USA Fall 2021 blog

Our first tour of the United States took place in fall 2021. Each member of the touring party contributed a blog post – we hope you enjoy reading!

1. Iowa – Josh

Friday November 12

Howdy from the US!

Neither a pandemic, nor my own passport issues (let’s not go there…) have managed to hold us back and I can now report that everyone has made it!

We really are SO excited to be on our debut US tour and after 2 flights, a mad dash through Chicago Airport in our socks, and a rogue banana (let’s not go there either!) we landed down in Iowa, met by Chris and Patricia who gave us a warm Iowan welcome and drove us to Fairfield, our first stop on this tour.

Naturally, having essentially been awake for 23 hours, and after our earlier airport workout, we just about managed a bite to eat before departing to our hotel rooms to pass out as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

It’s not often that we get time on tour to enjoy a place and a day to acclimatise to our new surroundings was rather well-received. So, what did we do to rest ahead of our concert day? Naturally, we played cricket…

Unfortunately, due to luggage restrictions we have been unable to bring a cricket bat on this tour, although, when has this ever stopped us before? Owain is certain that a folding cricket bat needs to be a thing and, I believe, is now in the process of patenting this idea; anyhow, a stick would have to do this time with any shot not hit into a ditch or a road celebrated as if we’d won the Ashes. As ever, cricket, once again, was the winner, this time in front of a rather stunning backdrop of amber and golden trees, providing ample opportunity to increase the number of our insta-worthy selfies.

Hungry after a hard day of ‘work’, we headed to a local Mexican restaurant before quickly retiring to bed in the knowledge that we weren’t actually here for a holiday and that, tomorrow, we needed to fulfil what we we were really here to do…

The next morning first took us to Indian Hills College. It was a pleasure to do a workshop with their choir covering some of their upcoming Christmas repertoire, including A Gloucestershire Wassail (a nice nod to Guy’s heritage) and after a chance to answer some questions we were whisked off to Fairfield Arts and Convention Centre, our venue for the evening. 

Our program tonight was Josquin’s Legacy, which we have been developing over the past year to highlight the influence that he had on other composers of the time. As ever, you’re never quite sure how well a program of music will go down when presented to a new audience, especially when it may well have been the first time that some of these works have been performed in the States. However, it was so lovely to see how much the audience enjoyed the concert and we were delighted to have the opportunity to talk to so many of them after the concert.

On a side note, we always hope that we leave our mark on places that we go, here we literally did as we were asked to join the tradition of signing a space in their green room!

Alas, our time in Fairfield has now come to an end. We’ve truly been spoilt by the warmness and generosity that the Iowans have given us and I hope that we will be back in the near future.

Next stop, Texas!

2. Austin, Texas – Mike

Sunday November 14

Hi there! This second instalment of our tour blog comes to you from the Lone Star State, and specifically the beautiful city of Austin. Speaking personally, it’s a city which really chimes with my great love in life: food and drink. I will try my best to avoid making this blog entirely about the many delicious restaurants and bars we managed to cram into our 36 hours, but they will feature heavily.

Our travel day from Fairfield began at the civilised hour of 10am, bags packed and coats on (Fall in Iowa gets a little bit nippy). We loaded up the trailer and set off in our cars to Cedar Rapids airport for the first of our two flights. Chris, our taxi driver, on realising he had a captive vocal ensemble in his Kia, proceeded to ring a selection of relatives and use Joseph, Owain and myself as a kind of down the phone sing-o-gram. I hope his wife and mom enjoyed some impromptu Poulenc…

Following two stress free flights, with a little 45 minute sojourn in Charlotte NC, we arrived into Austin, ready to unwind with some Texas food and potentially a margarita or two. What we hadn’t counted on is the anaconda of a queue at the car rental shop. Our two designated drivers gallantly volunteered to wait two hours and pick up the car. The rest of us hightailed it into town to sample a selection of delicious tacos and a very balmy night time beverage at a rooftop bar. We caught up with my future brother-in-law and his wife, who are in town visiting from Tampa, and everyone had a jolly nice evening with hazy IPAs and pulled pork. Everyone except Joseph and Owain that is (sorry!)

