In July 2015, just after the end of school term, we took 41 young people, all members of the Camden Youth Orchestra or the Camden Concert Band, or both, to stay in Switzerland to give four performances to local audiences in Switzerland and Germany. Seven staff accompanied the trip to look after the young people and support their musical performance.
The first challenge on this trip was to find repertoire that would suit the tour orchestra. The Camden Youth Orchestra had presented a challenging programme at its Easter concert, but these works were not suitable for the touring orchestra, which did not include a number of the senior players and leaders, all of whom were off starting their new post-school lives in a variety of locations around the UK and the world. So, a new, smaller orchestra, with new, untried leaders faced the task of rehearsing an entirely new programme in only 8 hours of rehearsal. A lot of hard work ensued, and a certain amount of anxiety on the part of listening staff, as the orchestra struggled with the music…
Assembling at Camden School for Girls on Wednesday 22nd, just a tad earlier than was really comfortable, we packed the coach (a long and tricky process with all the instruments, plus some truly gargantuan suitcases) and eventually set off for Dover. The crossing to Calais was uneventful and our onward journey to Switzerland unhindered. Visiting a Swiss service station for dinner was an educational experience – prices in Switzerland are really high!
Arriving at our hostel late on Wednesday night, everyone was dispatched to their rooms with strict instructions to make up their beds before getting into them. Not, as it turned out, a superfluous instruction, as we had an entire room full of young men who could not recognise a sheet when it was presented to them, and had no idea how to put one on a bed. A full and frank discussion with Frau Meier, our host, the next day, will have left lasting memories. At least one student, when asked what they had learned on the tour, said “ I learned how to make a bed…”
Claudia and Judith set a pattern for the tour the next morning, up with the dawn light and already downstairs and taking advantage of the hostel wifi and hot drinks before anyone else was about.
They were perfectly cheerful, but there was much moaning from the rest of the party about the heat and the bugs – clearly everyone thought that they alone had been affected and that their suffering should be shared. I wished I had shares in Deet and anti-histamines – vast quantities of both were being sloshed about.
A morning rehearsal in the Klosterkirche in Stein was followed by an afternoon picnicking, swimming and diving in the river.
Our evening concert in Stein was given to a small, but select audience which included Herr and Frau Meier from our hostel, and the promoter of our final concert, as well as locals and tourists.
Friday morning saw us driving to Friedrichshafen, birthplace of the zeppelin, for a visit to the Zeppelin Museum. Within was information about the development of the zeppelins and a mock-up of part of the interior of the Hindenburg. Oddly, also an extensive display of contemporary art, so something for everyone here.
Our afternoon concert in the concert shell on the lake front was only marred by an equipment malfunction – Darcey’s oboe lost a spring and she could play half the notes in the scale, making most of the pieces unplayable. Fortunately, a lady in the audience, a musician herself, conducted Darcey and me to a music shop, from where we were dispatched by taxi to a recommended woodwind repairer. Fifteen minutes with the repairer, and Darcey’s oboe was in playing condition and we were still able to get back to our hostel for dinner.
In the evening, we experimented with multicultural cuisine – toasting marshmallows over the fire in the hostel garden…
Saturday was a busy day. We started with an early trip to Schaffhausen to visit the Rheinfall – an unforgettable (and somewhat dampening) experience.
Then we rushed to Langenargen, arriving, thanks to heavy local traffic, only minutes before our concert was due to start. Suddenly there was a gale blowing, and the whole group fought to get the concert set up. It was just as well that there wasn’t time to deliver the full programme, as our ‘harp’ (which looked distinctly like a keyboard with an electronic magic box attached) had sprung a spring of its own, and wasn’t working, so ‘Greensleeves’ was out of the question….
Our final concert of the day was at Stockach, where we were greeted by the Mayor, who was so taken with our performance that he invited us to an impromptu party in the town museum, where we were able to inspect the town’s collection of the works of local eighteenth century artist Anton Sohn – wonderfully detailed ceramic figures, including lots of musicians and instruments.
We said goodbye to Stein am Rhein on Sunday morning, and a big hello to Europapark – a whole-day theme park experience thoroughly enjoyed by everyone – even those of us who preferred to sit with a cup of tea whilst others went on the big, scary rides…
Our final night was spent in Strasbourg, and we learned about the city by going on a boat tour which showed us both the charming old town, and the new area which houses the European Parliament. A light show projected onto the walls of the Cathedral, celebrating a thousand years of the history of Strasbourg completed our tour in spectacular fashion.