Two tour managers from ACFEA, Becky Shaftoe and Dan Porterfield, recently attended the School Travel Forum AGM in Birmingham. John de Vial, ABTA Director of Financial Protection and Financial Services, gave an excellent presentation on Brexit and the UK travel industry. ABTA is working hard with the UK government, and across Europe, to secure the best possible outcome for the travelling public as the UK departs the European Union. ABTA is lobbying to safeguard our transport links, including our air routes, and protect valuable consumer rights. Post-Brexit, it is important that travellers continue to enjoy visa-free travel and access reciprocal healthcare arrangements currently offered by the European Health Insurance Card.
Whilst there is still much uncertainty in the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the UK government is advising passengers to have 6 months passport validity for travel to Schengen areas beyond 29 March 2019. As always, it is essential that passengers continue to take out adequate travel insurance in addition to carrying an EHIC.
ABTA has produced several reports on Brexit and the UK travel industry which may be accessed here:
Site inspections are always full of excitement and the trip with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO) was no different. As a first time visitor I was constantly stunned by the beauty of the landscape, the variety of food and how warm and hospitable the locals were.
We landed after midnight at a regional airport (to applause from the plane…) and sped through the streets of Sibiu to the hotel. Early next morning we visited our first concert venue, walking through the Christmas markets of this former European Capital of Culture and arrived to the sound of the Sibiu Philharmonic rehearsing Spartacus by Khachaturian. There followed our first long drive of the trip seeing many a horse and cart along the way.
The next stop on our adventure was the tiny Saxon village of Malancrav where we visited one of many fortified churches in Transylvania with original pre-Reformation frescoes and the wonderful Apafi Mansion. Then it was on to Sighișoara, the birthplace of Dracula, where we climbed to the church atop the hill and had a lovely dinner just a short walk from Dracula’s house!
The next day we decided to take a “shortcut” from Sighișoara to Brașov and ended up on uneven country lanes with the snow falling around us – the car got quite grubby but we had beautiful views of the countryside and spotted some wildlife. We also managed a brief stop at the castle stronghold of Făgăraș where we were allowed to take the throne for a few minutes. It was very cold in the gothic Black Church in Brașov (so named because the roof and exterior walls and roof were blackened from a great fire in 1689) so we retreated to a restaurant for dinner where we were instructed to try the local tipple called palinka – a traditional fruit brandy – which was very strong but delicious!
On our final day we made the long journey to Bucharest this time stopping in Sinia for a view of the magnificent Peleș Castle as well as coffee and a cake. In Bucharest we took a tour of the Athenaeum, a landmark of the Romanian capital city (see first and last image) and afterwards I tried another traditional Romanian dish (essentially cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat) which was very nice indeed.
So ended the site inspection to Romania. LSSO's tour in July of this year was a great success, their performances were received by appreciative audiences and the group came back with lifelong memories of the culture and hospitality of this country.
When you accept a job as an ACFEA courier, you know that you are taking on a huge responsibility. Tour Managers work on their tours for months. They know every little detail about the group and about the destination and, when the tour is set for departure, they pass the responsibility onto the courier to ensure all runs smoothly. Eton College was the first UK school group I worked with as a courier, but I was not alone on the tour – I was accompanied by Pilar, an experienced courier who had couriered for many ACFEA tours.
Our courier role involves taking care of all of the details of the tour – all of which are tailor-made. Duties include getting in touch with hotels and restaurants beforehand to make sure all the arrangements are reconfirmed, checking that the coaches are going to be waiting for us at the right time and contacting the venues to confirm the group’s arrival and concert set-up arrangements.
Couriers also have to be quick to understand how groups are organised and adapt to their needs. With Eton College, we went through the itinerary with Tim, the group leader, at the end of every day and he would then pass on specific instructions to the students. All the boys were very collaborative and always willing to help when it came to loading or unloading the coaches and the instrument van. Due to the high temperatures of Spain during the summer, our interaction with Nik, the van driver, was extremely important - instruments are valuable and delicate so it was important for us to ensure they were not exposed to the sun. Nik was incredibly helpful at all times and thanks to his previous experience transporting instruments for professional orchestras we were confident he knew what to do.