Concert day dawned, and we headed off in our new car to Westlake High School to work with two of their ensembles. We stopped off for a delicious breakfast on the way at the Texas Honey Ham Company, which was as vegetarian friendly as the name suggests (Owain’s beans had surprise meat in them). The school had an incredibly well provisioned music program, and the Boys Choir gave us a polished performance of the Latin American Renaissance tune ‘Riu Riu, Chiu’ (a massive banger), and we then gave a short recital for the 10th grade Girls Choir of a mix of repertoire from our 3 programmes, followed by a Q and A. It is wonderful to get the opportunity to work with school choirs when we are on tour in the UK, and to be able to do this abroad is even more of a delight. The students were evidently incredibly invested in music, and asked some really interesting questions. Guy’s falsetto remains a topic of wonder, bemusement and fascination, and Owain was given a range test (down to bottom A).

Our concert was that evening in East Austin, part of a wonderful concert series called Arts on Alexander. Shockingly for an American city, we were able to walk from our hotel to the concert venue, and stopped off on the way for a mouthwatering, if heart-stopping, biscuit sandwich. To the British readers of this blog, who may think that this sounds like some kind of McVities abomination, a biscuit is a Southern delicacy, and is pretty close to a scone. You get two of those, and you put fried chicken in the middle. It’s good.

The venue we performed in was part of the Redeemer Lutheran Church, and had the perfect acoustic for our English Motets programme. We rehearsed our choralography, had a cup of coffee, and headed for a sunset dinner at the wonderful Cajun restaurant up the road called Vic and Al’s. Catfish and jambalaya were both highlights. The concert was incredibly well received, and it was good to be able to have a natter with the well informed and friendly audience afterwards over a glass of fizz. They also bought loads of our CDs, which will hugely simplify checking our hold luggage in next time we’re at the airport!

The next morning we headed south in the morning for a cortado and some sunshine outside Try Hard Coffee, and then picked up some e-scooters for a pootle around before bidding farewell to Austin, and heading to our next port of call: Dallas.

3. Dallas, Texas – Joseph

Monday 15 November

Hi! It’s Joseph here, reporting from the plane as it takes off from Dallas Fort Worth. I’m tasked with writing about our time in Dallas which was sadly all too brief, though we did pack our schedule full of memorable moments.

Mike left you as we were embarking on the 3 hour drive northbound, following Interstate 35. We decided to break the journey half way for lunch in Waco, finding a rather good restaurant with outdoor seating on a stunningly warm and sunny day. We happened to stop by as the local game was being shown on the several big screens (specially wheeled outside). This was rather exciting to be in and amongst, so much so that, as Baylor grabbed victory, we simply had to get the cheering on record for our podcast episode – of which more anon I’m sure!

Perhaps now would be a good time to talk about our hire vehicle – an absolutely massive Transit van with space for our purposes and plenty more besides. The original plan was for Owain and me to share the driving, but after taking the first trip, I enjoyed the experience so much I volunteered to do it all. After the initial shocks of the sheer size of the car and other traffic (including the terrifying articulated lorries), legal undertaking, turning right on red signals, etc. I rather enjoyed not turning very much and had a lot of fun. It was also rather enjoyable to drive an automatic for the first time!

One episode of The Grade Cricketer podcast later, we had made it to our destination. Anybody who has driven into Dallas before will be familiar with the completely mind-blowing cityscape as you approach and enter town. It really is quite something after miles of Texan plains to see the skyscrapers appear, and even more amazing for the big freeway to just head right in with no hint of a speed limit change – then suddenly you’re in the city!

After checking in to our rather nice hotel, we headed out for a reasonably regular G6 downtime activity – ten-pin bowling. OP was on scintillating form, as per usual, and rather showed the rest of us the door. This was followed up by a delicious Chinese meal at P.F. Changs, a reasonably ubiquitous US chain, before heading to bed after what had been a long day.

Our venue the next day was the Church of the Incarnation – not an unfamiliar place for some of us who had visited with college choirs before. Indeed, a corridor within the building had several posters of many renowned British choirs who had visited over the years, and it was easy to see why. The church itself was a great place to sing (Interstate traffic noise notwithstanding!!) and an impressive facility around it which seemed to stretch for miles. We were looked after exceptionally well, warmly welcomed with a delicious sandwich lunch, and our audience seemed to really enjoy our Josquin’s Legacy programme. Once again, we met some more folks who had been following us for years… it still feels both bizarre and humbling to meet people who have been aware of our work across the pond for such a long time and to finally connect in person!

