Choir Trip to Paris December 2007

The choir at Versailles

Departing from DoverThursday 13th

So it’s 0015 and we set off in the Filers coach for Dover. Not surprisingly there are those who are trying to get to sleep while others at the back seem happy to party. After a stop at Reading services - and a lost wallet (later organised to be returned) - and another towards Dover we managed to get on an earlier ferry and were in France and leaving Calais by 11am French time having picked up our excellent tour manager, Lucy, as we reached the ferry port. Uneventful trip and arrived in Meaux where we were to reside, in the late afternoon and settled in – many tired people.

Friday 14th

La MadeleineAfter breakfast at 8am – good too – we left for central Paris. Arrived at the Eiffel Tower where the visit took a rather unexpected turn. The weather was not ideal so we went up to the second stage rather than the top where it was shrouded in cloud. Following this we went to the Bateaux Parisiens for a trip up the river past the Ile De St Louis giving us a good view of the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame. The Seine was fast flowing with a lot of water.

Collected by the coach and on to our first venue which was at the impressive church of La Madeleine.

They were helpful here and we manoeuvred the organ to a fairly close spot to where the choir was. The concert was a little over an hour and enjoyed by a very appreciative and large audience. As always in this sort of church the acoustic was wonderful and the singing excellent.

‘La Madeleine was amazing’. We were able to have a look round before rejoining the bus in Place de la Concorde and on to the Left Bank to find somewhere to eat – which ended up being Chez Clement, a very quaint, but quite large restaurant. Everyone was on good form, and we returned to the hotel in the end quite late.

‘We have seen a change in Mr Barlow’s hats – the first was a Christmas tree with Disney characters hanging from it and today’s was a Rastafarian hair hat’.

Notre Dame     La Madeleine

Saturday 15th

St SulpiceAnother good start with breakfast and into central Paris for a visit to the Louvre. It’s quite extraordinary what they have managed to do in terms of the entrance – including the coach park area. The project was started in the 70’s (when AHB lived in Paris) and the whole area was dug out and then the top was replaced as it was but with the addition of the pyramid. On the way there there was some discussion of the Da Vinci Code, not surprisingly.

Le LouvreAnyway into the Louvre where most of the attendants were fairly officious (at least we sang on the way without complaint), and having being divided into two groups (blue tickets) we aimed for the Mona Lisa, and the big nineteenth century painting and then separated. Some went to see the Greco/Roman/Egyptian exhibits.

"We saw the Mona Lisa which was quite small compared with how I thought it was going to be."

After this we went to the Boulevard St Germain where there was free time to explore the Christmas market and to eat. We met at the Church of St Germain to walk to the Church of St Sulpice where we were to perform at 4pm. Arrived in good time to find the choir organ being tuned, so rehearsed in a Chapel initially then discovered that the choir would be a long way from the organ – making it difficult to hear each other and stay together. We managed all of ten minutes rehearsal in the church with Alice being the runner between LWM and AHB. However despite all the difficulties the concert worked well overall and again a good audience. As in La Madeleine LWM conducted while AHB played for the accompanied items and AHB conducted the unaccompanied pieces. There was more conversation here about the Da Vinci code and we were able to see the gnomon – the brass line that ends in the obelisk. This was a scientific instrument built in the 18th century by the astronomers of the Paris observatory and was never called a rose line. The church also has one of the largest organs in the world – it has 6700 pipes and was played for more than 60 years by Widor, the composer of the piece often played at weddings.

Afterwards we walked through another Christmas market and went back to Chez Clement to eat – and thence back to our hotel in Meaux. A good day, and very good weather – sunny, but cold. The temperature never got above freezing.

Sunday 16th

Slightly earlier start as we were to sing in a mass at the very prestigious church of St Roch near the Louvre and just off the Rue de Rivoli.

