As part of our fourth tour to the US, we’ll be writing a blog to share behind-the-scenes stories from our travels. For video updates and other exclusives, head to our Patreon. You can find out more about our concerts.
Valparaiso to Canton: Mike
Welcome to the tour blog for G6 US Tour 4, Mike is here to walk you through our first two states and first five days – we managed to squeeze a lot in!
The first day was a familiar start, turning up bright and breezy to Heathrow Terminal 3, chowing down in the Centurion Lounge and then boarding a flight over to the Windy City. Unlike the last time we arrived in Chicago, all of our personal effects made it as well, and thanks to the proximity of our first stop to Chicago, we were spared the ignominy of sprinting through O’Hare from terminal to terminal to try and make a flight connection. Instead we sauntered to the car hire building and piled into a Chrysler Pacifica to drive a mere one hour to our first stop: Valparaiso, Indiana.
Valpo University was home for the first two days of the tour, a delightful community blessed with an astounding Brutalist chapel. We wasted no time in testing out the acoustics and rehearsed until what was 2am UK time, as we had a very busy day of workshops ahead of us before our concert the next evening. Our first workshop was powered by Uptown Coffee’s delicious drip filter and sandwiches, and we really enjoyed working with the local High School Honor Choir on some English renaissance repertoire. Their sprightly performance of Morley’s “Sing we and Chant it” was a particular highlight. The second group of the day was the Valpo University Chorale – an incredibly polished ensemble who gave a spine tingling rendition of Lauridsen’s “Sure on this Shining Night” in our masterclass. Both ensembles did a mini-set at the start of our Fading programme, and we collaborated with both in the concert as well. It was such a treat to be introduced to Indiana’s fine young singers, and Marin Jacobson was a fabulous host.
Our next stop was the city of Canton, Ohio, a quick six hour meander down the highway (America, how are you so big?). We arrived and headed straight to rehearsal for our concert at Malone University, giving English Motets a welcome airing. The next day had us working with two of Malone’s excellent choral ensembles: the chamber group Amplified, and the University Chorale. It was great to chat with the students and see their passion for singing. The evening’s concert coincided with the launch of our “Morning Star” CD, and we were able to sell the very first copies of the disc after the show as we had just ticked over past midnight in the UK! Our final day in Canton started with a delicious breakfast in local diner Samantha’s, followed by a trip to Christ Presbyterian for another packed day of music. The Performance Choir of Summit Choral society treated us to some brilliant performances of Britten’s ” A Ceremony of Carols”, which were such good fun to work with them on in a masterclass. It’s not music we get to sing, but it’s close to our hearts! The acoustics in the church were something to behold, and really complemented the atmosphere of our Fading programme. The church put on a very generous reception after the (free!) concert, and we treated ourselves to an early night before our early flight to the nation’s capital, and a well earned day off.
Our Chrysler Pacifica whizzed us all to Cleveland airport the next morning with Joseph once again behind the wheel, where we boarded our flight to the nation’s shining capital. I’m blessed to have a sizeable branch of my relatively small family in DC and so I was particularly excited to return there. Re-JENGA-ing our suitcases into a new Chrysler (other falling-block parlour games are available), we rolled into downtown, as spectacular views of the Washington Monument drew oohs and aahs in three octaves. Once we’d settled on the right hotel for us we headed for a team breakfast at Tatte’s, a popular brunch spot for a delicious lamb meatball shakshuka which will live long in the memory. As a bonus it seems the US has really come to terms with the coffee boom and we enjoyed probably our fourth or fifth really *excellent* flat white of the tour, a source of deep inner well-being for the more substance-dependent members of the group.
Fed and watered, Mike and I plumped for Lime e-Scooters as our chariots of choice for the trip across town to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. It’s wonderful to be able to quickly zip around new towns to gain one’s bearings, especially in the US, where the automobile is such a foundational concept. DC is a rare example of a walking city here, and boasts exceptional cycling infrastructure. Skirting a demonstration in the centre of the city we made our way to the National Mall and tried our best to keep our eyes on the road as some of the United States most identifiable buildings drifted past. As card-carrying nerds, Mike and I were particularly excited to see the exhibits at the newly (if partially) re-opened Air and Space Museum, which did not disappoint. Engines of Apollo rockets, a 747’s cockpit, and replicas of the martian rovers were highlights, alongside the original airplane used by the Wright Brothers and Neil Armstong’s spacesuit, still covered with moon dust!
That evening we linked up with Joseph to meet my American family for an authentic American dinner. I can’t quite believe it myself, but my cousin now works at the White House(!), so it was a joy for us all to swap stories of international intrigue and musical machination. Having made sure to secure a favourable deal for UK artists over the next decade or so of trade negotiations, we retired to get a well-earned night’s sleep.
