North America spring 2023 blog

As part of our tour of North America this February, we’re sharing stories from our travels on our blog. For video updates and other exclusives, head to our new Patreon. You can also find out more about our concerts.

Yellowknife, NT – Guy

Our USA & Canada spring tour 2023 kicked off with a concert in Yellowknife, capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories, so our first job was to get 62.45º North. Flying from Frankfurt after a concert in Passau (on the Austria-Germany border), we landed for a night’s rest in Calgary before hopping on a twin-propeller de Havilland for the 2.5hr flight due north.

After crossing the stunning snow-covered Great Slave Lake, we descended into the beautiful frozen landscape, and we were promptly greeted by Marie, Margo and Carmen, all of whom were wrapped-up significantly more than even we were! A sign of things to come. Yellowknife was atypically balmy when we arrived, only -20ºC. The cold hit us immediately, with the dry air making me cough even on the short walk from the plane to the terminal. We quickly decamped to the lake to tourist a little and take in the reality of the Dettah ice-road. Stopping in thick snow on the top of a lake, we peered through the layers of ice and crystalline cracks into the watery depths over a metre below us. An awesome experience.

Josh and I then went to meet the Snow King, a local man who for over 30 years has been building a snow castle out on the ice every winter. The snow castle hosts concerts, bars and a slide(!), and was in mid-construction when we arrived. Soon installed in the Explorer hotel, we headed to the rehearsal of the local choir: Aurora Chorealis, directed by Margo Nightingale. I was delighted that they were performing a renaissance chanson, and we really enjoyed running warm-ups, talking turkey on tuning and swapping stories and shared experiences in music.

Still recovering a little from our jet-lag, we awoke early the next day and sampled some of the excellent local coffee and breakfast spots. I spoke to the director of the local coffee roasters about the effort involved in installing and maintaining a bean roaster so far north. The town felt immensely welcoming, but as a brit wearing about 50 layers, I was constantly reminded of the battle with the elements that is everyday life for the locals in the winter.

Pre-concert dinner consisted of the second-best fish and chips in Canada (we’re reliably informed!), which the entire group enjoyed immensely. We even met some concert-goers at the restaurant, which is perhaps unsurprising considering that around 1.5% of the city’s population had bought tickets…

We were delighted to present our programme ‘The Wishing Tree’ in the NACC centre: a lovely mixture of some of our favourite repertoire, appropriately shot-through with natural themes, including Italian madrigals, modern works and folksongs. Afterwards, we made a little pilgrimage to NWT brewing company with our musical hosts. Visiting the new local brewery which was a real treat, allowing us to share songs and stories with some intrepid local explorers and survival experts.

Sad to leave the next day, we managed to fit in a trip to the Pilot’s monument above the lake, and Buffalo Airways (featured in the TV show Ice Pilots) to see some amazing vintage planes ahead of our flight to Vancouver via Calgary. As a youngster, I was rarely found without a book written by Capt. W. E. Johns detailing the aeronautical antics of the fictional Capt. James Bigglesworth and his chums, so to spend a few minutes breathing in the aviation fuel and soaking up the authentic atmosphere was just a pure joy.

The landscape continued to impress us for the flight home, and I even managed to take some perfect images of frozen oxbow lakes from my window seat… Onwards to BC!

Abbotsford & Vancouver, BC – Josh

And so, we left the bitter cold of the Northwest Territories, shedding many layers of clothing on the way, and headed to much milder climes in British Columbia. Abbotsford was the first stop of the busiest patch of this tour, with 5 concerts in 5 days.

Two flights and a lengthy wait for our suitcases (bringing back all too recent unhappy memories of our lost baggage from our last US Tour!) must have tired us out as Sam, often unshakable in moments when food is present, asked for his steak cooked “sunny side up”. In response, the waiter said “we could also do it scrambled if you’d like!”

The next morning, we woke up slightly fresher to the sights of the looming mountains in the distance, and were ready to sing our English Motets programme for the first time this tour. I often forget that the music of Byrd and Tallis, staples of the English Choral scene that many of the members of G6 grew up singing, can be such a new and eye-opening experience for people who haven’t heard this music before. A particular question I enjoyed after our concert at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, while chatting to the audience members, was “Did we get it right, not to clap in Tristitia et anxietas before the 2nd part?” For our future audiences: yes, that’s just right! Particular thanks to Valley Music Society for inviting us.

