Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Australia: Week One

The Keystone State Boychoir (KSB) and their chaperones left for Australia on July 1st... and after a very long journey, we all arrived safely in Melbourne. (By the way, "very long" = a 3 hour bus ride from Philly to NY, a 4 hour delay in the airport, a 5 hour flight from NY to LA, and a 14 hour flight from LA to Melbourne.) Needless to say, jet lag was a bit of a problem. And since we crossed the International Date Line, we lost July 2nd altogether. My body didn't know what hit it.

If you've never traveled with 80 boys between the ages of 10 and 18 (and I suspect you haven't), you don't know what you're missing. The boys wear matching outfits (makes them look professional, and also helps to keep them together in a crowd) and can be fairly energetic (they are young boys, after all). But the choir directors have this down to a science. The boys each have a "tour buddy" that they go everywhere with, and each chaperone ("chap") is responsible for 4 boys (or two pairs of tour buddies.) Each group is assigned a color for their luggage tags so that everything is easy to locate and organize. Despite all our efforts to keep the boys organized, I could swear I saw people cringing when all 97 of us (80 boys plus 15 chaps plus 2 choir directors) trooped into an airport or a train station. Not that I blame them. I'd be worried, too. Imagine the noise and destruction that 80 young boys can create in a public place.

But the choir directors took care of that problem, too. Each boy is given a tour journal at the beginning of the trip, which is a booklet containing our itinerary, games and puzzles, information about each city we're visiting, and blank pages for personal journaling. During their "down time" at bus stops and train stations, the boys are expected to read a book (books are a required item on their packing list) or work in their journal. And they do. It's impressive to see 80 boys sitting in an airport quietly reading and writing. (By the way, chaperones also get a copy of the tour journal. I wrote in mine every day, in addition to writing in my personal journal. It's a great keepsake of our trip!)

When they're not traveling by bus, plane, train or foot, they're either rehearsing or performing. These young men are immensely talented and professional. Each performance is fresh, no matter how many times they've done it. (I'm still not tired of hearing them sing, and I spent three weeks living and breathing their concert repetoire!) I also love to watch the crowd's reaction to their singing. They certainly know how to charm an audience. Another thing that amazes me is that they will stop anywhere and sing. Airports, train stations, the middle of a busy outdoor market... anywhere. The unofficial theme song of this tour was "Waltzing Matilda," which I now know by heart, having heard them sing it at least once (sometimes twice) a day.

Not only do they sing as a group, but they're also known to burst into spontaneous song just for the sheer hell of it. One afternoon we were having lunch between rehearsals, and a boy started playing the piano. Withing seconds, he was surrounded by a crowd of boys singing an Alicia Keys song. I asked one boy, "Do they do this all the time?" He smiled at me. "Welcome to KSB," he replied.

"Tour is not a vacation," one of the choir directors had warned the chaperones before the trip. That is certainly true... but it's not all work, either. We managed to do a fair amount of sight-seeing in the first week. And we had the opportunity to meet plenty of the "natives." The boys stay with "billet" families in most cities, while the chaperones (and sometimes the older boys) stay in hostels. In Perth, however, the chaps were hosted by some music teachers from ASME, so I got to stay with a woman named Helen for a few nights. It was really neat to stay in someone's home instead of a hostel. That's an experience you don't get on a vacation.

So here's Week One in a Nutshell:

Melbourne (July 3-6)

Perth (July 6-9)

Week Two coming soon...

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