Choir Trip to the Czech Republic December 2009

The Party

Thursday 17th December

Outside the Smetana Museum, looking across the Vltava River towards Prague Castle and St Vitus CathedralWe left School on time at 7am, and with no travel problems arrived in Prague about 1.15pm local time to be met by two Czech teachers – Mrs Jana Rohova and Mrs Jitka Kreminova – and we were taken by bus to our hotel, which while fairly basic had good accommodation, with small flats with two or three bedrooms, and lobby, kitchen facilities etc.

Food had been ordered for 5pm so we had a short practice, having unpacked. After eating we travelled into Prague centre by bus and metro (an interesting experience as we were led by the Czechs who dived onto transport almost it seemed at a whim). We all ended up together, emerging on Wenceslas Square where AHB gave a short description of the events of 1989 which happened here. Onto the Old Square which was spectacularly pretty. It is anyway, almost fairytale like, and this was emphasised by the huge Christmas tree, and the Christmas Market while it snowed. All had an hour or so to look around, and we collected together under the medieval clock, just as a Facebook organised pillow fight took place – all very strange, and light hearted. Will was rescued from the melee. Back to the hotel by tram, and a relatively early night after, it seemed, a long day.

Prague     Prague

Friday 18th December

We went into the centre of Prague, and visited the Church of the Lady of the Snows, near Wenceslas square, a church which was intended to be bigger than St Vitus, but only the chancel was built. It is a huge edifice, and as a result has some amazing acoustics so we obtained permission to sing a few carols before going into a museum dedicated at this time of year to nativity scenes. These are made out of a whole range of materials, and many have complicated moving parts. It is a tradition in the Czech Republic and many towns and villages dedicate a lot of time to making them. Some were very old having been put together in the mid nineteenth century.

After some time in the Christmas Market we assembled near the medieval clock (our usual meeting point) before a short recital in the Church of St Nicolas. We were very privileged to sing here, and owe this to Veronika (nee Nemova) who now works in Prague, and who was at Blundell's in 1994-5. Church of St NicolasShe had been married here a few years ago). As it was so cold everyone went to eat at McDonalds so that there was a guaranteed warming up session – it needed a good hour. The girl at the till was bemused by such a massive order, and we were helped by Veronika, and her son Matthew who sat on the counter eating the occasional chip (and who was much taken with Alex).

The next stop was the Smetana Museum situated in a stunning position next to the Vltava river. Smetana, perhaps best known for the opera ‘The Bartered Bride’ and the tone poem ‘Ma Vlast’ had lived in Jihlava, and was a well regarded nationalist composer. The pupils had an intriguing time on the conductor’s podium with a laser baton ensuring we heard various pieces of music. After this it was off to Prague castle, the inevitable photos with the sentry guards, and a visit to Golden Lane and a view of Kafka’s house before meeting up with the Czech teachers ready for our service in St Vitus cathedral. As we waited we sang outside the shop (it seemed, to the irritation of the manager) and then we were allowed to use a splendid room in the Archbishop’s Palace for a 30 minute practice (and warm up in all senses of the word).

The service went well, the organist playing our accompaniments; indeed he revelled it seemed in improvising on some of the music we sang, and was very complimentary about the singing. In the end we left him a copy of the music – he seemed very pleased. Then we went down to the transept where we enjoyed the wonderful acoustics, while a few of the congregation stayed to watch and listen. It was quite extraordinary to have the run of a virtually empty cathedral simply to enjoy the sounds and their lengthy echoes. As far as AHB was concerned the whole trip was worth it for this one experience.

Tram girlsWe ate in an intriguing medieval inn style restaurant where the food was very good, and there was the additional bonus of a floor show, including various styles of dancing (!) and fire eating. The trip back was via tram, metro and tram. This last change led to some excitement. During the day Hattie had taken on the role of keeping in touch with the group as it was spread along the pavement ready to board a tram or as it was in different carriages of the tram, by shouting ‘Blundell’s on’, or ‘Blundell’s off’. As we were about to board the last tram it was noticed that four U6th girls were on the other side of the road – so ‘Blundell’s off ‘was shouted, just as the group reached the tram and boarded it. Too late – they left. However mobile phone contact reassured us that they knew where to get off – and were happily waiting in the hotel.

Saturday 19th December

ClockA leisurely start – lots of coffee. Left the rooms and headed for Prague centre. The pupils went off in groups for more investigation of the Christmas market – IGS and AHB went to book lunch. Again it was too cold to leave everyone for too long. It was quite amazing how IGS managed to book the meals, and with all the correct numbers, and timings in Czech, a language which is really difficult. Again it was good to collect together and spend time in the warm. Back to the hotel to load the bus for Jihlava, and a trip of one and a half hours, and an easy arrival and check in at the Mahler  hotel – a really good and elegant place, which was originally a monastery, and therefore interesting architecturally. We used their concert hall for a rehearsal, and here there was a 9 foot 6 concert grand piano – bliss.

