Chris Rocker reports on the USA & Canada Tour 2014

The choir’s return to North America was made possible by the generosity of Robert and Ann Ronus, and a number of other House alumni. Berenika Schmitz (2005), a music graduate of the House, kindly organised much of the first part of the tour and arranged for the boys to be accommodated in Casa Romantica, a 1927 mansion in San Clemente, only 50 yards from the beach, and a true California venue, right down to the sign saying: “Please do not feed the sharks!”.

The choir sang to a full house in Casa Romantica for their first performance, performing works by Vaughan Williams, Tallis, Purcell, Handel, Parry, Walton and Tippett, which would be the staple of concerts to follow. The next day we performed at St. Edwards Church, Dana Point, which was filled to capacity with an audience of 800. We did a slightly different programme of John Blow and Handel, including Zadok the Priest and the Hallelujah Chorus, and were accompanied by Berenika’s Dana Point Symphony.

Our third concert was at the Ronus’s church, St. James, Los Angeles. The tireless Jim Buonemani both arranged the concert logistics and found family accommodation for the boys, including among the stars in Beverley Hills and Hollywood! The concert encore, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, brought the house to its feet.

Robert and Ann kindly sent us to Disneyland on our rest day, where a day of parades and roller coasters was enjoyed by all. Then, back in San Clemente, Stephen Darlington did a workshop for local choirs. This was a hugely successful new idea for this trip, and was repeated later. That evening we performed on board the Queen Mary, now a floating hotel in Long beach, where we sang in the Art Deco furnished Grand Salon.

On our last day in San Clemente Berenika organised a fund raiser dinner and auction, with the main prize being a three night stay at Christ Church, including dinner on High Table and behind the scenes tour. The whole evening was a great success and enjoyed by all who participated.

The second leg of the tour took us back to Charlotte, North Carolina, where we had struck up a great relationship with the local classical music station, WDAV, who did a live broadcast of a concert, and negotiated special rates at the local Hampton Inn. We especially owe thanks to Lisa Gray, a former WDAV employee, who made it all happen.

In amongst visiting owls, eagles and snakes at the local Raptor Centre, Stephen Darlington and one of the choir boys, Mikey, were interviewed on WDAV in preparation for the concert that evening at the Covenant Presbyterian Church. But on their return the choir was stranded as the bus broke down in the rush hour. Lisa saved us by finding three minivans, but there followed the quickest sound test by WDAV and the most rapid rehearsal by the choir. However, in spite of all the tension, the concert proceeded without a hitch and the resulting wonderful broadcast can be heard HERE.

The hectic pace continued the next day as Clive Driskill-Smith gave an organ master class in Winston-Salem in the morning and Stephen conducted a choral master class for 3 local choirs in Davidson College Presbyterian Church in the afternoon. A concert followed that evening, attended by friends and family of the 3 choirs in which we performed works by Taverner, Byrd, Gibbons, Purcell, Handel, Tippett, Faure, Grieg and Matthias.

Rob Paterson, another alumnus on our organizing team, masterminded our visit to Toronto, where all the boys stayed with families of the Grace Church congregation. We had visited Grace Church on-the-Hill on our last visit to North America and were delighted to be back. Following a visit to the newly opened Toronto Aquarium, the evening was devoted to another workshop conducted by Stephen, this time for individual choir members as opposed to fully rehearsed choirs. Stephen rose to the occasion in a masterful fashion and had the disparate group singing as though they had been performing together for years. On our last day in Canada Rob organised a visit the Toronto Science Centre, and then the final concert of the tour was another sell out, and ended with a prolonged standing ovation: It was a wonderful way to end the trip.

We had been away for 15 days; we performed 10 concerts, sold over 250 CDs for just under $4000, and earned $55,000 in performance fees. It felt like a great couple of weeks. So many people deserve our thanks, not just those mentioned. Such tours are a vital part of the Choir’s work and could not happen without the various types of support which we are very lucky to receive and for which we are hugely grateful.

Chris Rocker

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