St Roch     St Roch

Able to practise in a very elegant room and then in the church. There was a good organ next to where the choir was to be in front of the altar. The organ was built by Cavaille-Coll in 1845 and was original – the ‘accordeur’ was eloquent about one of the stops which AHB used as a solo sound in the Clare Benediction. The clergy were really helpful and very welcoming, and at the beginning of the service and at the end spoke to us in English (with prayers for us, our families, school and pour l’Angleterre) and invited us back soon. They stayed to listen to our final piece and led a round of applause. The organist of St Roch thought the choir was ‘mervilleux’ (true  - a professional choir could not have been better). After the service there was an opportunity for AHB and LWM to look at the big organ in the west end (which had been used during the mass). This is a very historic instrument. In the end AHB ended up playing the clergy in for the next service.

VersaillesSt Roch’s foundation stone was laid by Louis XIV in 1653, and the designer of the Versailles gardens - Le Notre - is buried there. Berlioz had a lot of his music performed there.

After the service we went to eat at McDonalds before finding the coach for a trip to Versailles which took on surreal proportions as we went up the wrong way on a one way street, passed the Korean embassy 4 times as we went dup and down the same bit of roads several times, and reversed from a housing estate onto a busy road – all because of the Satnav. However John and Roger, our drivers, sorted the route.

However we reached Versailles on a brilliantly clear day and had a good visit to the Chateau and for those more hardy souls, to the gardens too. Even sang a verse of Away in a Manger while in the queue.

‘I didn’t know what to expect so I was overwhelmed by what I saw’
‘Versailles was amazing…which really brought to life my history lessons of the past term as they have been based greatly on the Treaty of Versailles’
‘I loved going to Versailles – it was absolutely amazing…..the gardens were breathtaking…..and the lakes were beautiful with the statues around the edge..’
Back to the hotel and then a walk into to town to eat – and a walk back with lost of singing on the way. It’s still very cold.

Versailles     Versailles

Monday 17th

Off to Notre Dame where we had time to look around – amazing windows and screen. Also time for a quick coffee/chocolate, before being picked up and transported via the Champs Elysee to Montmartre. We walked up the steps. Spent time in Sacre Coeur before going to Place du Tertre to shop and eat – though noone had their caricature done on this trip. Back to Meaux where we sang a few carols around the town – with time for more shopping before going back to the hotel, and final dinner.

Place du Tertre     Sacre Coeur

Arriving back at DoverTuesday 18th Dec

An early start – we were loaded and ready to go by 7.30 and had a straightforward trip to Calais where we managed a slightly earlier ferry – stopped at Newbury where we said goodbye to a few and back in Tiverton at 6.30pm having watched several DVD's en route.

Best/favourite/special aspects

‘the impromptu singing of carols’
‘I LOVED St Sulpice and all the echoing in all the churches’
‘the ferry’
‘chatting…and falling asleep every bus trip’
‘singing in the different churches and getting to know people better’
‘I loved the trip ….got to know older people who are all tres cool’
‘hearing about Oxford’
‘singing in St Roch amongst all the incense’
‘the places we sang in…it was a wonderful opportunity’

The Party

The choir at Sacre Coeur

Catherine Ayres Guy Durant
Victoria Cox James Evans
Briony Deuchar Ryan Gaskin
Lottie Dunk Simon Higgins
Francesca Finch Edward Jolley
Alicia Fotheringham Dominic MacBean
Hannah Kenyon Alex Miles
Alex MacBean James Milnes
Laura MacBean Douglas Morton
Emily Mayes Ben Oddy
Anna Milnes Matthew Oddy
Lauren Mitchell  Edward Pocock
Harriet Rix Oliver Price
Emily Turner Tom Tait
Gerry Villiers Oliver Thom
Alice Walpole Joe Wander
Natalie Wander Ben Weaver-Hincks
Emily Wardle  
Alex Williams  
Heather Barlow Andrew Barlow
Debbie Hosking Tim Barlow
Becky Symonds Peter Dickinson
Tim Hunt Luke Wynell-Mayow
Photos by DJH and AHB