The following morning we caught up with the other half of the team to re-caffeinate. They had gone to take in a Washington Capitals’ Ice Hockey game while we were at dinner the night before. Mike, Ali and I then headed to explore the Lincoln Memorial, which is always an immensely moving experience. In bright sunshine we walked back to collect our concert gear to head to Georgetown and St. John’s Episcopal Church. Georgetown itself is utterly charming. Its small streets made us all breathe in to help squeeze our monstrous Chrysler through the tree-lined neighbourhood. We performed our Fading programme there, with Alonso Lobo’s heart-breaking Versa est in Luctum being my highlight.
The concert was followed by a generous reception with some of the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted, and a chance to meet the great and good of the capital, including Skip West, the cornerstone of one of my favourite early-music ensembles: The Suspicious Cheese Lords, named for an enterprising translation of Tallis’ Suscipe Queso Domine (the first track on our very first album with G6). Later that evening we enjoyed putting the world to rights over a few glasses of wine with some friends of the group, but we decided to leave some mountains of DC’s nightlife unclimbed as we had an early start the next morning to head further south to our next port-of-call, the gateway to the Smokey Mountains…
Knoxville to Memphis: Owain
Departing DC for Tennessee, the early start was somewhat mitigated by the clocks going back (again!), so the mood was chipper as we headed to Ronald Reagan National Airport. The concourse seems to resemble a cathedral interior, though we weren’t blessed with a plethora of breakfast options, so simple toasties would have to do. On arrival at Knoxville, we were surprised to be greeted by a rather fetching display of water fountains, boulders and greenery inside the terminal. Beats the usual brown and grey!
After we’d collected our hire car (another Chrysler Pacifica), we headed to the hotel to see whether we could check-in early. Thankfully one room was ready, so we bundled all of our belongings in and headed out to explore the town. We quickly managed to locate a delicious coffee and banana bread courtesy of Mahalo Coffee Roasters, and while sat outside Ali started up a conversation with a lady who had taught at his secondary school! Just next door was a delightful bookshop, where some of us picked up some postcards featuring the local Appalachian Mountains. Various lunch plans were made, with Guy opting for a Mexican restaurant where he would probably have appreciated our help with the enormous amount of food he was presented with!
It was then time for our rehearsal at Church Street United Methodist Church, where we were greeted by our host, Tim Ward. After 42 years at the church, Tim is retiring next year, so we were glad to meet him in his current role. The nave is an impressive space, with some vibrant blue stained glass and a spacious acoustic. Post-rehearsal, we were provided with an excellent selection of Italian treats, not before singing grace to the tune of Frère Jacques – apparently a local tradition! We were delighted with the turn-out for our concert, which went without a hitch. My particular highlight from the programme was the combination of Donna McKevitt’s Lumen and Jonathan Seers’ Look down O Lord.
Having had time to catch up with members of the audience at the post-concert desserts reception, we trekked to a local bar to discover what hopped delights Knoxville had to offer. Despite ample provisions earlier in the day, there was a general hunger, so we managed to find the only bar still serving food late on a Monday evening and tucked into flatbreads and chips (we’re still getting used to the terminology – they’re not french fries!)
Next morning, there was time to relax by the pool and explore the town some more. Joseph even managed a play on the church’s fine Aeolian-Skinner organ, before we sat down to rehearse a little for our festive concerts, and also record a video for our Spotify listeners (coming soon!) Tim had been kind enough to reach out to the University of Tennessee, and we headed to their choir practice room to work with the Men’s Choir. Together with their director, Andrew Skoog, they serenaded us with a wonderful rendition of ‘How Great our Joy’, which reminded us of our time in Adelaide earlier this year working with the Festival Statesmen Chorus. We have been fortunate to work with some talented and enthusiastic musicians so far on this tour, and long may that continue!
After our workshop, we set off on the long drive to Nashville for dinner, where we found a restaurant called bartaco. They had everything from your usual fare to specials including brussels sprouts tacos (amazing). It was simply too easy to order more food through their online system, and we had to drag Ali away from the table, only for Mike to lead us right to a donut emporium. Thank goodness for the prevalence of hotel gyms…
It was then onto our motel stop in Holladay, ahead of an exciting drive into Memphis the next morning to meet with Francis Catalina, conductor of UM choirs, who had helped to bring us to Memphis last year. We brought back fond memories with a trip to Brother Juniper’s, and the omelettes, pancakes and home fries were of the usual high standard. The feeling of deja-vu continued as we headed back to the University of Memphis Holiday Inn. Check-in protocol was robustly followed, and so we were allowed into our rooms at 3pm sharp and had a quick turnaround for our rehearsal at St John’s.
