SE principal viola, Catherine Marwood, ends the US tour blog from our final destination, Ann Arbour, and looks back to concerts in Urbana-Champaign and Chicago.
Today we leave the lovely warmth of the south and head north to Urbana-Champaign Illinois. Texan hats and boots made their appearance in the rehearsal yesterday and on the bus this morning. We’ll be setting new style trends in Sauchiehall Street…
We arrive into Chicago after a long descent through thick clouds and emerge to a 20 degree drop in temperature. The bus is quiet on the 2.5 hour journey to the hotel due to some enthusiastic sampling of the Texan night life after the concert. There were rumours of a 4.30am return but I couldn’t possibly comment.
Life returns to the group with a good meal and Team Girls hit the bowling alley. Much fun had by all.
The day dawned wet with intermittent thunder, constant rain and the general consensus that a quiet morning in was required. There were distant sounds of practise from hotel rooms and I heard rumours of a gruelling session in the gym led by our fitness guru James but I have to confess I only took part in the former. Alison had not been so lucky with her travel the previous day. Chicago airport was closed after we arrived due to more storms and, as she was behind us, she was diverted to Dallas and the Milwaukee where she ended up without the case and various bits of plumbing that make up the natural trumpet featured in the programme for tonight. Order was restored by the time of the rehearsal and we all enjoyed our experience of playing in the huge but resonant hall at the University of Illinois in Urbana. A generous champagne reception followed and I spoke to two gentlemen who professed to playing the trumpet. Naturally they were glowing in their praise of Alison and also of the concert in general.
Breakfast and a bagel and all on the coach ready for a Chicago experience before the rehearsal. Unfortunately Chicago has been hit by storms and there is severe flooding causing road closures and chaos. We sit in a stationary traffic jam for ages and a 3 hour journey turns into a 6 hour one. The only excitement is a visit to McDonald’s and an overdose of salt and fat. We are all expert at sleeping whilst travelling now but few achieve it with such grace as Cheryl.
Plenty of time on the journey to contemplate American culture, the incredible diversity and vastness of the country and the oddities of the common language that divides us (as someone once said). Passed a poster on the motorway inviting me to visit gunssavelives.com and there are lots of signs prohibiting weapons in bars. Strange to our eyes. We have met many lovely people and there is a warmth and openness that is very endearing. The audiences have been generous and enthusiastic giving us standing ovations at all the concerts and we will take many happy memories with us. Whale watching, a visit to NASA, and roof top cocktails in NYC rate highly for me.
We finally make it to the hotel at 3.30pm in time to check in and extricate concert clothes. Then it’s on to the hall for another well attended concert. We’re all feeling pretty weary by now but a big effort is made and it all goes well. We then take the lift upstairs for a ceilidh led by Alistair and some members of the group abandon their instruments and encourage the more reluctant guests to dance. There is a lot of whooping and many smiling faces when we leave. Some folk visit a spectacular bar on the 96th floor of a skyscraper. ‘ Wetherspoon in the skies’ as Thorben puts it but I made straight for the 12th floor and bed.
Breakfast in Chicago was marked by a certain amount of dissatisfaction with slow service but more especially with the tea. The concept of tea bag + boiling water = tea is not always evident in this country and we were all tired of barely lukewarm coloured liquid. ‘It’s the American way’ our waiter assures us. We leave Chicago for another long coach journey and we arrived in Ann Arbour for a quick sound check in the beautiful hall …
We had a fantastic audience of 2500! It seemed to me to be the best concert of the tour and I’ll remember it for a long time. The acoustic was beautiful and everything seemed to flow with ease. Alison played wonderfully well. The colours she is able to get out of the trumpet and her control and sensitivity are quite breathtaking. The audience stood and cheered with great enthusiasm. We all felt quite emotional and there were a few tears backstage.
It has been a really momentous experience and I don’t think you could find a better group of people to spend 3 weeks with. There has been much laughter, great concerts, moments of difficulty of course but those always serve to bind people together and strengthen ties and I’m sure we will always look back with great affection and the knowledge that the Ensemble will grow and develop further from here. I have been proud to have been part of it all and there is real sadness that it coming to an end although it is rather wonderful that we meet again in Glasgow in a few days time. The management on the tour have been absolutely fantastic and I can only imagine all the hours and hours of time that have gone into making it happen. We owe them a huge thank you and also to all our supporters, funders and sponsors who have generously given to the cause. I think we did you proud.
The evening ended with a much deserved group celebration and an appreciation of what each member had added to the tour led by the comedy double act of Tristan and Andy. There was a lot of laughter and some tears and I imagine it will be a quiet bus as we leave for Chicago airport and the long journey home. See you in Glasgow on Wednesday.