It has been a few weeks since our return from Catalunya and here I find myself looking out at the rain; warmly remembering our sunny time with our new friends in Sant Cugat.
The trip began with a surprisingly cheery early start of 4.30am, where we loaded up the bus and took the usual AFO departure picture – regardless of the sleep in our eyes. After a long morning we touched down in a very hot Barcelona, all excited to see what would meet us in Sant Cugat. Minutes into arriving and being welcomed by the Conservatori Sant Cugat friendships were forming. The school had organised our lunch where the players and adults sat and got to know their host families and what school life was like for the Catalonian players. Straight after lunch, all the players ran off to play all sorts of games with each other and it was amazing to see a strong connection between the two orchestras forming while they all laughed with each other. The music school and AFO then came together for a short but great rehearsal, conducted in both languages. Not only were the pupils involved but their teachers enthusiastically played too. As we had such a great sound the music school decided we could use the rest of the time for a lovely walk in the evening sun. We walked to a picturesque and buzzing square where we stopped for ice – cream, to then have a tour around an old beautiful cathedral that faced all the little cafes and shops. After such a big, hot day we all went our separate ways and had our first night getting to know our host families and their culture.
Our second day was spent again within the music school gearing up for our first joint concert that night. The school was huge and it was clear they had amazing facilities for teaching and playing all sorts of music. The rehearsals went great. The two groups ability to use music as a common language was magical and it was fun to witness the two groups with different styles and disciplines coming together. The two groups were surprised with a Modern Quartet named Aupa Quartet who stormed the rehearsal. They were a great lively group to work and play games with. Not only did we all have fun but we worked on an improvisation piece which was to be performed at the concert also. The concert was held in a rather large auditorium and plenty of seats were filled. The quality of music from both sides was outstanding. We even had traditional dancing from both our cultures for everybody to enjoy. The reception from the public was fantastic and we all left the venue with smiles on our faces ready for another dinner with our hosts.
Our Thursday was perhaps one of our busier days. It was also our adventure day in the big and bright city of Barcelona. We started at the Nou Camp Stadium that wowed us with its size and even our non-football enthusiasts took tour selfies at the top looking down onto the grass. Then we were treated to a fascinating bus tour of the rest of the city right from the Olympic town at the top of the mountain all the way to the busy glistening harbor. Some adults may have had a quick nap – I shall not name names… We were then dropped off at the top of Las Ramblas, split into our groups and had a great time wandering the strip with time for dinner. One of the main shopping highlights, was the worshipped store, Sephora – the boys even enjoyed it as there was a slide down into the shop rather than your average staircase! We all met back up in true AFO ‘always be two minutes early’ style and visited the magic fountain, which was incredible. The combination of the music, water, lights, and atmosphere made for a great end to a great day.
Friday was a gloriously hot day and our hosts had organised a wonderful visit to Monserrat, a place that holds great cultural significance to them. We enjoyed our tour and time with our hosts there and even some more dancing! Later that day there was another joint rehearsal for our second concert that was in Castellar del Valles, which would be an open-air concert. Again the two orchestras had a beautiful and strong sound and we were so greatly received. This day ended in true Catalonian spirit, with a party!
Saturday was our last day and more than likely can be described as a “big day”. We let off some steam with the other players at their local pool. It was a lot of fun and a lot of sun, which resulted in the orchestra totally running the pool’s cafe’s supply of slushies dry! Once we all got dried off it was time to head back to the city. This time to play in perhaps the most sought-after venue in Barcelona, The Sagrada Familia. The orchestra had a breathtaking tour of the Sagrada, taking in the amazing building with our jaws on the floor. It was then time to get a feel of where we would be performing, the Crypt. We were all overwhelmed with excitement about playing in this venue and it was touching to think that after admiring this great feat of architecture that we were playing meters from the creators’ tomb. After a quick dinner, it was show time and emotions were running high. There was a great turn out to the concert which included our orchestras family and friends, our host families, the general public, tourists and of course Wallace! The Priest of the Crypt was so touched by our music and energy that he asked for all our autographs so he could frame it in the office. He also supplied the orchestra with little books on Gaudi and his work as a token of his thanks. On reflection, this concert was the heart of the trip. To be the first orchestra to play in one of the most famous religious buildings in the world and to hold ourselves so professionally- and play outstandingly – is a dream come true that I am sure every single player and adult will cherish our entire lives.
Once on the bus, we realised it was time to spend our last night with our host families before the journey home the next day and it was lovely to hear the players wishing they could stay longer. That night we all went to sleep with smiles on our faces reflecting on a brilliant tour.
Sunday had us up bright and early, all packed and ready for the airport. Everybody had turned up to wave us goodbye so naturally, we said goodbye by making everybody join hands for a big sing-song of Auld Lang Syne. Then it was off to the bus and back home where we were met at Heathfield Retail Park at a much more reasonable time of 4 pm.