The highlight of the tour is, of course, the concerts which were truly outstanding! From my personal point of view, it was a privilege to act as an interpreter for the conductor and express the group’s gratitude to the audience in my native language. After every concert members of the audience interacted with the performers, thanking them for being there. For some it was the first time they had ever seen an orchestra performing live. But it wasn’t only an emotional experience for the locals attending - one of the matrons who came on the tour couldn’t stop crying when the soloist performed Sibelius Violin Concerto. She explained to me that she had watched him grow up and now she had to say goodbye to him, after six years. Witnessing how involved the staff are with the wellbeing and development of the children had a huge impact on me.
After ten days of hard work and little sleep, I can only say what was an incredibly rewarding experience it was - I made lots of new friends and I cannot wait for my next tour to begin!
Christmas came early when I was given the green light to accompany Schola Cantorum on part of their tour to South Africa in October 2017. 24 hours after leaving the UK and a long journey via Dubai we arrived in Johannesburg and met our courier, Pieter. The group were tired but in good spirits and after a spot of lunch we were revived enough for a guided tour of Soweto. A visit to the Walter Sisulu Square featured the choir in an impromptu performance of Ukuthula in the brick tower (a monument to the Freedom Charter where the full principles of the charter are engraved) with its beautiful acoustic.
Next followed a visit to The Hector Pieterson Memorial and shortly after Regina Mundi, the largest Catholic Church in South Africa where the group would be taking part in Catholic Mass the next day. One of the most prominent artefacts in the church is the painting entitled "The Madonna and Child of Soweto", mostly referred to as "The Black Madonna", depicting a black Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus (see photo). The walls still bear the signs of the shootings of the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976, when students were shot by the police in Orlando West.
After this thought provoking tour we returned for a rest in the hotel before dinner. A fantastic lightning storm ensued on the way to dinner at the restaurant Carnivore. As the name suggests, there was a veritable feast of different meats on offer including alligator, zebra and warthog, as well as pork and chicken. The group seemed to really enjoy it!
The next morning the Schola Cantorum took part in the service at Regina Mundi where they sang alongside the church choir and were made to feel very welcome. Much of the service was in English but they did switch between many of the other regional languages. The group were given the opportunity to perform on the altar steps at the end of the service. It was moving to see the congregation taking photos and enjoying the music. After the service, the group departed for Pilanesberg in anticipation of the Safari!
Receiving the wakeup call from Pieter at 4:45 am the next day was painful to say the least, but it wasn’t long before the excitement of what was ahead dawned on me. At the game reserve we separated into two groups and almost immediately spotted our first animal - a rhino! The rhino is one of the 'big five' (the name refers to the five mammals that were the most dangerous to hunt), shortly followed by an elephant and a giraffe. Our guide then received a call over the radio – lions had been spotted! We raced through the park and arrived in time to see two male lions wandering around – it was marvellous (and unusual) to see them so active. Before too long the morning game drive was over and we were on our way to Sun City for a visit to the Valley of the Waves where the boys made the most of the water slides (I only went on the slower ones!).
Back at the game reserve for the evening drive it became clear that our driver was looking for something and sure enough we found it – a leopard – the rarest of the big five! What a privilege! There were various groups vying for a good spot but the leopard managed to evade everyone and disappeared after about 15 minutes. It was ok though because as the sun was setting we came across three cheetahs (see photo) which was probably my favourite part of the whole day. The reserve was silent apart from their calls to each other.
Dinner was a BBQ in the middle of the park (guarded by a man with a gun!) and followed by a campfire where the group sang a few songs together. It was a really memorable day.