We then headed to meet the people who were kindly hosting us during our stay in Vancouver, spreading ourselves out around the city. Some of us had quite the view, and were staying at the foot of mountains and ski resorts. Being an avid ski fan, I’m always incredibly jealous of cities that have access to truly gorgeous scenery and I’m personally hoping that we can start or end a future tour in Vancouver so I can add a ski holiday to G6’s itinerary! Unfortunately though, I have to remind myself quite often on these tours that I’m not on holiday, so reluctantly we headed off to our rehearsal.

It was lovely to be back in the familiar venue of St James’s Church, and as soon as we stepped inside, memories came flooding back to our first Canadian tour in 2018. Additionally, it was particular pleasure to see some familiar faces at the drinks reception afterwards including the ever charismatic and welcoming director of music at St James’s, PJ, and the canadian composer Gerda Blok-Wilson who wrote the lovely O Little Rose, O Dark Rose which, since our last tour, we’ve recorded and performed all over the world.

Sadly, it’s been a whistle stop tour of BC for us this time, though a couple of us were still lured into checking out a local speakeasy bar where you had to got through an unmarked door and “put your money on the correct horse” to enter. Unfortunately, it turns out that luck wasn’t with us so that marked the end of our evening, and thus the end of our time in Vancouver. Next stop, Victoria!

Victoria, BC & Portland, OR – Mike

The last stop on our BC leg of the tour was beautiful Victoria, and as in 2018 we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore all on offer, but what we did see was absolutely fantastic.

Our journey out to Vancouver Island started bright and early, as our homestays dropped us off at Central Station in Vancouver so we could get the bus to the ferry – a very civilised way to travel. Sam has been talking about the quality of the cinnamon bun he had on it in 2018 for the intervening 4 years (sadly not available this time round, he’s just about recovered from the disappointment). We tanked up on caffeine, bid adieu to our fabulous host, PJ, and sat back and relaxed. The ferry is a beautiful sweep through tranquil waters: I had my burger brunch while watching the bay drift by, and then whiled away a few minutes being trounced by Sam at Tekken 5 in the arcade. The weather conditions, although good for sailing, were less conducive to being above deck, so after a quick pic we hunkered down below until we arrived in Victoria.

There was no time to waste when we arrived at Christ Church Cathedral, and after a quick stop for carrot cake we headed straight into a workshop with the Cathedral choristers. Although the treble line has only been going for 5 years, they made a fantastic sound, and working with them was an absolute treat. The choristers (children and adults) performed three pieces with us in the concert that evening, and they were absolutely brilliant. We hope to work with them again in the future!

In between workshop and concert we were treated to a vegan chilli, cornbread muffins and even more cake. Owain, Guy and I decided to work off some carbs by improvising some cricket. Donald Hunt, the DoM of the cathedral procured a baseball bat and bouncy dog ball, so with the usual “defensive shots only” and “hit the church on the full and you’re out” provisos, we set to getting a game on. Guy in an attempt to work on his sweep shot swapped baseball bat for broom for a couple of overs, until an understandably irate member of cathedral staff relieved him of it to do some cleaning. We’re sorry!

Our English Motets programme is an ideal fit for a church such as Christ Church, with a giving acoustic and plenty of exciting places to sing from. We caught up with friends old and new after the gig, and had the kind of restrained post concert merriment that befits a 4:20am taxi the following morning. The next day was the crunch point of the tour: a travel day where the only option available to us was a 6:25 hopper flight from Victoria to Vancouver followed by a connection down to Portland. Sam and I headed back to our host Martha’s house after the concert, had a nightcap, and set approximately 400 alarms.

After 5 hours of fitful sleep we were dispatched to the airport with coffee and croissants in hand (thanks Martha, you’re a star!) We blitzed through security at Victoria and got in a teeny tiny bombardier prop to do the flight to Vancouver. I reckon if the flight were any shorter the plane would have been launched out of a big slingshot, however with a tour schedule this hectic sometimes the only options available to fulfill engagements involve taking life in the fast lane. The flight was full enough that Joseph Wicks, our alphabetically most senior member of the group, was forcibly separated from his suitcase (fortunately not mission critical to our Portland concert), and this gave him a chance for him to bore senseless anyone who would listen about the excitement of using his new AirTag™️ to track his case. I suggested he change his name to Joseph Aaaaicks to avoid this happening in the future. He had not had enough sleep to find this amusing.

The layover in Vancouver was straightforward, with the added benefit of clearing immigration to the USA in Canada, a five minute process which feels infinitely preferable to 3 hours at JFK. We hit the lounge for second breakfast on what was technically American soil before boarding a flight to a new and exciting destination for the group: Portland.

6 men and 5 cases arrived in Oregon, greeted by a typically foggy morning (it was still only 9am by this point, even if it felt like the early evening). Mark Powell, executive director of the Oregon based choir Cappella Romana and our host and guide for the next 2 days, came to pick us up in a typically gargantuan American vehicle, and we headed off to our agent Rob’s house for brunch, caffeine and a welcome to Portland.

