Day 10 began, for most of the boys, at home with local families who had so generously offered to help host the choir. The small band who had found their way to a distant Marriott hotel met the rest of the group at Emmannuel Church, before travelling downtown to visit the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower. The choristers proved themselves surprisingly well-informed on the subject of supertall buildings, but knowing this was the 16th-tallest building on earth didn’t prepare them for quite how impressive it was. After a brisk, ear-popping elevator ride we emerged on the Skydeck at the top of the tower, where the boys took turns stepping into terrifying glass boxes that hung from the side of the building.
After ransacking the gift shop we made our way to Portillo’s, a temple to kitsch Americana complete with neon signs, checkered table cloths, and (legend has it) the best hot-dogs in the Mid-West. The obliging staff whipped up a fresh batch of frozen custard for us, which revived the boys in readiness for the afternoon’s rehearsal back at Emmanuel. This beautiful building has just earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, and – with its soaring roof and striking stained glass – could easily pass for a cathedral. The packed audience couldn’t have given us a warmer welcome, and the choir was delighted to complete a clean sweep of standing ovations in the US (or should that be ‘ovations standing’?).
After dispersing to homestays the choristers reconvened on Day 11 at the Marriott Hotel in Burr Ridge. The unbelievably generous (and rather brave) staff had offered us the use of the hotel pool, which given the chilly rain outside was the perfect solution for our final morning. As I write, the boys are taking a brief rest in front of the TV and anticipating the arrival of the largest amount of takeout Chinese food ever ordered by man. We’re very grateful to George Tarasuk at Emmanuel for hosting us in Chicago, and to the brilliant staff at the Marriott for looking after us so kindly whilst wait for our flight home. A little light singing in the lobby (above) was the least we could do to say thank you.