The next day we said goodbye to Pilanesberg and made the journey to George on the Garden Route. After a short rehearsal the choir performed in a joint concert with the South Cape Children’s Choir and they sang Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus together. It was a joy to watch these two diverse choirs sing together, even if I was occasionally distracted by the bat flying around in the rafters! The venue was wonderful and the audience gave both groups a standing ovation!
On Wednesday, we ventured over the Outeniqua Mountains (where the weather changed dramatically) towards the Cango Caves at Oudtshoorn stopping at an Ostrich Farm along the way. Here the group had the opportunity to feed and stroke some of the ostriches as well as stand on the eggs (which can take weight of up to 120kg)! At the Cango Caves we all visited the first few chambers with impressive formations of stalagmites and stalactites. The majority of the group continued on for the Adventure Tour. This involved a small trek deep into the bowels of the caves culminating with a looped tour where members of the group were required to climb and squeeze through small gaps. It was challenging but everyone had a blast! Back in the main chamber the group took advantage of the spectacular acoustic and performed for the other visitors. We returned to George for a delicious dinner at an ocean restaurant where we looked out at the stormy Indian Ocean. The perfect end to another adventure-filled day!
My final day with the grioup included the journey by coach from George to Cape Town. Before we left George, we stopped at the beach for a quick look at sea. A few people got caught out by the waves so there were some very wet feet for our journey!
I arrived in Cape Town with enough time for a brief glimpse of Table Mountain and the group's short rehearsal at the Hugo Lambrechts Auditorium (where they were to perform another joint concert that evening). I bade an emotional farewell and departed for the airport.
I thoroughly enjoyed being in South Africa, the cultural experience was diverse. The country has so much to offer and I probably only experienced a small percentage of that on my whistle-stop trip! I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful country, made all the better for the enthusiasm and knowledge of our representative Pieter, and it was a double bonus to be there with such a delightful and talented group.
The Choir of Jesus College Cambridge is currently on tour in South Africa! If you are interested in learning more about a concert tour to South Africa get in touch here!
As Tim Johnson, Director of Music at Eton College, said in his opening address, it was thoughtful of the Royal Family to organise Harry and Meghan’s wedding so that it coincided with the MMA Conference. The trade fair venue, Eton College’s magnificent School Hall, would have been splendid enough in its own right, but coupled with the carnival atmosphere in Windsor on May 19, the whole weekend created a very special atmosphere. Inspiring keynote speeches from Tony Little and Will Gompertz, choral evensong sung by delegates in Eton College Chapel, and the opportunity to view the magnificent Eton Choirbook in the College library, added to the unique attraction of the event. ACFEA was proud to sponsor the final dinner in the elegant surroundings of Dorney Lake Boathouse, and the evening was rounded off with a spectacular musical fireworks display.
Here at ACFEA, our mission statement is simple: “to create unique opportunities for memorable and life changing experiences”. We are passionate about school trips and the benefits they can offer to the whole school community. Whilst it’s possible to receive a general musical education in the classroom, there is no substitute for actual performing experiences in the wider world, in a variety of different venues and to new audiences. Our bespoke concert tours can bring about unforgettable positive experiences and wonderful opportunities to learn. They aid not only musical development, but can contribute to learning in a wide range of areas such as history, the wider arts, language and culture.
The Director of Allegro Con Brio wrote to us after their tour to Sweden in June 2017: “With the completion of our fourth international trip with ACFEA, the Allegro staff is once again blown away by the thoughtful care and creativity in planning and executing our tour. The two exchange choir opportunities were life changing, and the relationships built between young singers were meaningful and heartfelt.”
Pupils who don’t normally shine in the classroom have been known to excel on a residential concert tour. In terms of personal development, students are given opportunities to grow in resilience, self-confidence and self-esteem. Touring as a school community can add a new dimension in terms of how students relate with each other, bringing out a range of interpersonal skills including leadership, team work, trust and respect. This can all help to improve performance and relationships back at school.
