As part of our second tour to the US, we’re writing a blog to share behind-the-scenes stories from our travels. You can find out more about our concerts.
Mike kicks us off…
The first stop on our USA tour was a new one for all of us: the Midwest city of Columbus, Ohio, appropriately named as the journey to get there felt like a considerable transatlantic voyage. We set off at sparrowfart in Copenhagen, waved goodbye to our cases and drank an exorbitantly priced coffee. The next stop was the Netherlands, where we skipped through Schiphol and boarded our shiny new United Dreamliner for a 9 hour trip to Chicago. We made it one piece, but sadly our luggage did not. Feeling bereft of baggage we hotfooted through O’Hare – having to channel our inner Hugh Grant to skip the TSA queue so we could get our flight to Columbus which was departing in 10 minutes. Nevertheless, after the whole day travelling, we made it. Next stop, shopping.
Being without any clothes, step one was to go to H&M and buy some essentials. Fortunately we were blessed with being near the beautiful monster that is Easton shopping mall, a retail extravaganza far beyond anything that Blighty can offer. We wondered around bleary eyed and astonished, before settling in that evening at World of Beer, a world that we at G6 HQ can definitely get behind.
The next morning dawned with jetlag having taken hold, so after a 7am breakfast we headed back to the mall for more. A few delicious pour over coffees later we were well set up to play our own version of Supermarket Sweep but with upmarket gentlemen’s clothes. We are hugely grateful to the team at Jos A. Bank for kitting us out in some stylish new blue threads, which as far as we can tell have gone down pretty well! Job well done, we treated ourselves to the Whole Foods buffet and headed to rehearse. Our first programme on this tour was English Motets, and the audience at Early Music Columbus were a delight. St Joseph’s Cathedral had a magnificent acoustic for polyphony, and our very own St Joseph had a jolly old time playing the organ, so much so that he missed the taxi back to the airport to reunite us with our itinerant baggage.
Day 2 in Ohio started with the breakfast of champions (Waffle House), followed by a masterclass with some of the finest young singers in Columbus, who did a fabulous job with an extract from Vivaldi’s Magnificat, and astounded Joseph (our resident intonation wizard, or ‘aubergine’ (‘note machine’)) with their crack chording skills. We look forward to hopefully working with them again when we’re in Ohio! Post workshop we were free to explore the delights of the city, which included variously table tennis, tacos, e-scootering with a Columbus cyclist advocate collective, sour beer flights, charcuterie vending machines and schnitzels. All in all a very good time!
Guy picks up as our time in Columbus comes to an end…
The sun rose over Airport Boulevard, Columbus OH on Day three to illuminate the sleek curves and aerodynamic bodywork of the newest addition to our touring crew, a beautiful (huge) Chrysler Pacifica. New suits were slung carefully over a jumble of suitcases and shoes were stashed in the Millenium Falcon-style smuggling compartments under the floor before we headed out on the longest drive of our American adventures to-date.
We planned a few stops on our journey from Columbus to Nashville: The Fix Coffeeshop in Cincinnati provided us all with much-needed caffeination as the city’s beautiful skyline drifted past the Pacifica’s sunroof. The sobering effect of Louisville’s leaden skies were then alleviated by a lunch featuring ‘Old-Brown-covered Tater Tots’ (Josh’s favourite) before our route took us past the US’s Gold Bullion reserve at Fort Knox. Spurning the temptation to make use of the Pacifica’s many admirable qualities as a getaway car we carried on to the day’s planned activity at Mammoth Cave, a unique limestone cave system of sinkholes and waterways that is home to the world’s longest cave system, totalling over 400 miles. Deer, squirrels and chipmunks fled before our mighty Chrysler, as we rolled through the gorgeous colours of Kentucky’s fall woods with Joseph (also our resident automobile wizard) at the wheel.
Upon arriving at Mammoth Cave however, it quickly became apparent that the USA’s complex system of timezones had bested the ensemble’s ability to book and attend events. Thankfully the exhibit offered plenty of interesting information to digest while we rued our inability to mentally inhabit a third time-zone while the clocks changed in the UK. (Which way does the earth spin again?)
A short stroll through the stunning woodland of Mammoth Caves was more than sufficient to stretch the ol’ gams however and a short hop later we were in the centre of Nashville, enjoying perhaps the greatest of southern traditions: BBQ. Some rather-longer-than-they-should-have-been games of darts followed, and an introduction to shuffleboard, and the evening was capped-off neatly by a stroll down Nashville’s famous strip of bars and live music venues. Would that renaissance polyphony could boast of such a density of buzzing and varied performance venues. We can but dream.
