Orlando Consort Tour Blog, February 2018
So, dear reader, it falls to me again to describe to you the Orlandos’ latest voyages around North America. Don’t panic, it’s a relatively short trip this time, with only three concerts, and I will try to keep it light. I realise you only have so much room in your lives for the ravings of a lunatic.
22nd February - Thursday
Heathrow-Indianapolis (via Chicago)
There are five of us coming on this trip. I know that will surprise you to start with - is the Orlando Consort not a quartet, I hear you chorus (faintly). We are to perform our by now long-running Voices Appeared project, where we put a contemporary soundtrack to the 1928 Dreyer film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ showing the trial and execution of the 15th century’s most famous martyr. When I say ‘contemporary’ I mean the music all comes from the 1420s or thereabouts, and we are, we believe, the first people to attempt this. It’s Don’s brainchild and it has been very successful - we have now put out forty-something performances - particularly in the USA. Anyway, it needs five singers for sure, and we are happy to be touring with our friend and long-time collaborator Rob Macdonald. I tell you all this as background, but also because the first notable thing about this tour is that we have managed to have four different itineraries between five of us, which is pretty good going. Matt has come out early to visit his sister and her family in South Bend. Don and Rob form the ‘main group’ and travelled out yesterday. Angus needs to arrive home the evening before the rest of us, which has given him the most arduous travel arrangements you can imagine (of which more anon), and I am looking forward to visiting my uncle, aunt and cousins in Montreal, so have opted for a slightly later flight home. And thus I travel on my lonesome today. My travel karma is pretty good apparently; the flight is almost empty so I get to lie down and have a two-hour nap between films. Even better, I am second in the queue at immigration in Chicago, which therefore takes no time at all, and the conveyor spits out my suitcase as I walk up to it. This all makes the two hour layover, about which I had been nervous, an absolute breeze. So if you want ranting about the immigration process, you’ll have to look up all my previous blogs, ever. I get to Indianapolis at about 7pm, though of course it feels like the middle of the night, and the only small hiccup is trying to get enough signal to phone for a shuttle bus. This managed, it’s a burger (stuffed with bacon, just because you can) and local beer before bed.
23rd February - Friday
Indianapolis - Lafayette
The jet lag is easy this way. Well, easier. I stirred in the middle of the night but had no trouble whatsoever getting back to sleep until a perfectly reasonable hour. After a breakfast burrito we check out and meet Matt Parr, the Production Manager at Purdue University, who kindly drives us the hour and a bit to Lafayette, home of Purdue. En route, he tells us (I’ve linked up with Angus by this point, who flew later than me, and via Toronto...) that Purdue has 40,000 students, which is a staggering number to me. It means that it basically is its own city and economy. I am sure there are plenty of other examples of this in the States, but I can’t think of a comparable place in the UK. Purdue is known for its engineering and science, and has about 15 or so alumni who are astronauts, which must be a record. [Please don’t write in and tell me it’s not]. Despite arriving at our hotel at around noon, the rooms are ready, so that’s another rant you are spared for the moment. Still full from my massive breakfast I skip lunch and go for a run in the gym. I am not a natural runner (you can see that from any publicity photo) and I will probably break a treadmill before I break any records - unlike Matt who recently ran a 10k in 43 minutes, which I think is very impressive - but I am happy to stick 5k down. It’s an important part of my strategy to not come home too much heavier than when I left [but again, please don’t write in and point out the obvious failings in my eating strategy!]. Between the run and the jet lag I should be primed for a nap right in the middle of the film tonight
24th February - Saturday
In the event, it was a good show, I think. We were in a very modern church (St. Thomas Aquinas, rather over-familiarly known as ‘St. Tom’s’) which had an easy, supportive acoustic, especially once the central air blowers were turned off. The only disruption was a very loud hearing aid squeaking and squealing throughout, but given that this project has attracted some pretty odd disturbances over its course, we consider that a bit of a win. The audience were harrowed and shell-shocked, which normally would not be what you want to hear, but is entirely appropriate for this film.