On arrival at Rob’s we were able to unwind. A couple of us headed straight to bed, I set myself up by the drip coffee machine, and as the fog cleared over the beautiful city of Portland and the stunning mountain vista slowly revealed itself, the fog over our sleep addled brains slowly did the same thing. My South London proclivities of avocado, salmon and sourdough were met, I got to meet a beautiful dog, Remy, and everything was right with the world. It was great to see Rob on home turf, and meet Alliance’s newest staff member, Shane.

After rousing Guy and Sam from their slumber we headed to St Mary’s to rehearse. As the programme was very similar to Victoria, we didn’t need long to get our measure of the space and plot our choralography. The Cathedral has a beautiful Romanesque elegance to it, and the acoustic managed to be both clear and supportive. Guy took the post concert break as an opportunity to be supportive of the Kansas City Chiefs in what I am reliably informed was an excellent game of football. I ate a delicious porchetta sandwich instead.

The concert in Portland was another rip-roaring success: it’s the first time I think we’ve had someone give us a standing ovation halfway through the gig (Vigilate is a good piece to be fair). Rob took us all out for a night on the town at Loyal Legion, a local beer focussed bar with tasty German style eats. This gave us an opportunity to relax after a mammoth day; safe to say we were all tucked up before midnight.

The next morning was a slow one, as we didn’t need to leave for Seattle until midday. The three of us who are comparatively early risers headed off to Cheryl’s, a breakfast restaurant around the corner where we chowed down on a variety of fried treats (beignets especially yummy). On sitting down, the gentleman sat behind us greeted us with a rendition of the first bar of Byrd’s Sing Joyfully. Fortunately he had been to and enjoyed the concert the previous evening, rather than having some sort of sixth sense for beardy early musicians. We did our best impression of the dwarves arriving at Bilbo’s house in the Hobbit as our table for 3 became incrementally one for 4, 5 and 6 over the course of the next hour. Guy, the last to arrive, managed to get away without ordering any food and simply ate the huge spread of things which we had variously failed to finish.

Hearts and stomachs full, we headed off to our next adventure in Washington state, via a rendezvous with Joseph’s suitcase. Thanks Portland, you’ve been great!

Seattle, WA & Clemson, SC – Sam

Hello everyone, it’s Sam here! We were nearly at the end of a big stint of concerts (5 in 5 days!), culminating in a performance of English Motets in the incredible Cathedral of St James in Seattle. For us this was a very special way to continue celebrating the 400th anniversary of William Byrd, showcasing his Latin motets in a Catholic building on the other side of the world! After the concert we duly celebrated with a couple of beers with our lovely guide and contact Mark Powell. Huge thanks must go to him for all his help, trekking us from Portland to Seattle and for being such good company.

With a 7am rise not feeling too early, we were off the other side of the country to Clemson in South Carolina. Now it’s worth saying that it wouldn’t be a proper G6 tour without a couple of moments of realising you’re missing a piece of expensive equipment, and well, we didn’t disappoint! I managed to leave my phone in the hotel room, luckily realising just in time before leaving the hotel. This was a mere warm up act however, as poor Josh was discovered he was ‘sans ordinateur’ at the gate. Fortunately, airport security happens to be the best place to leave expensive gadgets, so with everyone and everything reunited, we hopped onto the five hour flight to Atlanta, with all of our luggage arriving this time! Thanks to Joseph once again for taking up the post of tour driver, at the helm of a suitably hefty vehicle for all of our bags.

Upon checking into our hotel in Clemson, we said goodnight to chauffer Wicks, who was understandably tired, and found a very accommodating sports bar, mostly to fill our stomachs. Always one for new culinary experiences, I ordered a side of fried alligator, which I can confirm does actually taste like chicken. 

A mercifully leisurely start the next day and we were soon rehearsing at The Brooks Centre, a wonderful performing arts venue at Clemson University. It was an absolute joy to hold a workshop with Cantorei, their chamber choir, who joined us to perform later that day. Alongside adding some extra-vocal effects for Alison Willis’ setting, ‘The Wind’s Warning’, Cantorei joined us for Stanford’s ‘The Blue Bird’, and ‘Phos hilaron’ by our very own Mr Park. 

After the concert we were quickly on the road again to Brevard NC, so it’s over to you now Owain!

