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A Diary of Suffolk Youth Orchestra's Tour to Poland, July 2017

by members Sasha Campbell, Anton Avis, Isaac Barrow & Sophie Reaville

Wednesday 26th July to 27th July – Travel to Krakow
(Sophie): On the 26th July we started our 28 hour trek to Krakow. Stopping off at service stations throughout the night, we were all very tired when we arrived. 
(Anton): We travelled through Germany by night and entered Poland at about 6am local time. We arrived at 1pm and caught sight of our eminent hotel, Hotel Chopin. We then headed into the Old Town of Krakow.
(Sasha): While meandering through the Rynek Market (which did of course work wonders for my FitBit step-count) I observed and enjoyed the proud Polish culture. The whole square pulsed with energy, like trilling violins. The townsfolk bumbled enthusiastically in all directions, only ever halting in their tracks to greet one another loudly or to allow the stunning horse-drawn carts to travel onwards. The volume and zealousness of the local shopkeepers was so startling that their intensity verged on scary!
(Sophie): We were very taken aback when a Polish street seller adorned our friend Sasha with traditional Polish clothing only to find that she had no Zlotys to pay him with, but he still accepted plenty of Euros. We then settled into our hotel rooms.
(Anton): For dinner we ate in the hotel. The starter was a salad, the main was chicken and potatoes and the dessert was a cherry torte. The meal was divine. Afterwards, Mr Shaw delivered a series of announcements and we went to bed.

Friday 28th July – Transfer by coach to Dobczyce, Concert in the Municipal Cultural and Sport Centre
(Isaac): Today was the day of our first concert. We set off for Dobczyce, seeing the majestic views of the rolling Polish landscape – there are a few similarities to our own Suffolk countryside with plenty of livestock, smallholdings and quaint little cottages – but far fewer hills!
(Anton): We set up and then listened to a welcome talk. We rehearsed for the first time in a few days and it went well. 
(Isaac): It transpired that we would be the first symphony orchestra to perform in the venue. In the early evening, before the concert, we all went out to Folwark Zalesie, a small restaurant ensconced in the hills, overlooking the town.
(Anton): During the meal, a fellow bassist got the words for “thank you” and “in Polish” mixed up so he shouted, “in Polish!” at a waitress while winking and smiling. Her eye roll was tremendous. Soon after, we changed into our concert clothes and delivered our first concert.
(Isaac): The concert itself went smoother than expected – the celebratory atmosphere was heightened as the mayor of the town presented Mr Shaw with a framed plaque, commemorating the performance.

Saturday 29th July – Transfer by coach to Penderecki European Centre for Music
(Sophie): The next day we took a two-hour drive to the Penderecki European Centre for music. The building was of a very interesting architecture but the purpose-built wooden interior of the concert hall provided a wonderful acoustic similar to that of Snape Maltings.
(Isaac): It was one of the more memorable concerts I have been a part of. We had a productive rehearsal, followed by a much appreciated dinner in the PECM dining hall. The concert itself showcased SYO at our best, which we chalked up to the relaxed atmosphere.

Sunday 30th July – Transfer by coach to Auschwitz, return by coach to St Catherine’s Church, Krakow

(Sasha): Auschwitz. It’s hard for me to describe how I felt. I was overwhelmed with horror. Barbed wire encased the camp. I stood in silence and trepidation before the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign, before forcing myself through the gate, though not yet really understanding the scale of the monstrosity that would change my perception of mankind’s capabilities and redefine the word ‘suffering’.
Once inside the camp we saw several different buildings, which held harrowing remnants to the evil that had taken place. Gaping chambers filled with personal belongings, such as ceramics, clothes and shoes, served to highlight the magnitude of the number of people held captive and the enormity of the suffering they experienced. We passed through a huge room filled entirely with human hair. Dark hair. Fair hair. Straight hair. Curly hair. Matted clumps of hair. Individual plaits of hair. All tangled together to form a single, warped, and contorted body. An image almost identical to the agonizing photos we saw of the camp’s prisoners: of starving women, emaciated and skeletal; of slaving men, quivering spasmodically beneath burdensome loads; and of tortured children, whose hollow faces were branded with identical marks of anguish and torment. Standing on the very same ground where so much pain and suffering occurred was utterly traumatizing. Having witnessed only a tiny slice of the evidence of the evils carried out at Auschwitz it’s almost impossible to understand how so many people remained positive, hopeful and determined to make the most of the lives they had left in the face of such monstrosity. I couldn’t help but compare the way that the tormented camp musicians were forced to play for the entertainment of the guards and for their own survival in such distressing, desperate and dire circumstances, to the unrestrained joy I felt, when playing with the SYO, and receiving such glorious receptions. 
(Isaac): Today would prove a moving day for many in the group, myself included. After a two-hour coach journey we arrived at the gates of Auschwitz and were taken around the site. Much of it had been repurposed into housing the exhibits and displays, but the site itself still stands, including the first gas chamber, later used as a bomb shelter at the end of the war. For me, I didn't 'want' to take the visit but felt compelled to learn more about the atrocities committed, as some of my own ancestors had their lives taken at the camp.
(Sophie): A deeply sad but interesting visit. The visit gave us a feeling that is extremely difficult todescribe, but one of absolute horror and realisation to the magnitude of the holocaust, which never really hits home until you visit one of the camps.
(Anton): I could write loads and loads about Auschwitz, but I shall say only this: We Must Never Forget.
(Isaac): The atmosphere was very much subdued as we arrived at our next concert venue,St. Catherine's Church, Krakow where we were told that we were one of the largest ensembles to perform there.
(Sophie): The church was stunningly beautiful and provided a wonderful resonant acoustic which flattered our Panufnik piece of music called "Procession for Peace" giving it all the harmonic resonance and grandeur to make it as impressive as possible.
(Isaac): The concert went even better than the previous evening, and by the end, everyone - performers and audience alike -were on their feet.
(Anton): When finished, we had dinner at a restaurant. It was onion soup, pork and potatoes finished with Neapolitan ice cream. What a day.

Monday 31st July - Transfer by coach to Zakopane, concert in Holy Cross Church
(Sophie): We spent the day in Zakopane, a sweet little town featuring a huge and very well known ski resort with some of the highest ski slopes in Europe. It is situated in the mountains near the Slovak border and is known as "the winter capital of Poland". The buildings in Zakopane were made of interlocking wooden beams using no nails. These beautiful "Hansel and Gretel-like chalets provided a lovely fairytale feel to the place and it is understandable that there are so many tourists there. Zakopane was also home to a great pizza place where most of the orchestra had their lunch!
(Isaac): We arrived at the Holy Cross Church, our last concert venue, where we rehearsed and swiftly left in time for their evening Mass and in time for our evening meal. We all ate very carefully, particularly when confronted with a tomato and basil soup, so as to save our white shirts from blemishes. Pushed for time, we made it back to the venue with just thirty minutes to get on stage!
(Anton): The performance was astounding. Each piece was enthusiastically applauded by the audience, and at the end there was a standing ovation.

Extract taken from the diary as published in ‘Get Classical’, editor Fiona Wilson. Photo taken by Monika Pazera.

Published: 1 September 2017