This morning it is an early start, with a drive of an hour or so back to Indianapolis airport in our matching Chevrolets. Four of us then fly to Philadelphia - while Angus’ itinerary rather perversely takes him in the wrong direction to Chicago and then back to Philadelphia. We pick up our hire car and Don drives us to Haverford College. We are staying on campus in their guest accommodation wing. There is a very noisy air conditioning/heating unit in my room, which inexplicably somebody designed WITHOUT AN OFF SWITCH, because quite apart from burning energy literally all the time, who doesn’t love background noise when they are trying to sleep? Also (rant part 2), why is it so difficult to set up accessible Wi-fi?! This is 2018, and we are hardly in the frozen wastes of Siberia!! (Takes deep breath and calms down). For all that I lament the extent to which we are governed by our technology these days, it is amazing how cast adrift one can feel without the connectivity to which one has grown used. We are in the hard yards of the tour, the weather is grim, and all I really want to do is call home and see the faces of my family. (And of course, dear reader, upload the next thrilling chapter for you!). It is far too easy to start to feel like a prisoner, and I realise my feelings of deprivation are massively overblown.
Luckily, the day ends with a very nice Thai (actually Thai/Japanese) meal with Rich Freedman, the professor of music here, a Renaissance specialist and our good friend. Absolutely enormous helpings of spicy food washed down with hoppy beer, accompanied by a lively but good-natured discussion of politics, the respective health services of our countries and gun laws (plus Brexit, of course, because Brits cant talk for five minutes without mentioning it!). The world feels a more civilised place as I turn in.
25th February - Sunday
I start the morning at a very leisurely pace. A quick trawl through the tv channels reveals that it is possible to watch the big game (this is soccer, for the sake of clarity) between Manchester United and my beloved Chelsea. Unfortunately Chelsea play very well for half an hour and then contrive to lose the game to an inferior United side (other opinions are available) and I leave my room ‘in a grump’ as my 4-year-old would say. I have often mused on how ridiculous it is that an almost completely arbitrary tribal allegiance to a sports team can leave your mood predicated on the results of a game in which you have no part. But that is no consolation. I think the thing to cheer me up will be an enormous and unhealthy brunch, so I head to IHOP (it stands for International House Of Pancakes, I believe, although I don’t think they are really international. Like the World Series in baseball, I suppose). For those who have never experienced this, it is at the low end of America’s culinary and cultural scale. You don’t go here to eat haute cuisine - the food is cheap and unsubtle, but gooooood. And occasionally just what you need, even if I do have to wait twenty minutes for a table and endure the hostess ignoring me studiously. With a full belly I then march for ages in the drizzle, looking for a coffee shop with some all important Wi-fi. Eventually I find the Green Machine Coffee Co. which is absolutely excellent. A lively place with good coffee and fast broadband, and I manage to catch up with my family.
[As an aside, here are some words of wisdom taken from an interview with the wonderful Joanna Lumley: ‘She says that the secret to a successful marriage is admiring your partner (“He’s a musician, and in my world musicians are the tippy top”) and not phoning each other when you’re travelling - “It’s always the wrong time. They’re having breakfast and you’ve had two gin and tonics in Shanghai”.’ For the record I think she is mostly right. I do admire my partner, musicians are the tippy top - though perhaps I would think that - and it can be very hard to make contact halfway across the globe; often it intensifies feelings of homesickness, or the partner left behind working double shifts as a parent can resent the other one twiddling their thumbs or indeed drinking gin and tonic somewhere exotic. BUT for me, I couldn’t do what I do without touching base occasionally to remind myself why I do what I do. The key is always to phone home before the drinking starts...].
We convene in the afternoon to get everything arranged for the concert - we are performing in Haverford’s new VCAM building, a cleverly designed space using a re-purposed gymnasium. It has a good vibe, and the film will be projected onto a huge wall while we sing beneath. It is the first time an event has been put on in the space, and so nobody is quite sure how it is going to go. For our part the acoustic is better than it ought to be (we are in a boxlike space with a low overhanging ceiling, but actually the sound is quite cohesive). And after an early dinner in the College’s Dining Center (sic, English spellcheck!) - food on campus is considerably tastier, healthier and more varied than it used to be - we present the concert. All goes well. The space is not very dark and cinema-like, which is a pity, and there is quite a bit of coming and going in the building, doors slamming and the like, but our performance is quite slick. In fact I get agonisingly close to a clear round (the holy grail of a mistake-free performance), only slipping when several students stand up and walk out together halfway through and I lose my place. As professional performers we ought to be inured to distractions and prepared to carry on through anything that goes on, but it can be hard. In fact I could write an entire exposition on audience behaviour - perhaps one day I will - but for now I will content myself to take responsibility for my mistakes. One day I will sing the perfect concert with no errors, but until then there is always something to work on... In any case, the audience - including many students from here and from Penn up the road - seem impressed, and we happily cool our cords with a beer provided by our generous host Nancy Merriam.