Brevard, NC & New York, NY – Owain

We took the long and winding road from Clemson to Brevard in our tank-like minibus late after our concert, with the sound of Stanford’s The Blue Bird still ringing in our ears. Unfortunately for Sam, his recent diet of a can of pop and a bottle of beer was playing havoc with his insides, which had begun to resemble our route on the map. Thankfully with Joseph pressing his foot on the gas (no pun intended), we made it in good time to our next stop: Brevard.

We were greeted by our host Alex Lane, who showed us to our accommodation—a beautiful wooden cabin on the edge of Lake Milner—and invited us to enjoy some cards on the deck. A few rounds of contract whist followed before bed, with the top of the leaderboard passing back and forward between us all. If only I could find the bit of paper with the scores on…

The next morning, I woke up fairly early to the sound of birdsong. Taking a peek outside, I was bowled over when I saw the concert hall across the lake. Surrounded by miles of trees, Brevard Music Center is an located in an idyllic spot: the perfect location for artistic inspiration! Having walked around for a while, I managed to persuade the others that it really was worth going for breakfast at a local café, and we headed to Morning Social to enjoy their skillets.

Mike and Guy went for a little hike in the afternoon, and the rest of us used the beautiful meeting room as a co-working space to crack on with some admin. We even managed to get some cricket in, with a big twig for a bat and a car park sign for the stumps. We then headed over to the concert hall to begin our rehearsal, and couldn’t believe how good the acoustics were! Having shot a few clips for our social media followers, we went outside to do a few more with the lake in the background. Unfortunately, at the end of a take, there was a rather severe gust of wind, and Joseph’s music went flying. It turned out that one copy had sadly sunk to the bottom of the lake: William Byrd’s Tristitia et anxietas. How apt! Nothing a good hotel printer can’t resurrect…

We were then treated to some delicious food from The Square Root, which included maple glazed Brussels sprouts and some crunchy bread rolls. Well-fed, we were grateful for our shortest ever commute to the venue, taking just under 60 seconds. We were greeted by a packed house, which is really pleasing as we were making our debut in North Carolina. We added a special love-songs section at the end, as our concert was in the wake of Valentine’s Day. Several oohs and aahs later, we took our final bow, and caught up with several people who had heard us not so long ago in nearby Augusta, GA. When I think of concert going patterns in the UK, it’s quite something to realise that people will drive 5, maybe 6 hours to hear us perform. We had a particularly lovely chat with an American baritone who is moving to South America. Apparently the choral music scene is alive and well in Quito, Ecuador! 

After a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed another fine breakfast at Morning Social before driving to Asheville airport to catch a direct flight to LaGuardia. Navigating New York’s public transport system can sometimes be a bit daunting, but Mike had Citymapper to hand and guided us to the Warwick Hotel. The first time I visited New York, I was pretty overwhelmed: from the huge skyscrapers to the bustling streets and the relentless hum of traffic and food vendors. Each time I visited, I’ve enjoyed it a little more, and I feel as though I have my bearings a little more set now, and even recognised a couple of eateries! We met up with Mike’s parents for dinner, not before a clear Negroni at the Modern. We’re not quite sure how they make it, but it’s very good! We then headed to an Italian restaurant and sat at a large round table which would’ve been extremely good for poker.

The next morning, having sampled some of New York’s famous salmon bagels, several of the team headed to the aerospace museum, where, amid the many wonderful artefacts and attractions, they met a scientist who had worked on the new space telescope. So cool! Josh had a lovely walk around Central Park, and we all reconvened for some Mexican street food before heading to the church to prepare.

If you imagine us performing in Times Square, you might question exactly how that would look and sound. Hidden amid the high rises and plethora of screens there is a beautiful church known as Smoky Mary’s. I think this is something to do with incense rather than local traffic pollution, but nonetheless, it has the most wonderful reverb and sound.

I was told before the concert that some New Yorkers would take issue if they couldn’t hear the spoken introductions for the concert, so I kept things slow and clear, with only the odd humorous moment. Thankfully, there weren’t any catcalls, and everyone seemed happy enough. It was particularly special to reconnect with our former second countertenor, Andrew Leslie Cooper, who moved back to the US in 2021 to take up a church job and be closer to his family. Andrew joined us at a local (hidden) bar, alongside the rest of the Alliance team. Thank you to Rob for covering the bar tab, which must’ve been pretty significant as we ordered almost all of the bar snacks at once!

After another visit to Sip & Co for excellent breakfast fare, we headed to LaGuardia to make our journey back to Canada, where we’ll finish our tour in Montréal. I’m very excited to visit the city for the first time, and it’s lovely to have a whole day to explore before our concert at Bourgie Hall.