Unusually it was a 4pm gig, so that left the evening free for us to finally tick the BBQ box! Terry Black’s BBQ was our joint of choice, and it didn’t disappoint one morsel. We ended up getting a ‘small family pack’ of 3lbs of meat and five sides, all of which was absolutely first rate: brisket, beef & pork rib and sausages together with rice, slaw, beans, creamed corn and mac & cheese. Pictures of this meal will surely surface on our social media channels! After dinner, we took a stroll down the street and took in a Bar/Arcade where Sam nailed some Tenacious D on Guitar Hero, Mike beat me on Mario Kart and Guy was pipped to the post on the punching machine by yours truly… you better watch out!

A couple more margaritas later and after successfully reappropriating Josquin’s O Virgo prudentissima to some thumping beats from the bar’s DJ, we then hit the sack, feeling sad that our time in Texas was coming to an end early the next morning.

We’re now halfway through our tour of the US – next stop, California!

4. California – Guy

Thursday 18 November

Oh my goodness, where to start?! We have had the most extraordinary and busy few days charging across the golden state. Arriving in San Diego, we we met by Laurent, the person-who-makes-things-happen for the lovely San Diego Early Music Society. We’ve been long-time fans, but were first-time callers at the society, who kindly put us up in the most beautiful town of La Jolla, just north of San Diego.

Settling into the swing of things SoCal style very quickly, and having had a rather early start in Dallas, the team were quick to soak up the sun and Mike and I headed straight to the beach. After a few gentle attempts to get in the sea, we found the perfect spot at La Jolla Cove, where we were joined in the surf by a raft of Sea Lions!

Having established an unsteady truce with the maritime wildlife of la Jolla, and joined by our compatriots in our motley collection of beach-wear (top marks to Mike in particular), we proceeded to get in a bit of football in on the sea front. Josh had barely slotted home our classic shared-effort golden-goal before we were packed up and heading back into town for a very pleasant evening of Italian food and wine.

The next morning saw us wolfing down the very best of la Jolla’s ample brunch offerings, and fuelled by this success we ploughed right into rehearsals in the beautiful church of St. James by-the-sea.

That evening we presented Josquin’s Legacy for the final time on our USA tour (ALREADY?!) and an appreciative and knowledgable audience showed their appreciation by standing twice in applause, which was a joy. It was the San Diego Early Music Society’s first concert back after March 2020, and it was a real honour to be able to reopen live music-making in another spot in these great United States.

An early-ish night followed our concert, allowing us to make straight for the airport the next morning to head to San Francisco. I was particularly excited to visit San Francisco as this was my first time in California and I had heard so much about it! Despite only having 20 hours to spend in San Francisco it certainly didn’t disappoint. After enjoying some Louisianan cuisine for lunch we headed to the wonderful church of St Dominic’s to rehearse.

Bags dropped, music ordered and permissions arranged we launched straight into Byrd’s Afflicti pro peccatis nostris, to a crowd of one – a lady who had been using the church to pray and who stayed for our rehearsal thanked us very effusively for our effect on her that afternoon. A timely reminder that although performing great works as a group has become an almost quotidian event for us, live music-making still has an extraordinary power to move people and to elevate or transcend all of our daily affairs and concerns.

We were then twice carted over the stunning Golden-gate bridge in a people carrier by Simon Berry, director of music at St Dominic’s Church, before a quick repast of soup and a catch-up with Rob Robbins: head-honcho at Alliance, our steadfastly reliable artist managers for this tour.

One small schlep over of San Francisco’s many famous hills (or mountains, if you ask a tenor) saw us flying straight into a concert of a mixed programme of our favourite sections of tour repertoire, to the delight of a large gathered crowd. Afterwards festivities continued into the night in the company of some new friends from the famous bay-area male vocal ensemble Chanticleer, in the beautiful elegance of the home of some of SF’s most welcoming music patrons.

