Barcelona Choir & Spanish Trip

19 Apr 2024

The group was delighted to arrive at Hotel Can Fisa at Corbera de Llobregat after a cold start at 5am in Rochester. We greeted our amazing tour guide, Tessa, at the airport. Her amusing commentary throughout the coach rides was interesting, informative, and above all, hilarious.

The family-run hotel proved to be a real hit, with panoramic views from the balconies and plenty of time in the schedule for chilling out in the pool. The incredible weather crowned the trip: clear daily skies and top temperatures between 20-28. Our first concert took a six-minute walk from the Iglesia Santa Maria de Corbera hotel. We were warmly welcomed, and the choir seemed unfazed by their 18-hour day. Alex’s soprano saxophone earned its keep with the beautiful obligato line to accompany Byrd’s Ave Verum. Our two Spanish pupils, Alice and Mariam, put their Spanish to work selling CDs before and after the concert, which was a particular hit in Tarragona where they emptied the box, giving us some ice cream funds for the coming days. We learned quickly that concerts in Southern Europe never interfere with dinner timings, so our earliest evening performance time was to be 8pm, and our latest start time was 9:30pm.

Day 2 saw our first breakfast in Hotel Can Fisa, with a mountain of Churros in the spotlight. Morning swims and trips to the local supermarket became a regular feature due to the relaxed departure times. Our bus driver this morning was Juan-Pablo, whose deep tones on the microphone saying ‘Hola’ in the morning gave rise to a meme which lasted the week. We took in the amazing sights of Montserrat (Mont = mountain, Serrat = serrated), home to a spectacular Benedictine order Basilica, whose famous Boys’ Choir sing at two services each day, both to a packed church. Our choir assembled in their casual clothes and processed in following Tessa through the crowds to the front of the wonderfully decorated church, with its famous statue of the black virgin. After our short recital of three pieces, the boys’ choir filed in and sang their daily repertoire, which was impressive and, at times, split into four parts.

The day progressed with time in Igualada, the central market town of an affluent agricultural and wine-producing district. After some shoe shopping for those with concert wardrobe malfunctions and handing out concert fliers to everyone we met, we gave our second very successful concert in Basilica Santa Maria, Igualada, again to a strong audience, with the church more than half-full.

Day 3 took us to Tarragona, a stunning city about 60km from Barcelona’s coast. By this point, the weather was hotting up, and Mr Mountford’s morning announcements on the coach were given using the Allegri chant intonation, including the mantra ‘hydrate, hydrate, hydrate’. There was plenty of time to give a flashmob performance in the town square (including Bobby on tambourine) and find somewhere for lunch. Having explored the Roman amphitheatre, the group settled for an ice cream. After dinner, the choir gave a concert in Tarragona Cathedral, our most jaw-dropping venue yet, with a spectacular organ played by Alex Mathie. The group arrived back at Corbera at midnight, exhausted but delighted after an excellent performance. A particular highlight of this performance was the Allegri Miserere, which we performed in every venue, splitting the choir into four groups to allow two solo quartets to sing the ‘top C’ phrases. A group of four boys plus Mr Bailey sang the schola cantorum chant parts, and for ease of identification, they became known as ‘the monks’. Throughout the week, we made subtle tweaks to the Allegri, which improved in confidence each time—well done to Claire and Elizabeth for their flawless top Cs, which came out perfectly each time.

Day 4 took us to Barcelona, where we explored its most iconic street: Las Ramblas. Some ventured to Barcelona Beach, and others to the amazing covered market, with the most incredible food. At 3pm, we transferred by coach to the Sagrada Familia, where we explored the four facades of the Basilica, amazed by the sheer size of the structure. A quick flashmob in the adjacent park, followed by dinner at a restaurant, took us to mass at Sagrada Familia, where we sang four pieces. The experience was incredible, and the space was more cavernous than we had ever seen. Microphones amplified the choir’s sound to account for the sheer vastness of the Basilica. We were able to follow the service sheet via QR code. Thanks to Tessa for filming us discreetly during one anthem. Immediately after the mass, we were ushered to the crypt to give our 45′ recital. The audience was ecstatic – the choir had reached its peak in terms of preparedness. We had a standing ovation and gave two encores. We were relieved to get home to the hotel after Mr Smith’s first medical response had been put through its paces with five incidents within four hours! An ambulance was involved in one case, but luckily, our patient caused them less trouble than locking themselves out of their vehicle.

Day 5 was spent at leisure, exploring the fantastic Modernist architecture of Barcelona, first in the Gracia quarter and secondly in Parc Guell. Shortly after being dropped in Barcelona and released for some free time, many of us stumbled upon a ‘Castel’ attempt. This organised Catalonian activity involves building a human tower, seven people high, on the street. A huge crowd had gathered and our breath was taken away as row after row climbed on top of each other, with a small child on the very top reaching their hand in the air as they completed the challenge. After another wonderful lunch, we met the coach and transferred to Parc Guell, which overlooks the city from the North. Gaudi designed this park and is home to the famous salamander, an excellent site for selfies! We found a beautiful underground cave where a spontaneous rendition of Locus Iste was needed. The day finished back at the hotel, where after a relaxing afternoon in the pool and on the terrace, the group enjoyed their final evening meal together, followed by speeches, presentations and a ceilidh. At midnight, we called it a day and flopped into our beds.

Day 6 was a second day of rest, with some leisurely packing and another relaxed start. Today, Tessa had arranged for us to spend the day at a small coastal town just a few minutes from the airport called Casteldefels, which boasts a 2km sandy beach that was almost deserted. The weather was perfect for a three-hour beach stay: cloudy and around 24 degrees. Many of the group spent the time in the sea, warming up on the terraces of restaurants serving paella. The final coach journey to the airport was again driven by Juan-Pablo, who delighted us with his gravelly ‘Hola’ before changing the atmosphere with a poignant ‘Adios’.

The week will live long in the memories of those who attended. Of course, the music, venues, culture, food and weather were wonderful, but the people define a trip. A huge thank you to the staff team of Miss Roux, Miss McKeever, Mr Bailey, Mr Smith and the wonderful Tessa who were a slick and caring unit, constantly looking out for the best interests of the pupils and the group as a whole, with all of the King’s staff singing for their supper. No task was too big or gruesome for them! Above all, the pupils were utterly amazing and entered the week’s spirit. They showed remarkable resilience with some late concert start times and a few occasions where they had to be in concert dress for several hours in the heat. The level of care between pupils was incredible, and the group thoroughly looked after each other and seemed to cherish every moment of the week. Memories were made, and hopefully, a precedent was reestablished for a regular music tour at King’s.

John Mountford, Director of Music