The Choir

is a whopping jewel

in Clare's musical


Giles Swayne, Composer-in-Residence


Asia Tour Blog - Day 9

Date: Sunday 11 September 2016 5.45am


Today was a pivotal day in the tour schedule – we had reached the half-way point.  Having given an open rehearsal in Macau, two concerts in Hong Kong, school workshops in Singapore and two concerts in the wonderful Yong Siew Toh Conservatoire, today was one of those rare occasions when we read the words ‘FREE DAY’ in Alice’s ever-colourful schedule.  In essence, it was a travel day to reach Penang for the start of our week in Malaysia, but with our flight from Changi airport not scheduled until 2230 this allowed for a day of relaxation and final sightseeing in the wonderful city of Singapore.


The early hours of Saturday 10 September 2016 began with what was now becoming an alarming familiarity – a return visit to the karaoke bar around the corner from the hotel.  On discovering that Josh Cleary had not only filmed the dulcet tones of my rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’ the previous night (think of it as ‘outreach’) but then circulated this around the entire choir on their private Facebook group, on this occasion I was sensible enough to call it a night and take to bed early senza Gloria G, only to be woken in my hotel room at 1.45am to the sound of the ever open-minded Leo Benedict returning from the bar and vocalising his dissatisfaction that on this less-than-successful evening ‘they only played those rubbish Chinese songs’.


A final hotel breakfast greeted the morning before we packed once more and left our luggage in the hotel reception.  Caroline led us to Little India, a charming district towards the north of Singapore, where a large group of us feasted on a wonderful lunchtime curry served on banana leaves.  As the temperature outside rose to the mid 30s we consumed more and more chili and spices, which did nothing to cool us down, but were delicious.  For our final few hours in this cleanest of cities (somewhat putting our A1 washing-up rota to shame) I took three of my three first year Music students on a bonding trip to the Gardens by the Bay.  Once Toby had (temporarily) finished going on about how he was going to conduct the opening bars of his forthcoming groundbreaking Beethoven 5, we managed to enjoy a few hours in the incredible Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.  A hasty return to the hotel on the MRT (as hasty as we could manage in the heat) allowed us to board the bus to the airport and say our final farewell to the wonderful folk of the YST Conservatoire who had looked after us all so well during the week.


As is now becoming customary with Alice’s unflappable pre-flight preparations, we arrived at Singapore airport with a good day to spare before we actually took off.  Even the three hours of complimentary wifi in the airport terminal had expired well before we even considered packing up the Bananagram tiles and moving to the gate.  The over-priced food and drink in the airport led to some creative solutions for dinner to while away the hours, and the news of a 45-minute delay meant only one thing – I should finally start completing the Michaelmas Termcard, now somewhat overdue due to our touring schedule and, admittedly, one-too-many Abba singalongs in the karaoke bar.   Choral Scholars flocked to me and my laptop as they each tried to chip in with suggestions: Rosie attempted to persuade me to programme the entirety of the Monteverdi Vespers through the term; Alice suggested the soprano solo movement from the Brahms Requiem, modestly offering her services to return as a star Choir alumna; Leo simply used the remaining minutes of his free wifi to Google ‘Bass Solos in the Anglican Liturgy’.  Ever chirpy and with undiluted enthusiasm, the choir boarded the plane at 2315 and we took off – another day, another flight, another country, but, hopefully, not another karaoke bar.  Rosie lucked out again with a seat next to me on the plane to ensure that the forthcoming part allocations gave her the position of Dec Alto 1, whilst suggesting that every other bass (or indeed any member of the choir) appeared higher in the rankings than Kit ‘sotto voce’ Holliday.


We landed in Penang at 0030 and boarded a bus to our hotel by 1am.  Whilst some may have been sleepy and grateful for a half hour of shut-eye, none of this was possible thanks to the unbridled enthusiasm of Philip, our amplified Bus Transfer Tour Guide, who proceeded to give us a unique history of the island, describing the endless Jimmy Choo shoe shopping opportunities for the ‘ladies’, and presenting an informative guide to the island’s safety (“How safe is Penang?”  “Wow. It’s safe.”).  And all this on the first night of his honeymoon, apparently.  We arrived at our beautiful hotel at 1.45am, and were greeted with fresh hot chocolate to drift us to sleep.  Sometimes, just sometimes, there are surprises on tour that nobody is quite expecting.  It’s fair to say that this beautiful hotel is one of them, and I hope serves as a small treat for the work that the members of the choir have done this year representing the College in all they do.  We settled into our rooms, and most bid farewell to each other for a good sleep.  A few embarked on a brief expedition around the local streets for a nightcap, thankfully revealing that here there didn’t seem to be a karaoke bar in sight.


Graham Ross (Director of Music)