It was a pleasure to link up once again with Vernon Snyder, Director of Music at the church and a consummate host. We enjoyed performing in the church’s reverberant acoustic, and catching up with those who had seen us in concert just a year earlier! Afterwards, we retreated to Young Avenue Deli and treated ourselves to some of their famed mozzarella sticks. I finally managed to beat Joseph at a game of pool, before Josh and Ali fought a close contest – our newest member was gently crushed by Josh’s experience, fortitude and valour (he’s writing the next blog, so I’m getting my compliments in early!)
Pittsburg to Naples: Josh
So, off to Kansas we headed on the longest travel day of our tour so far. With our trusty chauffeur, Joseph, at the wheel, we set off on the open road. That was, until we hit some stand-still traffic and didn’t move for 30 mins; a great start! However, with a alternate route planned by our co-chauffeur/human-sat nav, Owain, we were back on our way shortly, passing through the endless expanse of fields in Arkansas as we inched ourselves towards our destination, Pittsburg, Kansas.
Highlights along the way include passing through Walnut Ridge, AR, a town incredibly proud of the fact that the Beatles stopped there for about 25 mins as they changed planes back in 1964, and the opportunity to see the World’s Largest Fork by Mass in Springfield, MO. Personally, these days are a great way for me to tick off some more US states (I’m now up to 30!).
Finally, we approached Pittsburg, however, it seems that we weren’t actually the only singing group in town, or, in fact, even in our hotel as the Vienna Boys Choir were also staying at our Holiday Inn that night. They’re currently on a 10 week(!) tour of the US, putting our measly 3 weeks to shame!
Pittsburg, Kansas may not be the most bustling of places that we’re going to this tour. It’s only a town of 21000 people, and it’s distinct lack of any pavements reminded us of our 1st visit to the US in Fairfield, Iowa as we precariously dashed over highways in order to get to lunch. However, the audience at our concert the following night at the Dean Recital Hall in the University was fantastic and well-worthy of the encore of Eleanor Daley’s ‘Grandmother Moon’ that we had tucked up our sleeves. It was lovely to see and chat to so many of the students studying Music who’d turned up in mass to our concert. Hopefully we’ll be able to return in the near future to work with the choir at the University.
Having had our yearly visit to the Mid-West, Florida beckoned! It was a 2 flight day so we needed timings to run smoothly, but that shouldn’t really be a problem, as all of our travels on this tour had gone smoothly so far…
We were wrong…!
Just as we waited for our 1st flight to take off, we were informed that the baggage door of the plane was not opening. With the chance of us catching our connecting flight getting slimmer and facing the possibility of having to stay the night in Atlanta, drastic action was needed and Owain ‘Leadership’ Park was on it. Stood at the plane’s door (as you’re not officially allowed off the plane after embarking) Owain managed to bargain us onto a later flight to Florida that was originally ‘full’ which also meant that we’d be able to spend some quality airport lounge time! It seemed our luck was on the rise, and, we were back on track, in control of our fate.
It is at these moments, I believe, that you’re most likely to let your guard down and fate had other ideas for Guy, as no more than 10 seconds of being on the 2nd plane, he realised that he’d managed to leave not only his suit, but also his music, back in the airport lounge! Even ‘Leadership’ couldn’t sort this problem out, so the next day was going to be a day of suit shopping and music printing for Guy!
Stepping out the airport at Fort Myers we were hit by the intense humidity of the Floridan air (quite a change from the snow we had in Valparaiso only a week before!) and having made it to our, thankfully, air-conditioned hotel in Naples we called it a night as it was approaching midnight.
It was nice to have the morning off to unwind. For some of us this meant having a hearty, if not slightly Vitamin-lacking, breakfast of chocolate pancakes and maple syrup, or the chance to phone home and catch up with our other halves. For Ali, however, it seemed an opportunity to add to his ever-increasing list of contacts as he managed to make friends with the man who runs GM Motors and whose neighbour owns Fulham FC.
Our concert venue today was the newly renovated Trinity by the Cove, Episcopal Church, with a beautiful backdrop of the river behind us to accompany our ‘Fading’ programme. Being an afternoon concert, it meant that we were able to search out somewhere in town for dinner and we headed to the Italian restaurant Molto (cue Guy James bringing out his finest Italian linguistic skills) to gorge ourselves on pizza, pasta and carafes of red wine.
