Performing in Great Britain

by Jane Larson
Manager, Performance Tours
WJane_Larsonhile France and Italy have been the top destinations for 2012 and 2013, Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) will be number one for Witte’s 2014 performance tour schedule. This is consistent with statistics from “Visit Britain” who report a 14% increase in travel from North American visitors this year.
In the last few years, the Royal Wedding, the Olympics, and then the Royal Baby have kept Great Britain in the public eye.
But, according to “Visit Britain,” 67% of U.S. visitors to Great Britain do not venture beyond London. This is definitely not the case with Witte’s performance tours! Beyond London, our groups are traveling to and performing in great cathedrals throughout the isle, from sharing joint concerts with Welsh Choirs to exploring Presbyterian heritage in Scotland.
Whether you are planning a concert tour to Great Britain in 2014 or in the future, here are a few things to think about:

  • British cathedrals and their choral traditions are strongly linked. During medieval times, when many of the great cathedrals were built, the monks would chant the offices, comprised of eight services or hours (Matins, Laudes, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline). During the 12th century, many Lady Chapels were built, in many cases specifically for the boychoirs. The Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral is world-renowned for its acoustics and two of Witte’s touring choirs – First UMC Birmingham and Santa Barbara Madrigals – gave midday concerts there this past June.
  • Regular midday concert recitals at the cathedrals offer wonderful opportunities for visiting choirs. Our choirs have performed in many cathedrals including Canterbury, Chelmsford, Chester, Lincoln, Salisbury, York, and St Giles’ in Edinburgh. Most only offer concerts on certain days of the week and, while pianos or choir organs are sometimes available, choirs should plan on a sacred repertoire that can be performed a cappella.
  • Many of the great cathedrals have professional choirs as well as choir school. In addition to singing for the Sunday services, the weekday Choral Evensong is one of the most important roles for the cathedral choir. While most cathedrals do not accept visiting choirs except when their own cathedral choir is on holiday, opportunities do exist. Choirs who want to sing during an Evensong service need to know and be able to sing the appropriate music, including the proper psalms for the day. Or you could plan to attend a Choral Evensong service for a unique opportunity to hear a cathedral choir at work.
  • Beyond the great cathedrals, many American church choirs travel to England to explore their Methodist roots. The Methodist Churches in England are often much smaller than American Methodist churches, but many are very welcoming to visiting choirs and instrumental groups. Concerts are often done to benefit the church or a local charity, and a hosted meal or reception before or after the concert performance is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the local audiences.
  • Presbyterian Choirs often travel to Scotland for the same reasons that Methodists travel to England – St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and The Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling are two of the historic churches where groups can give performances. Even if you do not have Presbyterian roots, the spectacular Scottish scenery and smaller picturesque towns make Scotland the perfect destination for many groups.
  • What about Wales? This is the smallest of the three countries that make up Great Britain but unquestionably one of the world’s powerhouses of choral music. The country of Wales is even traditionally referred to as “The Land of Song.” There are excellent mixed choirs – both for youth and adults – but the Welsh Male Voice Choirs are truly special and unique. These choirs have their roots in the community choirs forged in the coal mines and iron works of the South Wales valleys and the quarries of the North. To hear a genuine Welsh Male Voice choir is a very special and moving experience. We have contacts with several such choirs in northern Wales who are very interested in having joint concerts with American choirs. The town of Llandudno is a great choice with several beautiful churches with strong traditions of choral concerts.

If you haven’t already brought your group to Great Britain, we hope you will consider visiting one or more of these very special countries on an upcoming performance tour!

