Spain Tour 2017: A Student's Perspective

On Friday 21st July, the Tiffin Boys’ Choir, having put the finishing touch to an impressive year with our 60th anniversary concert on our, which was recorded for Classic FM, headed off by coach to Burgos in Spain for its annual tour, the second under the baton of director James Day.

Spirits were high as the choir sorted out music and loaded the coach, although the pillows in our hands served as a reminder of the long journey ahead. Despite an enjoyable and uneventful journey, there were cheers all round upon arrival in the beautiful Spanish city of Burgos.

After an hour or so to go to rooms and settle in, it was straight into a rehearsal. After this enthusiastic if perhaps understandably tired-sounding couple of hours of singing, the choir made our way into Burgos, the crowning glory of which is its magnificent French Gothic-style cathedral, in which we were to sing for our first concert on the following day. We were given a couple of hours of free time to explore this peaceful city, buy souvenirs, practice our ‘por favor’ and ‘gracias’, and of course eat some food, with some being decidedly more adventurous than others!

Having been introduced to Burgos, on Sunday the choir headed out of the city to the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos, where we sat in confused silence during a mass, seeing as the orders of service included the plainsong chants, which we were not supposed to sing, but not any of the responses, which we were. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating insight into Catholic Spain for us all. After this, we headed to the cathedral to rehearse for the concert. In order to promote this concert, Señor Day decided to have the choir sing ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho’ off by heart in the square by the cathedral. As it turned out, the promotion was hardly necessary, as people came pouring in to listen to the choir perform pieces including Dove’s ‘Seek him that maketh the seven stars’ and Vaughan-Williams’ ‘Lord, thou hast been our refuge’.

On the Monday, with free time having been given to explore the city and the castle for the last time, the choir travelled to El Santuario de la Pregerina (Sanctuary of the Pilgrim) in  Sahagún for the second concert of a demanding week of singing. This concert was the first of two performances of Benjamin Britten’s Golden Vanity by the trebles, who on the whole looked thrilled to be dressed up and singing about a pirate ship, followed by the ATB singing Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah on the balcony. There were so many people that some were in fact on the balcony watching la vanidad dorada, who required some delicate bilingual diplomacy to be moved out of the way. The concert was a resounding success, although the timings of the concerts (8/8:30) made sure that everyone was ready for bed afterwards!

On Tuesday, which was incidentally the aptly named St James’ Day in Spain, the choir left Burgos for Salamanca, a far more lively and atmospheric city than Burgos but no less architecturally stunning. The trebles had a relaxed day, but the ATB faced the challenging task of singing in a service in San Sebastián Church, most of the music for which had been introduced to us only a couple of days before, and which consisted of some tough top Fs for the basses and B flats for the tenors! Nonetheless, we acquitted ourselves well, and to everyone’s delight Mr Day and Mr O’Malley teamed up to play Parry’s ‘Long Since in Egypt’s Plenteous Land’ (which, incidentally, was sung by just the Year 7s in all the tour concerts, a very impressive feat given that before coming to Tiffin all but one had never sung in a serious choir) on the organ together at the end of the service.

Wednesday 26th looked from a glance at the itinerary to be the day of our biggest concert, and so it proved. After a tour of the city and free time to explore the plaza, the river, the cathedrals old and new (the latter of which features an astronaut carved onto its façade), the university… and of course the McDonald’s, the choir made its way to La Catedral Vieja (Old Cathedral) to practise. As we are such a thoroughly modern choir, au fait with modern technology, we streamed our rehearsal on Facebook Live, enabling parents to watch us sing (and, in some cases, see rehearsal time wasted by their sons’ failure to put up their hands after making a mistake). The concert itself, for which there were posters all around the city, from shop doors to lampposts, saw an incredible crowd of more than 1,200 people – more than have been attracted by any other concert there in living memory. The audience was not disappointed, and all were delighted when we performed two encores at the end.

After what seemed like no time at all, we came to the day of our final concert before heading back to Inglaterra. It was an emotional day, especially for our Y13 leavers (Edwin, Jack, Stefan and Adam) and Mrs Bevan, our unflappable music administrator who is leaving us for pastures new after the tour. At the pre-dinner concert, gifts were presented to and panegyrics poured out on the staff: Mr Day, our dedicated (and tolerant) maestro; Mr O’Malley, our director of music and very talented accompanist; Mrs Cadogan, who kindly stepped in at the last minute when another staff member couldn't come; Mrs Beckley, who has improved hundreds of trebles’ singing in her time at Tiffin with her lessons and who now spends time with all the trebles helping them with their technique; and of course Mrs Bevan, without whose organisational skills and management of 40 boys (with all their concerns, quirks and moments of madness) this tour would not have been possible.

It was a concert to be proud of in the Palacio Figueroa in Salamanca, without the slightest hint of tiredness from our long week of rehearsals and concerts. After an enjoyable final night, it was time to head back home to Kingston, and we were back at Tiffin by midday on Saturday to put the music away neatly and go home for the summer. The trebles still have the BBC Proms on 6th August to look forward to this academic year, while the rest of the choir looks forward to starting afresh in September, albeit without our Y13s and Mrs Bevan, whom we shall all miss. We look forward to another fantastic year next year – as the Spanish would say, ¡Vamos!

Euan O'Connor


Mahler - Symphony no. 3, Royal Festival Hall