If the booming drums, neon signs and monstrous, LED-lined, jacked-up trucks of Nashville’s strip was an insufficient introduction to Southern style, we paused to explore ‘The Parthenon’ the next morning: Tennessee’s answer to Greek civilisation takes the form of a scale replica of the famous Athenian temple and houses art and exhibits. We explored the group’s natural talent for improvised baseball (limited at best) on the grass by the gigantic concrete copy before filling up on some pizza for the drive down to the banks of the great Mississippi and the next stop on our tour: Memphis TN.
We arrived in Memphis a little bleary-eyed after what had been quite the two-day trip down from Columbus, but we had very much enjoyed the comfortable Chrysler experience! After dropping bags off at the hotel, Owain and I headed to leave the car at the airport. It’s always lovely to spend more than one night in a location and I think we all were looking forward to the upcoming FOUR nights in the same hotel! Upon arrival at the car drop-off, we were greeted by one of several hosts during our time in Memphis, the inimitable Vernon Snyder who is Organist-Choirmaster at St John’s Episcopal Church. Walking over to his car through the parking lot proved initially tricky as Vernon couldn’t immediately spot it, thanks to the typically super-sized vehicles that dominate the roads of this great country. When the oversized hoods and rims cleared I for one was excited to discover that Vernon’s car was a gorgeous little white BMW convertible! To say we knew that this was going to be fun was probably speaking a little too accurately as we then proceeded to leave the airport, go round and arrive at the airport, leave again, and repeat this process from all four points of the compass, at which point we discovered that Vernon’s sat-nav had not been reset…
Roughly three eternities later, we met up with the rest of the group who had made it to the centre of town and to a glorious establishment called Bardog. This was at the height of Halloween, and there were many costumes on display alongside some extraordinarily good local IPA. It was at this point that we first met University of Memphis’ Director of Choral Activities, Dr Francis Cathlina and his colleague Dr Ryan Fisher, Professor of Music Education. Together with Vernon, these three gentlemen were absolutely glorious company on our first night in Memphis, and were responsible for bringing us along to a restaurant called Flight. We have to thank them for this recommendation because it was an unforgettable dining experience involving flights of exquisite food paired with flights of very fine wine. We had heard that food in Memphis was worth seeking out, and this opener really did blow us away!
The following morning, we were able to have a quieter start after our long journey before heading over to the very well put together suburban town of Germantown. This was to get ready for our concert that evening at St George’s Episcopal Church, but before rehearsals started we had a chance to grab some lunch. This was taken at City Silo Table + Pantry who were able to satisfy an itch to eat slightly more healthily, so of course we were keen for a cookie afterwards at the adjacent Crumbl Cookies (sic.) which turned out to be by far and away the best cookies we’d ever had. I hope by now you can tell that sampling the local delights is an important part of the touring experience for us as a group…
We had the most warm welcome at St George’s from all of the staff, congregation and audience members. The food that was provided for us at dinner time and as snacking bites lasted us through the entire rest of our stay in Memphis (thank goodness for the large fridges in our rooms to hold the gallons of slaw & beans which went with the BBQ pulled pork) and our performance of our Lux Aeterna programme in the beautiful modern church was extremely warmly received. It’s always exciting to be able to say a concert is the premiere of that programme in that country, and it was lucky St George’s who got Lux Aeterna first in the US!
Owain takes over…
The next morning, we ventured out of the hotel early to seek food. Welcomed by the loving arms of Brother Juniper on Walker Ave, we feasted on local brunch fare, including open omelettes and biscuits. Joseph ate about 24% of his breakfast, which was a terrible effort and so he was banned from attending the next day.
Testing the upper limits of our Lime scooters, we headed back to begin our series of workshops and masterclasses with students at Memphis University. In preparation for our joint concert later in the week, we worked on a variety of repertoire with the University Singers, including Josquin’s ‘Mille regretz’, and Elaine Hagenberg’s ‘There was a time’.
This was one of the most high-flying choirs we’ve ever worked with, and so we got right down to detail, exploring intonation and tuning alongside tone colour and interpretation. It’s a sign that things are going well when everyone can laugh about things going a bit wrong – taking a risk with singing can often result in the most magical performances, but it takes courage and a fair amount of practice! We also gave the first in our series of informal talks, exploring how we came to perform together as a group and what it’s like being on the road together.
Once we’d finished recounting funny stories (humorous to us, at least), we headed to St John’s Episcopal Church to rehearse for our English Motets concert that evening. Accompanied by a chorus of leaf blowers, we felt our way through the programme, exploring the different acoustical spaces around the building. It was lovely to welcome several members of the audience who had attended our concert the previous evening, particularly Glynis and her friends!
We were treated to an evening at Young Street Deli by Vernon and the church, which featured the most extraordinary mozzarella dippers (banana-sized) and a delightful selection of local beers. After negotiating with the change machine, we each took a cue to play a few games of pool, with Josh consistently claiming that potting the white was ‘part of the plan’. A successful evening all round!
