Fortified by a delicious cake, I felt able to cope with the concert. Firstly, given that these pupils are having special training, I thought it was likely the voices and instruments would at least be in tune, a distinct improvement on many similar occasions. Secondly, I had already welled up over the girls’ choir, which probably meant I had used up my emotions budget for the day and could spend the next hour and a half being cynical.
The concert opened with Leos, unexpectedly in a shirt and tie, unexpectedly playing what I think may have been a euphonium, in the company of a trombone, a tuba, and another euphonium. They fanfared the start; there were some brief introductory speeches; we were told individual pieces would not be introduced, because we could refer to our programmes; and the concert proper began.
We knew from the programme that this item was going to be some sort of orchestral version of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. The musicians came in barefoot, some with loincloths over their clothes. There were six or so violinists, and a lot of percussionists, mostly on bongos but with a cowbell and some maracas thrown in. And it was absolutely brilliant. David videoed it; go and look for it on YouTube in a few days.
After the orchestra, grinning broadly (it was a piece they clearly love playing) had left, people cleared the stage area, and then a small girl – little enough to consider that dressing top to toe in pink was the appropriate outfit for the occasion – came on, bowed solemnly, and sat down at a keyboard. I didn’t recognise the piece she played, either from its name or its tune. But it wasn’t too long, and she played it well.
The choir girls again sang ‘You raise me up’ – the event was becoming very, very hard for those of us with an emotional disposition – and then there was a string of soloists: trumpet, drums, accordian (fascinating to watch), piano (I’m not keen on Chopin, to be honest, so this calmed down the emotions). Two tiny gymnasts, both incredible graceful and flexible, performed routines, and then the choir girls were back. Their song was listed as one by Tony Hatch – I had joked that perhaps it was an arrangement for voices of the Crossroads theme tune – but to my utter astonishment, two bars in I recognised the song as ‘Down Town’ (as sung by Petula Clark, if memory serves), translated into Czech.
I felt as though I’d been bowled a googlie and then the next performer was a classical guitar soloist, which always does it for me, so there was a lot of lip-biting during that one; and then the violins returned to play Pachabel’s Canon, and I really didn’t stand a chance. It was particularly embarrassing because there were also dancers wafting around gracefully during this piece, and the arrangement of seating versus performance area meant they were practically in my lap and it was hard to avoid eye contact.
A fast and fun piano duet brought a smile back to my face, and then two dancers in black swishy skirts performed a salsa with lots of hip swaying and a bit of clapping, which confused the audience – some people tried to join in, and found they didn’t know it.
So – the final item – the accordian orchestra. Seven full-size accordians, two smaller ones, a keyboard and drums. I have never heard an accordian orchestra before, and probably never will again, and that’s a shame, because it was truly fantastic. The very last tune appeared to be a medley, and quite unexpectedly I found I recognised a tune: Ra-ra-rasputin. Of course! It even said ‘Bonney M’ in the programme.
It was one of those unique moments in the great journey of life where I found myself thinking: this is so special, so amazing, hold on to this feeling. I did a lot of preparation for this trip. But nothing could possibly ever have prepared me for the experience of listening to ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ performed by an orchestra of accordians.
If you ever get this chance, seize it. You won’t be disappointed.