Next we’ll be off, via a quick swim in the sea, to Santa Fe, NM to perform ’Secret Byrd’. Hope to see you some of you there!
Santa Fe: Joseph
Hello there! It’s my turn to bring you the latest from our US tour, and I’m checking in from the flight out of Santa Fe, New Mexico where we have just enjoyed a very special few days.
We travelled there from Florida on a two-leg flight which went smoothly enough. We also had the good news that Guy’s bag would be reunited with him in Houston – a very impressive service from Delta for which we are all thankful! The first thing we encountered upon disembarking at Santa Fe was a bit of a weather shock. We went from Florida’s heat and humidity to New Mexico’s exceptionally dry air and high altitude of at least 7000 feet. We were told that the area has been suffering a drought for a good while now, having not received rain at the expected time this year. Whilst it was nowhere near as cold as Yellowknife NWT, it did remind us of those unique conditions, and indeed so did the charmingly tiny regional airport baggage reclaim…
Our taxi driver gave us a potted history, informing us that Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the US, with its roots as a Spanish colony in 1610. As we were to perform our Secret Byrd project, we began to draw the historical parallels – Byrd was still very much around in 1610, although admittedly nowhere near New Mexico… By the time we had landed night had fallen, so we were treated to a beautiful starry sky out here in the desert. We did however arrive at our wonderful hotel early enough to check out the rooftop pool and choice of hot tubs for a cheeky dip before bed. We also bumped into Bill Barclay, our wonderful creator and director for Secret Byrd, who had been setting up our venue with all the associated paraphernalia ready for rehearsals the next day.
It’s safe to say that ever since the first performances back in January we have been looking forward to performing Secret Byrd out in the US. We knew that we were going to be coming to Santa Fe from around that time, because Amy Iwano from Performance Santa Fe had attended the opening weekend in London to get a flavour for the show. I remember being very excited that a promoter from the US had come all the way to hear us then, and so it was very special to be here to present this amazing project. We learnt that the trailer for Secret Byrd was played in the local cinema theatre for weeks ahead of the shows… pretty cool!
Our venue was the Grand Ballroom of the Scottish Rite Masonic Center. It was the perfect venue for the purpose, with its period chandeliers and ample yet intimate proportions, with just the right amount of room for our central table, candelabras and seating whilst also affording space for our audience to walk about to get different perspectives on the action. For these performances, we collaborated with the wonderful viol consort Abendmusik who had been involved in some shows earlier this year in the DC area and who were a delight to work with.
There were a few unique considerations for us. The first of these was the climactic conditions of the altitude and dry air combined with the slightly more known factor of the candles sucking oxygen out of the air. Let’s just say we drank a huge amount of water at every possible opportunity, breaking only for a few more loo breaks than might be deemed normal. The other was that we only had one performance per day rather than the usual two. This made things that bit more manageable and allowed for more time after the performances to meet our audience (we gave two performances in total, 24 hours apart).
We always find the reaction of our audiences who come to Secret Byrd to be very warm and appreciative. There are just so many ways in which the show affects people, from the historical re-enactment of a bygone era, the highlighting of the religious persecution that Byrd experienced (and which is still being experienced in all too prominent a manner today in other parts of the world), to the musical side of things and the method through which the audience can hear and view the performance. It really is a dream project for us and we look forward to further performances in York & Cambridge coming up in early December.
It was good to see Rob Robbins from Alliance Artist Management who came to the first show. We caught up over a beer at the fantastic Del Charro bar and were able to give him glowing reviews for the tour so far. We’re so grateful to him and his wonderful team for their enormous amount of work in representing us in North America.
Between the two shows, we had a lovely day of recharging and sampling some of the local attractions. Santa Fe is a real cultural hub, with many art galleries, music venues and the very tastefully done Georgia O’Keefe Museum. A few of us took this in during the afternoon, and it just so happened to be O’Keefe’s birthday that day – free cake on entry! We also had time to enjoy a couple of excellent breakfast joints – The Pantry Rio comes particularly well recommended – and the wondrous Boxcar Sports Bar whose kitchen was open conveniently late for Ali & me to attempt their nachos (with extremely limited success), and for us to share a drink with Bill and members of Abendmusik after the final show. Thanks to Amy, Sarah and everyone at Performance Santa Fe for having us, and to the very many people who came to both sold out performances. We can’t wait until the next time we’re back in New Mexico!
