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Lennon's Room: England Tour: Part 2

by Lennon Leppert

Last issue I was telling you about my choir, the Los Angeles Children’s Choir’s tour of England and Scotland, late July/early August, 2001. I left off discussing our bus trip to the tiny village of Great Missenden on Sunday, July 29. As part of our performance there that evening, one of our boy singers, Andrew Pae, who is also a professional pianist, performed a nocturne by Chopin. Andrew played really well and I felt our whole concert was very good. The audience seemed very excited to have us visit and liked our performance. The church is all stone and a couple of hundred years old, so it had really great reverb – even better than the shower! After that, we returned to our hotel in London.

On Monday, July 30, we had one of the highlights (for me) of the trip: We spent most of the day at the Royal Academy of Music. It is a very famous music school and has produced many of England’s greatest orchestral musicians. The concert room we sang in was spectacular! The walls and ceilings were intricately carved and the room was lit by fancy chandeliers. Behind us was a large pipe organ and to one side were five tympani, with chairs on the other side. The man who conducted our workshop, Donald Core also is the conductor of the London Children’s Chorus and he founded one of London’s five major orchestras. I really enjoyed being able to be there and experience it.

That afternoon we toured Westminster Abbey, a giant church in London, where many famous people are buried in the walls and under the floor. Famous English poets and writers are buried there, as well as George Frederick Handel, the great composer. That night, we had fun riding the Tube, which is the London subway, to a place called Covent Garden. Handel’s "Messiah" was first performed in that area, but I couldn’t see where exactly. It is a neat place with lots of street musicians and little shops all crammed into really narrow streets.

The next day was the busiest possible! We went to the Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s theatre, at 10:00 in the morning. It was really neat to see the theatre exactly as it was in the 1500-1600s. Then we had a concert at St. Martin in the Fields church in the heart of London. Handel and Mozart both performed there and it was very impressive to also perform in the same place! After dinner, half of our group took the Tube to see Les Miserables. The other half saw King Lear at the Globe. I thought the music of Les Miserables was very contemporary, with a lot of drum-set work and modern-sounding chord progressions. I enjoyed seeing and hearing it all live, too.

The next day, Wednesday, we left London on our two tour busses and began our journey to Stratford-On-Avon, the birthplace (and burial place) of William Shakespeare. On the way, we stopped at Warwick Castle for about two hours. It is a real, English castle, first built in the Medieval time, with really high walls, a moat and even a dungeon! Being there made it easy to imagine what life and war were like 300 or 400 years ago. Then we boarded the busses and went on to Stratford. The weather was a lot cooler there. It was exactly the weather we had expected in England – cool and breezy, with some rain at night. It was very cozy! On Thursday we strolled around the little town and visited the house where Shakespeare was born. The guide there explained that they used to have canopy beds because the roofs were made of thatch – kind of like long hay – and insects and rats and mice would fall through it sometimes. The canopy kept them from falling on the sleepers below! He also explained where the term "sleep tight" came from. The beds back then had ropes under the mattresses, with four cranks, two on each side of the bed. The sleeper could tighten the ropes to make the mattress firmer. We later performed at the church where Shakespeare and his wife are buried. It was a cool church, big and old and made of stone. I can see how people would see those churches as heavenly and Godly. Modern churches seem more like just buildings to me.

On Thursday, we also visited a city called Coventry that was badly bombed by the Nazis in WW II. There is a large, bombed-out church with no roof that is now a monument to world understanding. We sang some of our more spiritual songs there in the middle of it. It was kind of spooky, but neat. Coventry is also where the famous Lady Godiva lived. After that we returned to Stratford.

On Friday, August 3, we left Stratford and rode the bus for 4-1/2 hours to a city called York. It was very interesting. It was a Roman settlement in 71 A.D. Then a Viking town called Jorvik, then a Norman town sometime after 1066 A.D. It has about 250,000 people now and a large cathedral called the York Minster. The Minster was built from 1285 to about 1425! We got the chance to sing in the Minster. It sounded very good and the choir director talked to us a little afterwards. They also have a boys’ choir that lives there and sings for all of the services throughout the year.

Saturday we went to a large exhibit of the Viking settlement. It is set up like a Disneyland kind of "ride", with animated Vikings and their furniture and houses and stuff, and people explaining how they lived and settled the area. At lunchtime, we got caught in a rainstorm, but somehow, dried off pretty quickly, so it was a neat experience. Later, we took the smoothest train ride I have ever had from York to Edinburgh (pronounced Edinborough), Scotland. It got much colder there, and rained off and on. On Sunday, August 5, we performed at the Canongate Kirk; a pretty, little church on a street called the Royal Mile and then strolled around through the Fringe Festival. It had a lot of street musicians and performers and also featured nighttime plays and concerts and things. Monday, our last actual tour day (Tuesday was all travel), we performed three times! Once was at a big cathedral, St. Giles, in the center of town, then again in the courtyard right outside of St. Giles and then our last performance – my last forever – was back at Canongate Kirk. My voice had been changing for a few months, and it had gotten more difficult to hit every note, but in our last performance, I sang every one! That night we had a great party and were up very early Tuesday morning for the flight home. I am glad we went, especially since now, flying doesn’t seem as safe as it did during our tour. I feel very lucky to have been to England and Scotland and can’t wait to return on my own someday. If you get the chance, you should go. England is comfortable because they speak the same language as we do, sort of, the money is easy to use, and it has a lot of really interesting things to see and do. My parents, who were chaperones on the trip, really loved it too and also can’t wait to go again.

Since my voice has changed for good, I am no longer with the LACC Concert Choir. I would recommend it, though, to anyone who is a good singer and anywhere near Los Angeles. Out of the four different choirs I was in for more than seven years, it is the best one by far. I am proud I was a member and will always remember my time there as a positive musical and social experience.

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