by Jane Larson
Manager, Performance Tours – Retired
While 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!