The next morning, after breaking bread with Brother Juniper once more, we continued our activities at the university, working with Tigerchor (TTBB) and Mazi (SSAA), before preparing for our joint performance later in the day. The group splintered at lunch: Mike ‘the meat’ Craddock, Guy ‘the bird’ James, and Joseph ‘Texas Buffalo’ Wicks headed to Gus’ fried chicken to sample some Southern Fried food. Us other three headed to Whole Foods to eat similar fare, but feeling more self-righteous with a larger hole in our pockets.
After a calm afternoon, we headed to Harris Concert Hall to hear two stunning performances from Hernando High School Choirs and the University Singers – both tough acts to follow! The programme was called ‘Sleep’, and the selection from our Lux Aeterna programme fitted well, particularly Richard Rodney Bennett’s beautiful setting of Frances Quarles, ‘A Good Night’. Sharpies at the ready, we met lots of concert-goers in the foyer to answer questions about the programme and our tour, before joining the teaching staff and local musicians back at Young Street Deli for more dippers. A big thank you to Dr Francis Cathlina and the staff at the university, as well as Vernon and Lucas for their efforts to make our stay in Memphis so pleasant.
Sam narrates our trip to South Carolina…
After a warm send off from Memphis, we hopped on a plane to Charlotte to connect to Charleston, a city that was strikingly different to Columbus and Memphis, what with its more European feel and unseasonably warm weather!
We picked up our second hire car of the trip, the not-quite-as-gigantic Ford Explorer, and headed to our hotel, The Charleston Place. We marvelled at the sights of the lobby, with its incredibly ornate decor and soothing jazz piano oozing from the cocktail bar. We were able to take full advantage of the facilities, getting some much needed exercise and enjoying a good swim in the pool.
Wanting to see the town properly, we promptly found ourselves sitting at a cocktail bar called Doar Bros., and enjoyed a highly eclectic mix of drinks before heading to dinner, where one member (who shall remain nameless) was treated to a back massage from the bride of a nearby hen party. Ooh la la!
The next morning it was time for another hearty breakfast before we headed to Grace Church Cathedral, our venue for the concert that evening, which looked even more beautiful than usual due to a flower festival going on at the time. After a lovely concert with a wonderful audience, we were taken to another cocktail bar where we had fantastic time getting to know the members of the choir. Handing over to Josh now who will be telling you about our final stop, Augusta!
Josh rounds up our tour…
We set off early the next morning, and having been looked after so well the night before a hearty McDonalds breakfast was just the ticket to perk us all up. Needless to say, it was another stellar driving performance by Joseph through some dense fog to get us to Augusta, GA to perform our English Motets program for our last concert of tour.
The joy of repeating programs on a tour is that, by this point, with the music firmly in our veins, rehearsals now mostly consist of us trying out different areas of a venue to see where the pieces will sound best for the concert. It also gives the organists time to geek out on the local organ, and the rest of us time to head outside to find anything representing a cricket pitch.
Unusually for us, we haven’t had a huge amount of time for cricket this tour and it seemed the weather gods, as in the current T20 World Cup, were keen to keep it this way as we encountered our first bit of rain (this seems fortunate as apparently it hasn’t stopped raining in UK since we’ve left!) On the plus side, at least, it meant the humidity reduced slightly in time for the concert.
Our performance in August took place at St John’s United Methodist Church, and opened the 20th Season of ‘Concerts With a Cause’. Our concert was raising money for the local food bank, The Master’s Table. Having received a very generous standing ovation twice(!) in the concert we finished with Owain’s arrangement of ‘Glory to thee, my God, this night’, let it be known that Sam might actually have walked down the correct aisle at the end of this particular concert!
The church very kindly put on a reception afterwards which was a lovely way to meet our audience, some of whom had travelled for hours to get to our lunchtime concert. Particularly lovely was chatting to a lady who was a self-proclaimed “super-fan” and had been following us intently through our online videos during the pandemic. On a side note, it really is lovely to hear that our videos have reached so many people across the globe as I remember at the time, with my phone balanced precariously on the edge of a desk, that it felt like we were singing into the void…
Special thanks also need to go to this lady’s husband who’d “given up his afternoon nap” to come to the concert!
To finish off our tour we headed for celebratory pizzas and blue cocktails as they were the server’s favourite (she had apparently tried every cocktail on the menu so who were we to argue with her choice!), followed by Guy finding a TV and some locals to cheer on his NFL team.
It’s safe to say that it has been another fabulous and successful tour (forgetting bag-gate!) taking us through 5 states, 6 concerts and 4 workshops, giving us the opportunity to work with choirs and share our experience with the next generation of singers. We are excited at the prospect of returning to the States in February, taking in Oregon, Washington, each of the Carolinas and both sides of Canada!