Thursday, 30 June 2016

SOL - The Tour (Days 1 and 2)!

The first day of our SOL tour began with one of our most challenging venues - Heathrow Immigration Detention Centre. I don't think I was alone in feeling a little apprehensive about visiting a place that seemed so unfamiliar and unknown. We were advised beforehand that many of the people staying at these centres were being held for undetermined periods of time, so they could be facing days/weeks/months of anxiety and uncertainty. After we had passed through security, photos, ID, fingerprints etc we were escorted to the sports hall, which was our first concert venue. After feeling a little anxious about our presence there, I soon realised that our role there was pretty simple - to share our love for music in a human, ego-less, genuine way. Maybe that sounds a little airy-fairy, but it was completely evident that playing music in this way will resonate with so many people, no matter their circumstance, age, race, background or existing interest in music... We played the opening movement of Beethoven 7 in the first detention centre at Heathrow, and the people there really listened and engaged with us. The atmosphere in the room during the Beethoven was electric. One man stepped up to the podium to conduct Wallace and Grommit, and another guy rapped an awesome free-style verse in our Snoop Dog arrangement (after some gentle persuasion..!). If I had felt at all unsure of unconvinced of our presence there, by the end of the first gig the penny had definitely dropped for me! After this first visit, we were all much more familiar with the set-up and generally how we all worked and played together, so going into the New Horizon Youth Centre felt great. This venue was a real squish however, so it was just as well (purely for space reasons, guys!) that a few of the orchestra members had split-off to go and play at Queensmill School for autistic children. Their visit sounded really wonderful - they also had an impromptu busk/jam with a lady at the piano in St Pancrass Station! At the youth centre, we had a fantastically enthusiastic audience... almost with a rap or two, but we couldn't quite persuade them to take to the mic. It was another great gig, but also quite a relief to break out into the fresh air afterwards, and to enjoy a refreshing pint/pimms/bevvy at the local pub!

The finale of Day 1 was absolutely EPIC. We had a planned performance outside the entrance to King's Cross Station, but...wait for it... during rush hour! We had a slight delay with music and stands arriving, and as we had already attracted a growing crowd with our sunny yellow t-shirts and army of instrument cases, we decided to perform our two memorised pieces there and then. We very quickly got an idea of the awesome atmosphere of the evening ahead, as passers by were stopping, filming, listening... this later turned into a full-on celebration, with the usually-poker-faced London commuters dancing swing, salsa, free-style...! It was a wicked evening and even the rain didn't deter the crowd, or stop the full-blooded sing along to Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner!

Day 2 of tour was perhaps one of my favourites… although I feel like that's unfair to the other super duper gigs we played and people we met! Actually, I simply can't choose a favourite day... so cancel that! We started in Dalston Library and played a Guerrilla performance in a park in Hackney - this was a cool gig, as a school girl from the audience took to the mic for a verse of Snoop Dog  - and she could RAP! Effortlessly cool. It was also a lovely surprise to bump into a friend and fellow musician at this gig - he just happened to be working at the children's centre next to the park and heard some noise! There was also a lovely chance to sit and chill with some lunch after this gig and the sun even came out for a burst!

Also on Day 2, we played at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney, which was a very moving experience and one of those unforgettable ones. It was a wonderful surprise to see the patients, residents, staff and visitors already excitedly gathered for our arrival in the main waiting area of the hospice; so it was time for another shot at a super-quick set-up. We again played Beethoven 7, followed by a few upbeat, Latin-American numbers and some wonderful songs with our super soloist, Peter. The lump-in-the-throat moment for me was when we finished with Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner, and Peter passed the microphone to several audience members to hear them sing a line or two. It was really special to feel the whole room singing and to see everyone smiling.. really enjoying that moment and losing any inhibition or hyper-awareness of the situation. Pretty cool for a room full of 'strangers' (we definitely left as friends!) After the gig, a few of us chatted with members of the audience. The lady (Lucy) who had conducted this morning's rendition of W&G was buzzing, with a beaming smile, and she told me that she runs a weekly choir there, which sounded like such a valuable part of the residents' time at the hospice - in fact, you could see the residents looking to Lucy throughout the concert for guidance or reassurance.. or just to exchange an excitable smile. Another older gentleman, with the kindest eyes I have ever seen, spoke to a few of us about how happy he felt to see so many lovely young people coming together to share their passion with others, and spreading positivity at such a dark time for many. This was really touching and I felt so lucky to be there with everyone.

The ever-threatening rain was still holding off for our next gig in London Fields (a particular fave of mine). This was another park gig and it pretty much turned into a full-on party. There were kids galore, all desperate for the chance to conduct the orchestra, so they formed an orderly queue before taking to the podium for a few bars of Carmen or Wallace..! There was a particularly lovely little boy who had clearly just finished the best day at school - he had paint, chalk, colouring pens, mud, grass... you name it and it was strewn across his polo shirt (and face!) and this boy danced beautifully to a lot of our music. He looked so free and uninhibited - miss those days!! In this gig, we went for a spontaneous walkabout (even us celli) during one of the pieces in which you'd struggle to sit still (there were plenty of those)! The audience members at this gig were awesome - just so completely into it, which I think really rubbed off on us musicians. Later, we had a wonderful stop-off at a pizza garden in Dalston – any Londoners should go and check it out this Summer. It’s like a calm oasis in the middle of the city, with flowers, bird feeders, blankets and hot water bottles and perrrfect pizza… all of life’s simple pleasures! Our last gig of day 2 was another awesome event and was held in Dalston Square. We decided to start this gig with a pizza-fuelled rendition of Ski Sunday, but with the orchestra interspersed amongst the crowd. It was such a fun way to start the concert and a great ice-breaker for the audience... also, I will never stop loving walking around with a cello and grooving out with other musicians, as well as total ‘strangers’! It feels kind of weird to call anyone we encountered on this tour ‘strangers’, because there really wasn’t ever any ounce of a divide or barrier between those of us playing and those of us who were ‘audience’ or passers-by at the gigs, in fact the line was often completely blurred/non-existent, which is sadly something that cannot often be said about the way we experience concerts and live music…

Stay tuned for days 3&4, featuring escalators, carousels, sunsets, flower markets... the lot!

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