Performing in France

When most Americans think of France, some images that probably come to mind are romantic views of the Eiffel Tower, fabulous cuisine and stereotypes about chic but slightly snobby people. Except for jazz musicians, France may not be a destination that immediately comes to mind for choirs, orchestras, bands and handbell ensembles. Well, quelle surprise!—for 2012 la belle France has overtaken Italy as the number one destination for our performing groups!
Jane Larson, Witte Travel & Tours Manager of our Performance Tour Division is also our staff Francophile. Jane is a French Government Tourist Office “France Certified Agent.” As a longtime student of French language and culture, she continues her French studies at the Alliance Française de Grand Rapids (where she also serves as a member of the Board of Directors). In her 18 years at Witte, Jane has developed an extensive network of contacts throughout France. She is the first to admit that our true VIP and the man responsible for the success of concerts in France is the incredible Mr. Gilles Daziano, fondly known as Mr. D.
Between September 2010 and November 2011, Jane made three trips to France—two were behind the scenes planning trips for our groups. From March 31 to April 7, 2011 she traveled with the Battle Creek Choirs while they were on tour.
Here are a few words from Jane with some tips on traveling to and performing in France:
One of the questions that I am frequently asked by clients, colleagues and friends is, “why do you love traveling to France so much?” I can honestly say that it all started with my first French class in 7th grade. The language seemed magical and I couldn’t wait to have the chance to use what I learned! Because I got “hooked” on traveling to Europe when I was still in high school, I am passionate about creating quality travel and performance opportunities and experiences for students.
From my first trips to France as a student, to the most recent trip in November, I have learned how much most French people LOVE to hear an American speaking French. I know that the French language (and yes, even the French people) can be intimidating to Americans. However, it is a grossly outdated and inaccurate stereotype to think that French people refuse to speak anything but French and make fun of people who don’t speak French perfectly.
On the other hand, I ALWAYS tell people who are planning a trip to France that if they can at least learn a few key words of French they will “open doors”—and often the hearts of the French people they meet. The absolute minimum every traveler to France should learn are these words: bonjour (good day), bonsoir (good evening), s’il vous plait (please), merci (thank you) and au revoir (good-bye).
This past spring, after working for over two years in planning their tour, I was fortunate to travel with the Battle Creek Choirs. On the first full day of the tour, for our independent lunch in the small town of Port en Bessin in Normandy, our large group of almost 80 broke into smaller groups. I was with about 10 from the boychoir. As we lined up in a small shop to individually order our freshly made baguette sandwiches, each boy asked me how to correctly pronounce the name of their sandwich and in turn, said, “Je voudrais (I would like . . .) ___ sandwich s’il vous plait— then politely said, merci and au revoir.” When I saw the smile and impressed look on the shop owner’s face, I could not have been more proud of these young people!
That evening, the Battle Creek Choirs gave their first concert in a Gothic style 12th-century church in a small town in Normandy. This concert was sponsored by a local choir, the mayor of the town and also the organization France États-Unis, (founded after WWII to promote friendship between the French and American people).
By the time the concert was about to begin, it didn’t seem as if they could squeeze another person into this church that held about 300 people. At the last minute, Mr. D. turned and said to me, “Of course you will also need to stand with the sponsors and say a few words in French.” Gulp… suddenly all my years of French hadn’t prepared me for this! My words, first in French and then in English, were short but heartfelt—“It is a great pleasure to be here this evening with the Battle Creek Choirs from my own state (Michigan) from the United States. Thank you for welcoming us here in Normandy, France.”
The beautiful singing of the Battle Creek Choirs enchanted the French audiences, who hosted us to a lovely reception after the concert. This was the first of five concerts and each performance was equally well received. One of the tour participants and singers in Ars Voce (the adult ensemble) was Brooks Grantier, former director of the Battle Creek Boychoir. In a post tour letter to me, Brooks wrote:

“I’m writing on my personal letterhead, as a tour participant, to let you know that I found my experience with Witte Travel & Tours one of the finest performance tours I have ever made (and I’ve made a lot of them)… Venues were superb, and nicely mixed from the prestige places, to the memorable parish churches. Arrangements by Mr. D. were perfect… I was exceptionally proud to be associated with Witte Travel & Tours on this trip. I have received so many compliments about the service and professional style of the operation.”

What other advice can I offer those of you who will be taking your group on a performance tour to France in 2012 or in the future? First—don’t just think Paris! The regions of France are tremendously diverse and the smaller towns offer more unique “people to people” experiences. Besides teaching your group the basic French greetings, teach them to be patient, tolerant and flexible. The French can be a bit more formal than Americans and they are very appreciative of polite behavior. Please be sure to bring some small gifts to give to the local concert organizers.
Post concert reviews also generally comment on the concert dress—so make sure your group looks professional and polished, even for informal daytime concerts. In preparing your repertoire, plan a primarily sacred program because the best venues are usually churches. When performing in cathedrals, a more “traditional” sacred repertoire is required. For the full concerts—the French audiences LOVE to hear American songs—especially spirituals and more upbeat songs.
If France isn’t in your plans for 2012, I hope you will consider this very special country for a future concert tour. To give you fair warning, be careful if you don’t want to get hooked! A visit to France is like the first spoonful of a delicious chocolate mousse—you’ll be back for more!
Jane Larson
Manager, Performance Tour Division

Performing in Italy

For the past few years—and especially for 2011, Italy is one of the top destinations for our groups performing and touring in Europe. Everyone who has ever traveled in Italy agrees that there is a sense of magic in the great cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice. The country is filled with beautiful churches that have fabulous acoustics—AND the Italian people LOVE music.
Witte Travel has found that a winning formula for most groups is to have some concert performances in historic churches—often participating in a regular Mass. When possible, we schedule the full concert performances in some of the smaller towns and cities where there is more opportunity to connect with local audiences. Here are a few words from one of our local concert organizers.

The deconsecrated church of San Bevignate is a wonderful place for concerts. The city owns it and has restored it. The concert was great—the Varsity Men’s Glee Club is really a very gifted ensemble and the audience called them back for an encore! Some of them were American students at the University. It was touching seeing them meeting in that occasion in Perugia!

— Daniela B., local concert organizer

Although churches are the most popular places for choral performances, we have other wonderful venues for instrumental groups or for choirs that want to perform secular as well as sacred music. For the 2011 season, we have also purchased a high quality electronic piano so that groups can take this on tour to use for full concert performances.
Here are a few tips for choirs performing in Italy:

  • If you are interested in performing in a Mass at St. Peters or another historic church, your repertoire should include some sacred works that can be performed a cappella—especially songs appropriate for opening, offertory, communion, and closing.
  • For full concert performances, we recommend including some American music and spirituals.
  • For historic center city venues, try to keep your concert dress simple and easy to carry and change into.

One of our experienced Sales Representatives or Group Tour Specialists will be delighted to talk to you about the destination that would be a perfect fit for your group’s goals. Request a Proposal or call us at 800 GO WITTE.