I led a group of thirty three students, including one former pupil, and three teachers travelled first to Washington then on to New York in February 2005. Four nights were spent in each city, seven concerts were performed in six different auditoria, to a total audience of more than two thousand.

 

The British Council School was greatly supported by Mr. Andy Mackay, Director, British Council USA. He provided the necessary contacts before the trip to arrange one of our school concerts, and found the time to attend our concert at the World Bank and the reception at the Spanish Ambassador’s residence.

 

Two highlights of the tour were made possible thanks to the help of parents of our pupils with their own contacts in Washington. The invitation from the World Bank/International Monetary Fund Community of Artists to perform at the Eugene Black Theatre, to a large international audience of bank personnel and their children was a great privilege. The concert was introduced by D. Xavier Coll, one of the Bank’s Vice-Presidents, and closing remarks were made by D. Pablo Moreno, Director of the IMF Office of Civic & Community Activities.

 

The second highlight, also in Washington, was the reception given for our students by His Excellency D. Carlos Westendorp, the Spanish Ambassador to the United States. He and his wife very kindly welcomed us to their home for a paella supper. Other guests included the Spanish Ministry of Education representative in Washington.

 

Apart from two concerts at the Washington International School and the British School of Washington, the students had a tour of the Mall, with external views of the Capitol, and close up views of the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials and the Lincoln Monument. Our arrival at the White House coincided with the arrival of President Bush’s cavalcade: the darkened windows of the vehicles made it impossible to see him, but the attentiveness of the Police on the ground and snipers on the White House roof indicate that the President was indeed inside the car.

 

Our students had another political element to their visit. Our base, the Hilton Hotel, was the scene of a two day meeting of the Democratic Party National Committee. Numerous top ranking Democrat figures breakfasted at the tables around our group: an unusual insight into American politics and a very special treat.

 

Our time Washington was rounded off with a visit to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, the National Gallery of Art and a short journey on the Metro.

 

The Days Hotel in 8th Avenue is within five minutes walk of Times Square and Broadway. Many of our students would happily have spent their entire visit inside the many shops which are open all hours to sell goods which seem remarkably similar to those available in  Spain, but to our students are unique and irresistible. We did find time to experience the Christo installation in Central Park, The Gates. Some found the promenade between the gates, with the changing light and colour, a quasi spiritual experience; others found it a fraud and were reminded of their bathroom curtains at home. The theme of “Is this Art?” was the topic also of our guided tour at the recently re-opened MoMA. After an explanation of one of Miro’s paintings, the students were introduced to the work of one British and two American artists in an uncompromising contemporary style.

 

More contemporary art was enjoyed in the form of Twyla Tharp’s choreography set to Billy Joel’s music in the Broadway show “Movin’ Out”. The theme of the effects of the Vietnam war on the lives of the young Americans made a link with the students’ visit to the Vietnam war Memorial in Washington a few days before. About half of the group took advantage of a special opportunity to hear the Chick O Farrill Big Band at the nearby Birdland Jazz Club. The luxury of the venue and the quality of the musicians made this an unforgettable experience.

 

There were four concerts in New York. The first was special because it was our first ever performance in a public school, and because the audience also included a group from Middletown, Connecticut. These students were part of a group who had stayed with our school families last November, and made the journey to New York to see our concert and to renew acquaintances.

 

There were two concerts at the United Nations International School campus in Manhattan. We had a very large audience because after seeing last year’s concert, the Primary Principal wanted the whole of the Primary section to see the concert. Our seventh and last concert of the Tour was at the UNIS campus in Queens. The teachers and students there remembered us from last year and they were a very enthusiastic audience.

 

The programme for our concerts was made up of Spanish music by Granados and Garcia-Lorca; traditional Spanish music and one piece of American music in the form of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”; and a piece of British music in the shape of a movement from Britten’s “Simple Symphony”.  The Spanish Dance was to music by Garcia Lorca and Alonso together with some contemporary Sevillanas. The  Spanish Dance was directed  by Lola Moreno.

 

This tour was a step forward compared to the 2004 one. The combination of two cities was very worthwhile; the number of concerts performed was seven compared to last year’s four. Continuity has been a major factor in the success of this tour: two thirds of the group had been on last year’s tour and understood much better the workings of the whole undertaking; revisiting two of the same schools as last year was a pleasurable experience for all, and the link with the Connecticut school is especially interesting with possible return visits in the future.

 

Look out for notes on the tour to London in February 2006

 

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