Guest Blogger: How a music tour to Normandy provides more than a stage to perform on
Published: 24th June 2016
Matt Phillips | Music Performance Tours
To travel is to broaden the mind, experience, educate. That is exactly what Matt Phillips and his Swanbourne Choir found when they travelled with us on a music performance tour to Northern France.
Following the success of the inaugural Swanbourne House Senior Choir tour, I am filled with pride over what we achieved. Time flew by and I think the whole choir group are in agreeance that we were sorry to see the music tour come to an end. There have been so many highlights to reflect on from the music tour, but in particular the students were great company and excellent ambassadors for Swanbourne House from the very outset.
Few revel in the thought of an early morning, not least when you’re in the month of April where the annual warning of showers looms. Despite the very early start to a Thursday morning, the children all arrived promptly full of excited anticipation and there were even signs the sun would be creeping out.
When taking a coach tour abroad, the group always warmly welcomes a new member to the group – the coach driver. Friendly, helpful and a brilliant character, we knew we were in safe hands with Michael at the wheel. Soon we were on the road in early morning spring sunshine and arrived at the Channel Tunnel by mid-morning. As we journeyed across Northern France, it wasn't just the DVDs and students’ iPods that kept the spirits high. Our top year students occupying the back rows of the coach showed their talents by spontaneously erupting into several acapella harmony versions of current hits. Very soon we were met with a very warm welcome at the Château du Molay and sat down for dinner in the on-site restaurant. Following our meal, the students were given an opportunity to burn off any unspent energy in the château grounds with several hilarious games and activities, loosely titled ‘It’s a Knockout’!
Poignant moments and performances
Perhaps best known for the Battle of Normandy and the events that followed in the weeks and months after D-Day, the area of Normandy we were focusing our tour on had its own stories to tell. Following a continental breakfast to fuel up for the day, we made our way to the seaside town of Arromanches where we ventured to the 360-degree cinema to watch a powerful film documenting the sad events of 72 years ago. This provided the students with a deeper insight into the events and a greater perspective of the impact of war on the area – with the remnants of the Mulberry Harbour still sitting as scars on the beaches.
Timed to perfection to dodge the showers, we then set up our group’s rig and equipment right on the seafront to deliver our first concert. The fact that we had the privilege to perform on the very same ground where so many soldiers had fallen during World War II had not gone unnoticed by the group. A particularly poignant moment came from the choir's moving rendition of the Remembrance anthem Wherever You Are – consisting of Paul Mealor's arrangement of words from soldiers' letters. The audience's reception to the whole concert was so incredibly overwhelming that some were moved to tears and embraced the choir members at the end.
Despite the weather, the group had a short time to explore the town of Arromanches before we boarded the coach to travel to our second concert located in Parc Pilier, Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. The weather really was against us for this one, but the choir performed their full programme inside a bandstand with a lovely acoustic accompaniment with a smaller but nonetheless appreciative audience.
To give the children an idea of the scale of British losses in the World War II, our coach driver Michael was able to take a small diversion via the British Cemetery in Bayeux. Here, students looked out across rows upon rows of immaculately maintained graves, which was a powerful reminder of the massive sacrifices made on our behalf. That evening, after a hot shower and a change to warm up, we enjoyed dinner followed by a karaoke session where all the children had the opportunity to have a slightly different type of sing-song! We were particularly fortunate to have such an awesome group of top year students on tour with us and it was great to be able to reward them with mocktails from the bar for their hard work and excellent company.
Realising the importance of a tour abroad for students
Brighter weather greeted us as Saturday dawned and we spent the morning visiting the Peace Memorial Museum, Caen. The museum offered an insight not only into World War II and the events leading to the liberation of Europe, but interactive exhibitions detailing the Cold War. Taking in a visit which brings together a multimedia experience not only provided an informative and engaging experience for the group, but was a worthwhile addition to our tour of Normandy.
Following lunch we made the obligatory trip to a French hypermarket before making our way to our final concert in Parc Radley-Walters, Saint-Contest. Our French hosts had made a great effort to ensure we were welcomed warmly with flags and posters, as well as drinks and snacks for the students. With an audience of over 50 in the late afternoon – slightly cooler – spring sunshine, the choir absolutely gave it their all. Every single student was focused and, on that afternoon, I realised this tour was far more than just a school choir singing songs in France. This had been a time for making special memories, making bonds and friendships that will last many years and, above all, enjoying and appreciating the joy that comes from working together to perform music with a special group of students. There was so much heartfelt emotion in every single performance from the solos and duets sung by the older members of the group through to the stunningly brilliant Senior Vocal Group, as well as every song performed by the whole Senior Choir.
Dinner and a disco on the final night at the Château du Molay provided an opportunity to enjoy ourselves one more time before we wearily headed for our beds that night with YMCA ringing in our ears!
So long, farewell…au revoir!
Following our last delicious continental breakfast on Sunday, we bade farewell to the Château against a backdrop of beautiful blue skies and, following a quick stop in the pretty seaside harbour town of Honfleur, we made our way home.
As we arrived in the UK and hit the country roads around Swanbourne there was more singing on the coach and messages of thanks to a wonderful group of students for a brilliant few days away in Normandy. The trip brought together a great many memories we would be able to share with families and friends.
Reflecting on our music tour abroad
There was genuine sadness the tour was over when we arrived home, but the excitement of planning the next tour soon took over! With plenty for our Senior Choir to work towards before then, we are hopeful time will fly past and we’ll soon be enjoying the delights of performing to a new community abroad.
Looking back on our music tour to Normandy, it is important to state every single member of the choir should feel immensely proud of what they achieved on tour. For some children, even being away from home for that long was a massive achievement in itself. The Senior Choir is a real team and that team spirit grew and developed throughout the time in Normandy. A music tour we will all hold onto for years to come, we can’t wait for the next one!
About the author | Matt Phillips
Matt Phillips heads up the Swanbourne House Choir on their music tours abroad. Looking for ways in which students can not only develop their experience of performing to new audiences, Matt seeks out opportunities for the students of Swanbourne to connect with each other through trips that educate and raise aspirations.
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