Henry VIII and satnavs

The Youth Chamber Choir Ahrensburg visiting Woodbridge, England

3 am, 26th April 2012. Everyone is more or less awake when we get on the coach that is going to take us to England. Until 7 o’clock everyone is fast asleep or at least trying to get some rest which isn’t all that easy. In the front our teachers and the bus driver are having a quite animated discussion about which satnav is the best on the market. Their loud voices make it hard for some of us to go to sleep.

We arrive in Hoek van Holland at about 11:30 am and two hours later we are already settled in one of the ferry’s sitting areas waiting for departure.

After leaving the rainy and grey weather on the continent behind, England is greeting us with sunshine, much to the astonishment of some choir members.

When we arrive in Harwich at 8:15 pm local time we still have to drive on “the wrong side of the road” to get to our final destination: Woodbridge. On the journey everyone is getting excited to finally arrive at Woodbridge School and meet families that we will be staying with for the next couple of days. The excitement vents in loud and not necessarily correct singing, much to the annoyance of our bus driver who isn’t yet familiar with driving on the left.

Nevertheless we reach Woodbridge safely, are sorted into our host families and are being welcomed into their homes very warmly that night. We are all looking forward to some sleep.

The next day, Friday, begins with a rehearsal far too early in the morning at the school, partly together with the English choir. Claire Weston, the English choir conductress, rehearses two of the pieces that both choirs are going to perform together and she enchants everyone with her lively and lovely way. Still before lunchtime the German choir walks through the beautiful English town of Woodbridge to St. Mary’s Church for yet another rehearsal, because we are going to sing there in the service on Sunday morning. Back at the school a delicious lunch buffet awaits us. Finally some Food!

In the afternoon we’re off to Framlingham Castle, which inspires us to a spontaneous performance of a few pieces from our repertoire. “Pastime with Good Company” is one of them where the singers imitate drums and crumhorns… very Henry VIII. After getting back to Woodbridge we have the evening to ourselves. Most of us meet in the Pub; some spend the time with their host families.

The next morning, after another short rehearsal, we set off for Cambridge, well known for its brilliant universities and choir music. Mr Penny arranged for us to give a concert together with the Woodbridge School Chamber Choir at Queen’s College Chapel in the evening. Though, before we can test the acoustics in this marvellous location, we are given a short guided tour of the famous and impressive city. After the rehearsal in the Chapel, which took longer than expected, most of us rushed to McDonald’s to get some food before the concert. But despite the hurry the concert was fantastic and we all enjoyed singing in this wonderful place.

On Sunday morning at 9:15 am we meet in St. Mary’s church to get ready for singing a few pieces at the service at 10 o’clock. Not many of us expected the service to be the way it was and most of us were surprised when there was the smell of frankincense in the air. For lunch that day, some of us had the privilege to enjoy a wonderful Sunday roast with their families. Others went to the seaside or explored the surrounding villages. In the evening some of us met up for dinner and English and Germans had a good time together that night.

At 9 am the following morning it is time for us to meet at the school yet again. Now we have the choice of either going to classes with our exchange partners or walk into Woodbridge. 1 ½ hours later we set off to the town of Bury St. Edmunds to sing at the lunchtime concert in the wonderful and huge cathedral. This was an amazing experience for all of us, I’m sure, even though there weren’t as many visitors as many of us had secretly hoped for. But it is enough to sing for a few people if your singing puts a smile on their face. After the concert we have lunch at the local Pizza Hut, which can’t really serve many other people beside us, because we are so many for this tiny place. We all dig in and it is delicious. After everyone is full, we express our gratitude and happiness by singing the “Banquet Fugue” by John Rutter and the French drinking song “Tourdion” to the Pizza Hut team. There are absolutely thrilled and want to have a picture taken with us in front of the restaurant, so they can hang it on the wall as a memory.

At about 4 pm we arrive back at the school and have free time until we have to meet again for the concert in the school hall in the evening. At 7:30 pm we step into the crammed hall. None of us have expected to have so many listeners, but here they are! It is wonderful to be able to give something back to our hosts who took such good care of us over the past few days. Also, we sang three pieces together with the English choir and you can just feel that we had a great time together and that the farewell won’t be easy. When the concert is over the school has provided supper for our hosts, the English choir and us: Schnitzel and Sauerkraut, but also some non German food. We talk, we sing and the evening ends for too early. We could have sung all night!

On Tuesday morning, 9 am, our coach leaves Woodbridge for London after a very tearful good bye on both sides and a last Irish blessing. In London we get a quick tour of the city: Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the Horse Guards, Bucking Palace and Covent Garden. Then we have two hours to explore the west end, meaning finding food, going shopping or just taking in the atmosphere at Covent Garden. At 5 pm the coach was supposed to pick us up at the embankment, but who could know that there are two and the other one is in Chelsea? So we set off to Harwich an hour later than planned, but our bus driver made his way through London on his own, which is quite remarkable, because it was his first time in England and his English wasn’t too good. The rest of the journey goes without any problems and we arrive in Ahrensburg at about 7 pm.

The whole trip to England will stay in good memory. We absolutely enjoyed being able to sing in these magnificent locations such as Cambridge and Bury St. Edmunds. But what is the most important thing: We made new friends that we will hopefully stay in touch with for the years to come. Thank you so much for such a wonderful time!

Inga Kempfert, Merlin Steuer


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