Phillip Scott, conductor of Hampshire County Youth Wind Ensemble, described their tour to Germany which ACFEA operated in July 2017: “I'm struggling to think of any tour I've been involved in which has offered such a combination of unforgettable venues, warm welcomes from venue hosts and… mind-boggling numbers attending. None of my students will ever forget their six days in Germany - for at least one, it was his first trip abroad - and I think that the memories of the concerts at the Thomaskirche and Brandenburg Cathedral will become burnished over the years as very special events in their youth.”
In February 2018, ACFEA was proud to be awarded the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge for the 8th year running, as part of being an Assured Member of the School Travel Forum. The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom advocates that every young person should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development, whatever their age, ability or circumstances. The purpose of the Quality Badge is to help schools identify good quality and safe provision, and to reduce red tape for schools when planning educational visits, as it combines learning and safety into one easily recognisable accreditation. As a Quality Badge holder, schools have the assurance that ACFEA delivers:
ACFEA organises concert tours for schools and colleges across the world, and the feedback which we received from the Director of American choir, Washington & Jefferson College Singers, to Prague, Vienna and Salzburg last year gives confidence to other educational organisations considering planning a concert tour: “Thank you so much to everyone who made our tour such a special experience. This was my first time taking a choir abroad, and I honestly don't know why I waited so long. I plan to take my community choir to Italy in the summer of 2018 and I will absolutely, positively use ACFEA. Every detail was handled so professionally. From the planning phase to check in at the airport and all during the tour, our needs were the top priority of ACFEA. It was an extraordinary experience. Many, many thanks for all you did for us.”
With a busy touring summer behind us, November saw the team from ACFEA Tour consultants travel up to Derbyshire for our annual review meeting. As Tour Manager Elizabeth Assmann says, “it was the second time the team had met at the cosy East Lodge Hotel in Rowsley so we knew we were in for a treat! Spending this time together, away from our regular office base, is really valuable because it’s an opportunity to meet together to review the past touring season and also an opportunity to re-connect as a team and strengthen our working relationships.
During the morning and afternoon we met together in the hotel’s private meeting room to note the highs and lows of our groups’ experiences in each touring destination. Our discussions focussed on how to improve the experience of each group which chooses to tour with us and the way we work to deliver the high quality tours ACFEA is known for.
On our third and final day, with all our meetings successfully concluded, it was time to explore a bit of the beautiful county of Derbyshire! After breakfast we drove into the Peak District National Park and enjoyed a short walk with breath-taking views. We then drove on to visit the picturesque village of Eyam. The village is noted for an outbreak of bubonic plague which occurred there in 1665, in which the villagers chose to isolate themselves rather than let the infection spread. We visited the church and the local arts & craft centre before reluctantly leaving the beautiful county of Derbyshire behind and heading back to London.”
ACFEA Tour Consultants were delighted to facilitate the Queens' College Cambridge concert tour to France in July 2016. We are always pleased to share memories and photographs of past concerts on our website and so we are thrilled that we can share the Queens' College tour report. Their tour of Angers, Nantes, Tours and Paris is documented in this excerpt from their own official report as written by members of the Choir!
DAY 1 – Friday – Anna Thomas
At 12pm prompt we arrived at St Pancras, where we were met by our refreshingly charismatic tour guide, Clare. Her flawless organisation skills were evident immediately as we swiftly boarded the Eurostar. An hour’s change in Lille station gave us time to visit our first Irish pub of the tour. It took the best part of 7 hours to reach our destination in Angers at 10pm, but the extensive journey had us pumped up and ready for the evening ahead.
We finished the evening with a relaxing walk towards Angers Cathedral. This night-time view was a perfect introduction to the sequence of magnificent French churches that we would see during the tour. On returning to our hotel, we slept peacefully in our beds with the comforting knowledge that this was just the beginning of a magical, action-packed and intensely musically rewarding week away!
