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Uppingham’s Chapel Choir toured South East Asia for two weeks in the summer of 2014, visiting Singapore, Malaysia (Penang) and Hong Kong. With performances in some of SE Asia's most prestigious venues, the tour was certainly a memorable experience for the pupils. Updates and photographs from the tour are posted below.
The tour party receive a ‘shout-out’ over the tannoy in the departure lounge at Heathrow airport. In response to George Hames’ tweet, as the choir prepared to board their flight to Singapore, the Airport responded...
Leaving London's dreary weather behind us, the tour party arrived in the humid air of Singapore after exhausting the selection of films on the inflight entertainment system. The day involved acclimatising and then getting our first taste for local cuisine, and then preparing ourselves for the evening's entertainment: Singapore's Night Safari. It started with a student being asked up on stage to help in a tribal fire ritual, and was followed by a playful set of educative performances by a range of animals from hyenas to otters. This was capped off with a train ride through the park to show a number of impressive endangered species such as the rhino and the lion (which was sleeping that night).
The day of the first concert arrived. The choir began the day by walking around Little India, Singapore's Indian district, and visited a Hindu temple and local markets. A particular favourite was the chance to experience the diverse culinary culture; some were more adventurous than others! After lunch, the choir went to rehearse at St George's Church for three hours in anticipation of their first concert this evening. Elaine So adapted to the hum of the fans and moist atmosphere to produce a highly professional performance on the marimba and the choir impressed the well-attended audience (many locals, some OUs, local parents and camp followers), especially with their world premiere of the commissioned Dragon Songs by Tim Watts.
After a morning stroll the choir arrived at the world famous Raffles Hotel in preparation for their second performance. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity gave them the chance to show off their lighter repertoire to great acclaim; from South African songs to Michael Jackson, and the multiple choirs (The Chapel Choir, The Chamber Choir and The Close Harmony Group) that make up the touring party. It was, of course, followed by afternoon tea. The evening gave a chance for a stroll along the Promenade on the docks of the bay at the Marina Reservoir followed by dinner. The spectacular architecture of the Marina Bay Sands hotel opposite the skyscrapers of the business district was the perfect backdrop to the ultimate tour photo.
A day of travel instead of music awaited the choir before we arrived at the Prince of Wales Island International School (POWIIS) in Penang, Malaysia. With our welcoming guides (the Deputy Headmaster, Bruce McDowell, and his wife, Jenny) the first stop was a Buddhist temple in the tranquil setting of the bay looking out to Malaysia's mainland, the busy shipping channel that separated the two, and the surrounding housing built on jetties. Our last stop off was Penang's Little India which gave a chance to buy a pair brightly coloured tour trousers, made famous by Mr Williams, and eat at a popular curry house before we made our way to the impressive facilities at the school.
Choristers are not normally known for their sporting prowess but a morning of sport allowed the pupils at both schools to mingle and get to know more about each other's cultures. Unfortunately, much like the national side, the choir's football team failed to win but the wet conditions did provide an entertaining 4-4 draw. The girls enjoyed playing water polo and volleyball. POWIIS staff continued to be tremendously hospitable. During the afternoon the choir rehearsed new repertoire for their concert later in the day.
A capacity audience enthusiastically greeted solo performers from POWIIS followed by the choir raising their game, once again, singing persuasively after the interval reducing some members of the audience to tears. More musical treats followed with dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe and birthday celebrations for two Fourth Formers.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny as we set off to the tropical world's only butterfly farm where pupils experienced scorpions and stick insects at close quarters. After a short coach ride we arrived at the pier where six small motor boats took us to the idyllic castaway Monkey Beach. There the party had a local picnic and a quick swim before the afternoon's rehearsal and concert in the opulence of the grand ballroom of the Eastern and Oriental Hotel in Georgetown.
A road trip to Georgetown allowed the choir to take in the stunning scenery as well making us feel as if we were in a mountain stage of Le Tour De France. The party were then able to explore the cultural area of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, admiring the frequent street art and taking advantage of the independent shops, before choosing from the plethora of diverse food stalls at an amazing street market; Penang is a melting pot of many Asian cultures. The afternoon gave the chance to mingle with the ever-welcoming POWIIS pupils whilst taking advantage of the School's fantastic facilities, the pool being the most popular option. We travelled in the early evening to the Evergreen Laurel Hotel to be given dinner by our generous host, Dato Dr. Kenny Ong. The evening was brought to a brilliant close with a tremendous karaoke featuring a talented live band made up of the Director of Music from POWIIS and his two sons. Chun Ti Ong (OU) sang a moving rendition of Amazing Grace inspired by the happy memories of Uppingham's Chapel singing. Further entertaining contributions came from staff and pupils from both schools, including our excellent host, Deputy Principal Bruce McDowall.
We said our fond farewells to the Prince of Wales Island International School with a rendition of Jerusalem. After several hours of travel we arrived in Hong Kong ready for the final leg of the tour.
Our first objective of the day was to scale the seventh tallest building in the world. Following an early start we took the MTR (underground) to Hong Kong Island and then on to the ICC Tower. The lift whizzed us up to viewing platform, at considerable speed in just 60 seconds. From there we were able to survey the unique urban landscape from the boats on the South China Sea to Hong Kong's many tall buildings. The party then broke up into several groups with a large contingent marking the sixteenth birthday of one of the choir members in style at the Peninsula hotel. Re-grouping at the HK Cultural Centre we gave a rush hour concert featuring Chapel Choir, Chamber Choir and the Close Harmony Group. A large and supportive audience showed their support with enthusiastic applause and a few tears. A long day finished with an excellent buffet meal and the Symphony of Lights show by the water's edge.
Thursday brought the choir to Hong Kong's very own theme park: Ocean Park. This amazingly spacious site offered a variety of rides and roller coasters, water rides and close encounter animal experiences; the pandas and sea lion show were very popular. The afternoon was spent preparing for the tour's last concert at St. John's Cathedral. The setting in Hong Kong financial district offered a chance for the Uppingham community, from OUs to current and future pupils, to listen to the choir's moving performance of Faurè's Requiem with excellent accompaniment and solos from Mr Clements, Susie Hill and Jamie Conway. Elaine So played two superb Marimba solos during the first half. The concert offered a chance to reflect on those talented musicians leaving the choir and an opportunity to celebrate their contribution during the past five years.
After eating a scrumptious breakfast, we took The Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, followed by a very popular visit to The Ladies' Market where many souvenirs were bought. It was very hot and crowded - a traditional Hong Kong experience - but interesting to see all the hawkers' stalls. The homeward journey then began; back to the hotel to check-out, coach to the airport, and then the plane and back to Changi airport, Singapore. The last leg of the journey back to the UK gave the opportunity for Mr Clements and Mr Williams to sport their fetching presents from the choir.
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