The evening meal in the restaurant was excellent and we were joined by many of the Czech teachers – Mrs Sedlakova, Mary Korandova, Milan Svoboda -from the Gymnazium, including the Head Teacher, Mr Miroslav Paulus and his wife Vera (who is a national ice dance coach). The sixth form went out for a short time – and enjoyed some exploration of the town.

Sunday 20th December

St Ignatius ChurchOff to St Ignatius church for 8.30 – we sang in the service – back to the Mahler for hot chocolate etc (actually a second breakfast for some of year 10), and then back for a second service. After this the Blundellians were sent off by another teacher – Martina – for lunch and the afternoon with Czech pupils. A variety of activity ensued – skating, sledging, shopping, eating, and quite a lot of Czech language learning, but not necessarily words we need to know.

Going up to sing at St Ignatius church     St Ignatius church organ

We all met up at the Church of Our Lady for the evening service – a lovely medieval building. In all of these services we were appreciated enormously, and there were huge congregations each time. The playing of the individual continental organs was an interesting experience. We ate in the hotel; most of the staff went to a party with the Czech staff (hosted by a now retired teacher, who, in the former regime was a national coach for the Olympic gymnastic team); some of the sixth form went out, while AHB and the rest of the party enjoyed a number of games in the hotel. The sixth form were back quite early (the temperature had plummeted to minus 20) and joined in the frivolity. A lot of fun.

Monday 21st December

Off to the school at 8.30, for a tour with several of their younger pupils whose English was good. Gymnazium, JihlavaThe staff were welcomed by Mirek Paulus, the head teacher. 2009 was the year to celebrate the school’s 90th anniversary in its present form, though there has been a grammar school here since the 13th century (originally a German one).

After this we went to Telc, accompanied by two Czech teachers (Georgina and Milan). TelcThis is a wonderful, entirely unspoilt  renaissance town, which was seen in the best of circumstances – snow, sun and clear skies, and about minus 12.

In 1992, a year after the first visit by Blundell’s, it became a UNESCO world heritage site.

After a journey back through the wintry landscape we went to the Mahler museum in Jihlava. TelcMahler spent his youth in Jihlava, and various musical activities in the town seemed to have had an impact on, at least, some of his music. It was good that we were able to visit, especially for those in the sixth form who are studying his fourth symphony. There was a further trip, for several to the dodgy tea shop, which has become a firm favourite over the years.

Onto the hotel to change for the concert in the evening; should have practised at 5, but while listening to the Gymnazium choir we discovered that they were to perform Candlelight Carol (having left the music on our last visit) so a change to our programme. The Czech carol went down well. We all ate with the Gymnazium staff – the Blundellians were brilliant. Back to the hotel, the sixth form went out for a while – then some protracted farewells with the Czechs.

Telc     Telc, frozen lake

Tuesday 22nd December

Vera and Jana accompanied us to Prague airport; easy checkin; flight delayed, but arrived in the UK a couple of hours late – a great relief bearing in mind the chaos of flight cancellations and closed airports.

It was a great trip, musically excellent, with all the pupils proving to be really good company. We performed to some 800+ people during our few days in Prague/Jihlava.

The party and some trip highlights

The Party
Victoria Cox Matthew Oddy
Alex MacBean Florence Hart
Stephanie Ward Siobhan O’Kelly
William Coon Charles Silcock
Victoria Doyne-Ditmas Philippa Horne
Laura MacBean Amelia Schicht
Emily Wardle Robin Silcock
Sam Davenport Bethany Lane
Harriet Goody Alice Walpole
Ciara O’Kelly Sascha Thursam
Amelia Young  
Isobel Scott Andrew Barlow
Michelle Wynell-Mayow Peter Dickinson
Luke Wynell-Mayow  

On the way back everyone was asked for a highlight or comment of some sort, reflecting on the few days there.  Here are a few.

Old Square, Prague‘Singing in St Vitus was amazing (probably the coldest hour of my life). I loved the general dodginess of the tea shop’

‘Listening to the echo of “Song for Athene” go back and forth down the length of St Vitus’

‘Tea, snow and singing – nothing better in my opinion………the amazing acoustic in St Vitus’

‘It was wonderful to meet the Czech school children………… I was overwhelmed by the cheers and applause after we sang in Czech’

‘It was so nice to see the country that Zuzanna and Veronika came from’

‘Prague was the most beautiful city I have ever been to………and I will never forget the sound we made in the cathedral and churches… it was lovely to meet and communicate with people our own age’

AHB's Christmas hat‘meeting the Czech people was a fun experience… have thoroughly enjoyed the tour’

‘how the snowfall in Prague looked like glitter and in Jihlava the buses were on wires’

‘some of the acoustics in the churches were really cool… the biggest pillow fight ever was hysterical’

‘I will definitely never forget getting on the tram with Hattie, Tori and Amelia while everyone else was stood outside watching – thank goodness women have a sense of direction’

‘I expected it to be cold, but never anticipated soo (sic) cold’

‘am looking forward to regaining the feeling in my feet’