No rest for the wicked however: Another early start and then on to the Big Apple…

5. New York & Stroudsburg – Sam

Saturday 20 November

At 6.15am on Thursday it was time to say farewell to San Francisco and the slightly dreary eyed but excited G6 team embarked on an epic five and a half hour journey towards the city that never sleeps: New York. For a few of us it was a first visit to this bustling metropolis, and it did not hold back in its awesomeness. They say everything in Texas is bigger (we can confirm it is) – well the same can be said for New York as we marvelled at the size of every building around us by our hotel in Times Square. A quick turnaround at the hotel and headed out to meet the wonderful Jeremy Filsell, the master of music at St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, who, incidentally kindly allowed Joseph to indulge his fervent desire to play the organ the next day. Our stomachs were soon rumbling and so we arrived at the Gramercy Tavern where we enjoyed some absolutely fantastic food, and were even treated to a complimentary round of prosecco and ceviche. If you’re ever in New York, do pay them a visit.

It’s been wonderful to meet so many of our lovely American contacts from Alliance Artist Management and we were delighted to meet Artemis for breakfast. It was especially lovely of her to see us as she was giving a clarinet recital later in the day!

We couldn’t have had better weather for our day of exploring the city; the mix of gorgeous sunshine and lush autumnal colours proved to be a photographers dream as we we ambled down the High Line (a restored elevated railway track) and made our way to some gorgeous gardens overlooking the Hudson River.

We decided to split up, so Mike and I wondered through Chelsea Market and Greenwich village and grabbed a quick beer before meeting the others at One World Trade Centre, where we payed our respects to the beautifully moving 9/11 memorials. Soon we eventually were travelling up to the 94th floor of the WTC where we could watch the sun set on the Big Apple. 

By late afternoon the time had come to start thinking about making our move to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. However our stomachs had raised their voices once more, and we couldn’t leave without trying some of New York’s finest takeaway pizza. With Joseph at the wheel of another enormous car, we set off and arrived in a rather chilly Stroudsburg. The dense forest of the area certainly gave off a spooky atmosphere and so with that we decided to get an early night after what had been a truly fantastic day. 

With only two concerts to go it was lovely to enjoy the stillness and peace of this incredible woodland. Of course, we couldn’t resist creating some noise with an attempt at playing baseball – we’ll stick to cricket I think! It was a real joy to perform our Fading program at this stage of the tour to such a warm and enthusiastic audience.

Sometimes the best way to celebrate a concert is to follow it up with more music, and we did this with a wonderful evening listening to the Ken Peplowski Quartet, an incredible band at America’s longest standing jazz bar. What an amazing few days – we can’t wait to come back soon!

6. Delaware – Owain

Monday 22 November

Our final day in the US would see us rise in Pennysylvania, perform in Delaware, and depart Philadelphia for London arriving the next day – all a bit of a blur! But inspired by the brilliance of the jazz musicians the night before, we headed to the Old Town in Stroudsburg to set ourselves up for this mammoth day.

English muffins and coffee down, we drove to Wilmington where we would give our final concert at Christchurch Christiana Hundred, a parish on the leafy outskirts of the city, just a few blocks from President Joe Biden’s house (so we’re told!)

The typically gorgeous autumnal American landscape provided a canvas to our conversation as we reminisced about our favourite moments of the tour, all highlights contained in our podcast episode that will be released later this week.

With Joseph behind the wheel of our Dodge minivan we arrived in plenty of time, exploring the local woodland to find a suitable stick that would serve as a cricket bat. Josh found a hammock, and even the appeals from Guy and Mike couldn’t disturb his blissful moment of calm.

The church was lofty and rather pretty, and suited our Fading program well. The audience experience was improved no end when the keys for the noisy heating were found and the background hum (around a flat middle C) was silenced. Ace!

It has been interesting to visit so many different states and talk to people about life as we resurface from the pandemic. Delaware, perhaps unsurprisingly given its association with the new administration, is quite cautious, though everywhere we’ve been has had appreciative crowds and knowledgable concert-goers – 7/7 standing ovations ain’t bad!

Once we’d finished the concert we embarked on the long road back to London, returning our car keys and navigating some dual carriageways on foot to make it to the terminal. Once safely installed at the bar, we enjoyed catching the last few moments of an NFL game before letting our other halves and families know that we’d be back in the morning.

A little groggy and not appreciating the loud alarms at baggage claim, we had made it back to the UK and with that our first US tour was officially at an end. No more press ups for using the word ‘mine’ at any opportunity. No more free drip coffee refills. The bright lights of New York were a distant memory – but all of these wonderful experiences will live long with us. We’d like to thank everyone who made this tour possible and we can’t wait to return again before too long.

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.