miles. It’s a wonderful example of gothic architecture. It looked magnificent, but to enter it was a €4.50 fee- at which several noses were turned up. Burgos is a mixture of old and new buildings. In fact, we passed a building with a stone front and a glass back

We then travelled onwards to Amudia to the evening’s venue which was a rather nice church. Then we had a rehearsal. During this, Mr Shaw said something along the lines of “if you mess up very badly, I’ll accidentally spill my coffee on you at breakfast.” Thankfully the coffee at breakfast was generally very cold!

Having laughed at his empty threat, we went to the restaurant. Here we were greeted with an all you can eat buffet. When we were done stuffing our faces, the concert took place. It was a smaller venue, but it was equally packed as the previous night. The concert was an improvement on the first night and we even received a thumbs up from our conductor. Suffolk Youth Orchestra went down a treat with the Spanish public and so we got another standing ovation. The tour so far had been terrific!

Tuesday 31st July

Today was the day of the outdoor concert in the Cuellar Castle. When we arrived at the venue, the stage team began setting the stage. Having been out in the sun, the double bass stools had got quite hot. My buttocks will never be the same again! The concert was the best up until this point, but the circumstances were undoubtedly the worst. There was a gargantuan amount of wind as a small squall took hold in the castle courtyard. Music fluttered everywhere and a French horn player took a music stand to the head on not one but two occasions. During Pictures at an Exhibition, the music blew into the audience and the orchestra was submitted to the pet peeve of any musician; the audience clapped between movements. Despite various mishaps and even Mr Shaw conducting with his head, the concert went well and the night ended on yet another high.

Wednesday 1st August

On the premier day of August it was decided that we could have a lie in. It’s fair to say this was taken advantage of. Following a late breakfast, we then visited Palencia once more and explored the town. In the afternoon the coach approached the monastery in which we were to perform. It was a truly majestic structure and it had a built-in hotel and restaurant. The concert at the monastery was easily the best of the whole tour and it was a great triumph. Yet again, Suffolk Youth Orchestra received a standing ovation.

On the way back, Mr Stowe announced that we had a room booked for an hour or two when we got back. No sooner than we got back the room was bustling with the spirit of the party. There were two scenes; A game of cards and the dance floor. Some teachers hit the floor, but they were soon shown up by a wonderful dancer from the second violins. Meanwhile, in the card game, Mrs Hinds was learning about the game ‘Cards against Humanity’ which caused an certain amount of laughter. This was easily the best concert of the tour and even the best night.

Thursday 2nd August

Today was our final day in Palencia and it had a tragic air of finality. Following breakfast, the awards were handed out and the orchestra consumed by hilarity. There were some serious ones, such as best newcomer, most improved section, and some not do serious such as ‘most flatulent player/section’. The double bass section won an award for the most tolerant section, apparently that was for putting up with me. I didn’t understand that…

For the last time we entered Palencia and loaded up on coach supplies and souvenirs. The town was beautiful as ever but there was in fact a tone of finality and a goodbye which contemplatively hung in the air.

With our bags filled, we all crammed on to the bus. Whilst on the bus, we were checked for our important documents and one clarinetist had to run to the hotel and find his passport. When he got back on the bus, he was hollered at by everyone.  Then we set off.

The journey was calmer than the way out and it seemed to drag on for less time. On the way, after considerably pressure from the passengers on the bus, the driver pulled in at a McDonald’s. Never before have I seen such happiness in the faces of musicians

Friday 3rd August

Sleep appeared to have been elusive for most on the coach, ranging from 0-4 hours per person. So when the coach stopped for breakfast, it was much to the relief of everyone.

The service station we stopped at was the same one in France that we used on the journey to Palencia. It was a very contemporary building, crafted of glass and square panels. At the back we once again came upon the planked walkway that led onto the river with the ducks we had encountered on our way down, who were still alive and seemed to recognise us. What a great way to start the morning.

After an hour or so, we reached Calais and saw two varying attitudes to border control. The French just waved us by without looking at our passports whereas the English scrutinised every detail. One of the officers said “isn’t the viola just a big violin?” Once the viola players had recovered, we embarked the ferry and made for England. The journey was lovely and as we drew closer to the white cliffs of Dover we began to realise that tour was almost over. Once we were back in England the bus erupted into an 80s disco bus with AHA and Wham gracing the speakers.

When we arrived at Northgate, the song playing was “We Are The Champions,” which quite summed up the tour as a whole. As we stopped, a final round of cheers deafened us all. Not only were we home and alive, but we’d beaten the other bus to it.

The 2018 Suffolk Youth Orchestra tour to Castilla y Léon was absolutely incredible and I cannot fault it at all. The concerts were all amazing and the week as a whole was brilliant. Well done everyone for making it happen.

Anton Avis, Principal Double Bass

Concert Summary

Concert One: Iglesia de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora, Melgar de Fernamental
Our first concert was in lovely church, which gave off an incredible echo when the Orchestra played. A relatively large audience watched us perform, giving a standing ovation at the end, a perfect way to start off our concert tour!

Concert Two: Colegiata de San Miguel Arcángel, Ampudia
On our second concert day, we first travelled to Burgos, a much busier city than Palencia, famous for its stunning cathedral, and enjoyed a few hours of retail therapy!! After the morning in Burgos we bo