DAY 2 – Saturday – Michaela Higham
As day 1 was a notably long day of travelling, we were excited to be off so very bright and early on Saturday morning starting the tour properly with a day trip out to Nantes. After dumping folders and cassocks (never again to smell quite so fresh) in Nantes Cathedral, and being suitably awed by the size of this venue, we parted ways with everyone off to enjoy different parts of the city before the afternoon rehearsal. Several of us headed down to the Château des ducs de Bretagne, admiring the city from the walls. It was from these walls that we spotted a suitably large fountain, and so we did the only acceptable thing and left the castle walls to paddle in it instead (QCCC’s reoccurring attraction to being in medium sized bodies of water is a well-documented but ultimately unexplainable phenomenon.)
Having found some flyers for tonight’s concert in the local tourist office (and been incredibly excited that our faces had been flyered around the city in preparation for our arrival), we decided to take a bunch and hand them out as we walked, with surprising success in spite of our relatively poor collective command of French, native French speakers notwithstanding. Heading over the river, many of us made it to a particularly unusual tourist attraction – “Les Machines de l’île” – a museum devoted to large mechanical creations, including a huge moving elephant and spider, the former of which sprayed us with water from its trunk, perhaps signalling that we really ought to get back in time for our first rehearsal of tour, before the evening’s performance.
Nantes Cathedral proved to be a hard performance venue, but ultimately a rewarding and very beautiful one. Whilst we found it hard to fill the huge space on the first concert of the tour (especially as we had currently lost a quarter of our tenor section to a wedding), it was really encouraging to see the cathedral packed and to pull off a concert so well when we hadn’t sung together in a month! We arrived back late but finally managed to get some rest before Sunday and its two concerts.
DAY 3 – Sunday – Edward Reeve
This day was the only one of the tour fully spent in Angers, whose connection with the Anjou dynasty had prompted our journey to this part of France in the first place. This day was also my twenty-first birthday, and slightly unusually in the history of my birthdays, began with a Catholic mass in a large French church. We arrived at St Joseph in time for a quick briefing on the service structure, which was all the more delightful given how extravagantly the actual service varied from all written plans. The choir entered to the sounds of a very fine Cavaillé-Coll organ, and were led to seats just behind the altar, where they engaged in the congregational mass, a psalm and hymn in French, extracts from the Byrd Four Part Mass and anthems by Purcell and Duruflé - what the service lacked in terms of recognisable cues and organisation was more than made up for by the beautiful acoustic and enraptured congregation.
Mass finished with a walk back to the Cathedral, where it was my duty to lay a bouquet of flowers (as close as we could find to green and silver) on the memorial to Margaret of Anjou. The choir sang Pearsall’s “Lay a Garland” to mark this moving tribute to our foundress.
Our third venue of the day was the best acoustic of the tour: St Serge. On asking about the main West End Organ, Jack and I were informed “non – c’est abominable!” A recent heatwave had rendered its tuning unforgivable, so Jack and I played the small choir organ. The choir performed very strongly, and the audience was large and appreciative at the concert. Our French contact Séverine (From ACFEA Tour Consultants) had prepared a special treat for Jack and me, and that evening led us to the darkened cathedral to try the monstrous and magnificent organ there, guided by the Titulaire. The cathedral was soon reverberating with Vierne, Bach and Alain. My puzzlement at being walked home by a different route gave way to astonishment and delight when Severine and Jack ducked into a creperie and I was knocked back by the loudest rendition of Happy Birthday I have ever heard. We all had a lovely dinner, followed by drinks outside in one of Angers' main squares.