It’s now not long until we fly home, but not before a hotly anticipated return for the group to Texas. Over to Ali…
Houston to Dallas: Alasdair
I write this from 30,000 feet watching the sunset somewhere over the Atlantic reflecting on what has been a truly wonderful three weeks of exploring a full menu of American offerings. Twelve terrific concerts across ten locations meeting kind, generous people and inspiring musicians. The only blemish on this otherwise faultless trip was a humbling encounter with the good people of American Airlines who rebuffed your correspondent’s attempt to negotiate an upgrade to business class not once but twice. America has seen enough of my charm for one year, it transpires. It is time to go home.
A rejuvenating stay at the Eldorado Hotel and Spa in Santa Fe left the troops ready and raring for the final leg of the trip, which takes in the best Texas has to offer. First, Houston. We landed in Texas’ largest city all in one piece. This isn’t something which should necessarily go without saying. Not only have we already run into one unfortunate luggage-related moment so far, but I have also developed the remarkable knack of missing flights, domestic and international.
It is worth saying from the outset that Texan hospitality is unrivalled in its generosity. Once we’d touched down at the George Bush International Airport, our hosts swiftly whisked us away to a very fine restaurant, Relish, not far from our concert venue. It was a lovely opportunity to exchange stories from our trip and learn about life in this part of the world over some delicious food and some very, very nice wine. To all of our lovely hosts, thank you for this warm welcome to Texas.
The following morning we woke to radiant sunshine. The brisk, desert-dry climes of Santa Fe had been replaced by the warmth of the Texan sun. We soaked in the UV over brunch at a local spot popular amongst those recovering from recent botox injections before making our way to the evening’s venue – St Luke’s United Methodists. At the suggestion of my lovely hostess Roger and Marsha, we took our post-gig festivities to The Phoenix where we enjoyed a selection of American Ales with our hosts.
Another scorcher in Houston on Saturday morning; blistering sunshine and a warm breeze outside. Inside, strains of ‘snow had fallen snow on snow’ could be heard as G6 looked ahead to their Christmas programmes. It hardly felt like Carols from King’s in Texas, but the rehearsal was a useful opportunity for me to get my head around some of the less familiar repertoire we will be taking to Europe as well as parts of the UK in the run-up to Christmas.
By coincidence, Voces8’s brand-new, all-female choir, Lyyra was also performing in the same church. We were stunned that they had only been singing together for the past week as they delivered a flawless rendition of Blue Skies. We reciprocated with a personal favourite: Eleanor Daley’s Grandmother Moon, though it was a tough act to follow. An unexpected meeting with Lyyra who, no doubt, have an exciting future ahead of them.
That afternoon saw us hit the road once again as we headed North to Dallas. A feature of any car journey on this trip has been the podcast Alan Partridge: From the Oasthouse, the theme tune of which we will be happy to deliver upon request. (In fact, we are thinking of creative ways of incorporating it into one of our future programmes. Any suggestions on how to link 16th-century polyphony with top-tier Alan will be greatly appreciated). This car journey saw the two moments of great cultural significance. Firstly, the thrilling culmination of the first season of From the Oasthouse, involving a sickly magpie and a vengeful Alan. Secondly, surely America’s largest gas station. As we were cruising into Houston, a great sight came into view, Buc-ee’s, a gas station and convenience store of truly vast proportions. In the forecourt were 60+ gas refilling stations and inside a truly startling sensory overload, with smells of coffee and artificial sweeter perfuming the air. I offered my part in the cultural exchange by perplexing a shop assistant by asking where the ‘loos’ were.
Once we’d settled into our hotel, we made for our evening’s activity: Top Golf. For the uninitiated, Top Golf is a bar that happens to include a driving range. A rich array of sporting talent was on display from the six of us this evening. “Most improved” has to go to Josh, though an honourable mention must be given to Owain; when he managed to hit the ball, boy did it stay hit.
Sunday marked our final full day of the tour, and it was a busy one. We kicked things off early doors with a 9:30 service and again at 11:00 at the Highland Park United Methodist Church where later that evening we would give our final concert of the tour. It was lovely to go out on such a high, performing to one of our largest and most appreciative audiences of the trip. A special thank you to Carey Cannon and Mallory Adams for making us feel so welcome, as well as to all the wonderful people we met after the concert.
The slighter earlier concert time afforded us the luxury of post-concert dinner at a steakhouse in central Dallas. Long-suffering vegetarian, Owain, left the catering staff in a state of befuddled disarray – they had only ever read about these people, never encountered them in the flesh – though the salad bar option proved ample enough to keep our glorious leader in high spirits. The night culminated in a sports bar where highlights and stories of the tour were exchanged over a cocktail… or two.
What a wonderful tour this has been, meeting inspiring musicians, exploring the less-trod corners of America and spending time with a wonderful group of singers I feel so lucky to be a part of. We can’t wait to return to the States in February when we visit Miami and New York City!