26th February - Monday
I start the day with a trip to the
gym for a ten mile run Dining Center to see what a campus breakfast is like. The variety is vast, with every taste provided for. In the end I settle for a two-course meal, cereal followed by the fry-up (it’s only abroad that I would ever contemplate a two-course breakfast. Weird). The scrambled egg is dry and tasteless, but compensated for by a mountain of tater tots - for English readers, they are essentially micro hash browns. Then I adjourn to my now regular spot at Green Engine to catch up on admin (College Wi-fi is still grinding into action). Early afternoon sees us convene, all apart from Don that is, who has to retire with a crushing migraine, for Rich Freedman’s Renaissance Music class. This turns into a general Q & A with 8 bright and keen students. It’s a relatively easy and rewarding experience, involving as it does telling stories about life on tour and talking about our backgrounds and paths into music. One gets to be humble and a show-off at the same time, and I am always conscious of how lucky we are - the very fact that we make our living as musicians and travel the world doing it inspires admiration, aspiration and no little envy. A little later we have a workshop with the Chamber Singers and their conductor, Daniel Spratlan. We work on Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium and then sing through what feels like most of Schütz’s Musicalisches Exequien members of the Consort taking the solo lines. Luckily for me it is a piece I have sung before, but Matt certainly regrets telling the earlier class what excellent sight-readers British singers are...! And finally we sing through Dufay’s Adieu Ces Bons Vins de Lannoys, an Orlando favourite which the students pick up very quickly, and a few general questions to finish. It is always inspiring to work with university students, not just in the US but back home too, as they seem so much more dedicated and engaged than I was when I was a student. Maybe I am misremembering and doing myself a disservice, or maybe I was just a late developer, but I always feel a tad guilty that I fell into this career seemingly by accident when they have such lofty ambitions and plans. Perhaps it is just that I was lucky to have free tuition, while their decisions to pursue further education have already cost them so much. But no need to dwell too long, as the four of us (Don still lying in a dark room) head to the Fermentaria with Rich and Daniel for locally-brewed craft beer, delicious tacos and genial conversation to bring our very rewarding Haverford residency to a close.
27th February - Tuesday
An early start to get ourselves back to Philadelphia airport. Thankfully Don is much improved and well enough to drive us there. A short flight takes us into the warm embrace of Canada (Reader, forgive my bias, I am half Canadian!). It is a beautiful day in Montreal, the blue sky contrasting sharply with the relentless grey we have suffered so far. And how often can you say that it is fully 10 degrees warmer in Montreal than London (in February)?! Trudeau airport holds special memories for me of waving to my grandparents in the arrivals hall - of course the place is barely recognisable from the one I recall (which was still called Dorval then). Now all the immigration is done via smart new machines, and vey efficient it proves too. It’s a short journey into the city centre, along highways that are permanently under construction (the Montrealese joke that there are two seasons here: winter and construction), and then I while away the time in the shopping district of Rue St Catherine. Having spent more than intended (I always forget that tax is added at the till) on clothes that are a fraction snug (to encourage a little weight loss back home), of course the logical step is to eat an enormous meal, featuring the local speciality, poutine. If you don’t know what that is, I am not going to try to describe it to you, because it sounds gross, but let me tell you it is wonderful. Then back to the beautiful Bourgie Hall for our final concert. The concert goes really well - it is a terrific hall to sing in, with a helpful, lively acoustic. The audience feedback is extremely positive, although I will admit that, since many of the conversations are in French, I may have got totally the wrong end of the stick! And then we go our separate ways, I to stay with my uncle and aunt and the others to take care of the end of tour debrief.
It has been a successful trip. We have given three great concerts in three interesting places; we had stimulating conversations with intelligent people; nobody lost their voice; with the exception of Don we stayed largely healthy; our luggage didn’t get lost; Angus made all his connections; and now there just remains the business of flying home and trying to grab a few hours’ sleep on the way. It sounds like Britain is in the grip of a snowpocalypse (5cm expected!) when I am due home, so I am fully expecting my flight to be cancelled, or at the very least the travel home from Heathrow to be impossible, but that is a challenge for a different day.
Thanks for your company!