DAY 4 – Monday – Helen Barker
On Monday, we got to be tourists for a large part of the day: we started off the day with a visit to Fontevraud Abbey. It was so pretty, in a style that looked very typical of northern France, and we gave a spontaneous performance of “Beati Quorum Via” in the grounds, which (to us at least...) was very atmospheric! We recorded this and you can hear it here:
Afterwards, we went to the Château de Villandry and gave an open-air concert – we were also blessed with good weather, so the castle looked beautiful! (And our crowds didn't get soaked!) We then had time to explore the grounds, and take some (fabulous) photos. Following on from that, we travelled to Tours, where we performed in a beautiful church - as the composer Poulenc had come from that area, they were particularly appreciative of us including his work in our programme. This was one of the busier days of the programme, but it was certainly a rewarding one!
DAY 5 – Tuesday – Andrei Smid
After a lovely trip along the Loire valley the day before, everybody was hoping for a lazy morning. As one could tell from our sleep-deprived zombie faces at breakfast that was not the case. But hey, looking on the bright side, we were going to Paris!!!! Arrived at the station, Clare (ACFEA's Tour Manager) diligently distributed our train tickets, and soon we boarded the train bound for Paris. In between singing along to smash hits from Disney’s “Frozen” (who knew basses could sing like a girl), and composing fugues to the SNCF jingle (to be featured as voluntaries next year) time passed fairly quickly and lo and behold, nous arrivons à Paris.
Later that day, we had our first Paris concert in the beautiful church of Saint-Louis-en-l'Île. To me, this was my favourite concert of the tour. Our singing was fantastic, the sound extraordinary, and the audience warm and lovely. Jack and Edward brought the house down with spectacular renditions of Bach’s St Anne Prelude and Fugue, and Passacaglia in C minor and we enchanted the audience by singing 3 pieces while surrounding them in their seats. Though initially reluctant (it was quite difficult to sing while not hearing everybody else), we followed Ralph’s indications and what a marvel it was! Being so far away from each other made it feel as if I were singing a solo and so I did (I’m a tenor, I can’t help myself!) I remember the surprised look on the faces of the audience members blessed to be sitting right in front of me and hear my fabulous tenor lines. Either that or they were horrified, couldn’t say for sure (let’s be optimistic and assume the former).
DAY 6 – Wednesday – Hannah Bowstead
This for me was the busiest day of the tour. It was also one of the busiest days of my life, so to avoid a gargantuan account that Tolstoy would be proud of, I will condense the day into a list, because this is apparently the done thing nowadays.
Highlights of Day 6 include (but are by no means limited to):
Realising that it was 2:30am and I’d been up for 18 hours – and not quite believing that the Notre Dame concert had been on that same day
The memories of the day will surely remain with me for a very long time.
As will the pain in my feet.
DAY 7 – Thursday – Will Ackernley
As the final day dawned, a motley crew dripped into breakfast like a series of slow tears. Yet for others a parting Hotel Ibis breakfast had little hope. In all it would seem the choir pace of life had taken to Clare's words of Parisian wisdom: “life's too short, we'll get the next train.” Soon we would fraction off into those valuable friendship groups we had earlier been instructed to create.
The morning hours would see QCCC representatives scattered across the capital indulging in past times encompassing musée visitations and/or sleep. As our hours were numbered, the troops began to collect their luggage and head for Gare de Nord, with the realisation setting in that no input from our supreme leader had yet occurred, though we strode on triumphantly to the ticket gate. One final outing for Clare – sweet relief or saddening reality? As we watched the lights of Paris fade into the distance, a soft shadow cast over us and our call of “Lord, let me know mine end” was seemingly coming to fruition. The Quexit of a week before touched back into a wet London – and whilst the question of whether the grass is greener on the other side remained unanswered, we were all happy to be safe in the knowledge of the happiness implanted by sunflowers to certain key members of society.
And so it goes, the final goodbye for some. Heavy losses have now been sustained as the realisation dawns that some of our members may never be in our company again. The biggest loss to each of us will be of individual choice, but certainly QCCC seems to be losing much of its substance, with the loss of three C's: choral scholars, choral exhibitioners and Clares.
As the tour came to its end and we went our separate ways, the overriding feeling to the tour was that we wouldn’t have spent the week any other way!