Montreal, QC – Joseph

Our flight up to Montreal marked the end of our time in the US and provided some stunning views of both city skylines. It was a relatively short flight, but the weather changed to a rather more wintry scene as we touched down to an airport surrounded by snow. This rather brought the tour full circle, reminding us of our adventure in Yellowknife a couple of weeks ago!

After a very swift baggage reclaim (yes, all the bags turned up this time) and a quick Uber, we were checked into our lovely boutique hotel by mid-afternoon which left the evening open for a brief excursion into the city. We happened upon Pub BreWskey, which turned out to be quite a find, offering a large selection of beers and some delicious food options, including several IPAs, some wings and Nuts ’n’ Curds which were seen off in short order by the assembled gannets.

The next day featured a total of two words on our tour itinerary: Day Off. After the hustle and bustle of NYC as well as a rather busy tour overall, this was much appreciated. It has been particularly good to have the time to explore Montreal, a city where the predominant language is French and whose culture is particularly enjoyable to discover. A selection of us kicked off the day at Shaughnesssy Café where some bagels and coffee were enjoyed. Mike and I then decided to strike out for a further exploration of the city. We started with a trip on the metro—another subterranean transport system ticked off—to relatively near the entrance of the Jacques Cartier Bridge which passes over the St Lawrence River. As we crossed this impressive structure, the sun poked through the clouds and lit up some incredible views of the city centre. This by now rather long walk continued across to Parc Jean Drapeau, situated on St Helen’s Island. Here we encountered the impressive Lévis Tower, built in the 1930s and which is currently being renovated. We also took in an interesting spherical structure housing an Environment Museum: rather apt as the weather changed rather quickly from stunning sun to rain, snow and hail.

This, however, did not deter us from walking the further three minutes across another bridge to the next island, the Île Notre-Dame. Now, it’s probably at this point where I hold my card up for all to see: Montreal has hosted the F1 Canadian Grand Prix since 1978, and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to see the track which traces the perimeter of this island. Mike was a great sport coming with me to see a very small part of the track that was covered in about a foot of snow. Will somebody please ask us to visit an F1 track-laden city at the correct time of year please?!

It was at this point that we rain-checked our excursion and took the metro back into town to meet up with Marie Coderre near the Basilica. Marie looked after us in Yellowknife and lives in Montreal, so it was a real joy to meet up with her once again! She kindly offered to take us round some of the inner city sights, including the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. This was truly one of the most amazing cathedrals I had ever set foot in, with its highly decorated ceiling, its curiously sloped flooring thus making the reredos area of the cathedral all the more impressive. There was also a rather tranquil chapel beyond the reredos which was only visitable to pray. One by one, we each had a sudden realisation that a prayerful moment was exactly what we all individually wanted at that precise time.

After that and a lovely catch up with Marie over a glass or two, we headed to the hotel to freshen up for dinner at Foxy’s Restaurant. This was a tour highlight, with a menu of sharers all cooked in a wood fired oven that ran to a very appropriate amount for the 6 of us. It’s a weird rush when you can sensibly say to a waiter, ‘Could we please get the entire menu?’, and not be directed immediately out of the establishment. Some highlights included a radicchio salad, some beef tartare, arctic char with trout, and savoy cabbage with braised lamb, served like a slice of cake!

The next day was concert day, the 10th out of 10 on our tour. After a quick team meeting discussing some very exciting things for the future (keep an eye out for later this year 👀), we took the 6-minute walk to Bourgie Hall at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This is a very fine hall with excellent acoustics. We were astounded to learn that they have 160 concerts this year and wondered just what it would take for G6 to do that! The concert was another outing of our English Motets programme that was warmly received with a standing ovation complete with whoops and cheers for an encore. We quickly learned in our conversations after the concert how discerning an audience Montreal has for early music, and we were honoured to have been received so well. We were also grateful to have time backstage with Caroline Louis, General Director of Bourgie Hall, who together with her colleague Claudine Jacques were interested to hear more about what makes us tick as an ensemble over a couple of bottles of Prosecco. It is always a treat when our wonderful presenters go the extra mile to meet and engage with us. Thank you so much to Caroline and Claudine!

One surprise bonus was to see Pauline from Les Itinerantes in the foyer afterwards beaming having heard our concert! We first met the fabulous vocal ensemble at Fontevraud in France last year, and we have bumped into them on numerous occasions including at Mont St Michel since then, so it was lovely to catch up with Pauline and her cousins over a few drinks at Bar George afterwards.

And with that, our North America finishes with the customary ‘red eye’ flight back to London, via the departure lounge at Montreal Airport where we were astonished to encounter a robot going around collecting everybody’s used plates and glasses! A fab moment on which to end. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must try to get some sleep on this flight…

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