Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Today we saw the other New Orleans 7-1-2008

Well, today we came home but not before we learned about the real New Orleans.

After a very late evening last night of dancing and hounding Paul Caldwell for autographs and pictures, we came back to our hotel and packed and showered for an early rising. Luggage was in the lobby by 7:30 and we were off to breakfast at Little Dizzie's around the corner from our hotel. Janet Perkins discovered this little gem of a restaurant while attending a cooking class while the clan was at the flea market. We were all delighted that she finally grabbed a few hours to herself and especially because she found this restaurant. Her teacher/chef owns the restaurant and we had real grits and biscuits with eggs, bacon and fruit. Love the pictures of her and the two owners (Kevin is the 6'7 one!)

After good eats, we departed our hotel with a "coach" and Barbara, our creole tour guide. (Creole means you are born in New Orleans.) For 2 plus hours we toured the ninth ward, the musicians' alley and St Charles Street to have a better understanding of what Katrina truly did to the city and its outskirts. And we really learned how much more there is to do. It is so much more complicated than just rebuilding homes which is happening, yet at a very slow rate. Many of the homeowners whose families have lived in their homes for years can't prove ownership because you just moved in with momma and when she passed on you got the house and so on for generations. This sort of thing is posing a real issue when it comes time to prove ownership and get federal help! Also the services, such as food stores and drug stores, were wiped out in neighborhoods, and the people who live there can't buy food locally. So they have to travel and they may not have cars or the money for gas. The devastation is a problem that is far from over.
Barbara expressed her appreciation for our coming to New Orleans as it shows that we care enough to come visit the city as well as we contributed to the economy by just being there. We also as a choir raised over $2000 which was delivered to Habitat for Humanity to help with the building of houses. The people are so grateful for everything visitors and donors can do. We also saw a few teenage groups working to help rebuild houses. I think the girls and all of us adults really had our eyes opened and our awareness increased. It truly was a passionate tour and Barbara delivered her message well. She also impressed upon us how important New Orleans is to the United States for import and export reasons. Ask your touring daughter what she remembers and what messages she came home with.

We arrived at the airport and had ample time to grab lunch and relax before our easy plane trip, through which most of us slept like logs, and a fast bus ride home to our waiting families.

It was a great tour and I want to thank all of the choir members who made such incredible music with their voices. You make me cry you sound so beautiful. And you displayed such graciousness, cooperativeness, and enthusiasm throughout our 2008 New Orleans tour. My favorite parts on this tour were every time you sang impromptu for our tour guides, cooks, shop keepers and just when you felt like it, at the aquarium, in restaurants, on buses, and, lastly, as we pulled into PDS tonight and you sang "I need you (to survive)". Your singing always sends goosebumps up my spine. Keep your love of the music and the song. THANK YOU!

Thank you to Jan Westrick who directs the choir so perfectly time and time again. Despite an injury the first day she always showed concern for everyone else over herself and clearly has the girls best interest at heart.

Thank you to Serena who's accompaniment will be sorely missed next year but maybe not as much as she will personally be missed. We wish you the best of luck in your future adventure.

Thanks to Fred who, as our sole male representative this tour, helped keep us safe as the best traffic cop ever and also helped support our choir director.

Thanks to all of the moms who gave so selflessly of their time to chaperone this tour and make it possible. You kept perfect order yet did it with smiles on your faces throughout the tour. You allowed the girls to built confidence and spread their wings while still under your watchful eyes.
Also thanks to Melinda La Nasa whose great suggestions, helpful directions and leadership to and fro, and driving everything including shoes and pizzas and, occasionally, adults, made this tour possible at all!

And lastly, thank you to Janet Perkins, our unbeatable tour director who put it all together, helped keep it together, and, in the end, created an amazing cohesive group of 44 people. Every event we experienced made the tour that much richer, and we have seen so much thanks to your fabulous planning.

This is your newly hatched blogger and amateur photographer signing off.

Thanks for the memories.
Sandy Brown

Monday, June 30, 2008

Tonight We Were the Best 6-30-2008

Tonight we were the best!
Starting with Café du Monde this morning, having walked there from the hotel, we had beignets and café or hot chocolate- very filling- then we wandered to the Café store and on further to the flea market. We all found lots of vendors ready, willing, and able to take our money for their wonderful wares and came back with heavy bags and things to share with one another. After a few hours shopping, we were ready to head out to the Court of the Two Sisters for brunch BUT the RAIN started, which put a hold on our adventure. We are easy, so we sat and talked and in a few minutes the rain had passed so we wandered once again out of the flea market and into the heart of the French Quarter to a gourmet brunch with accompanying jazz trio. Food was very good and plentiful, buffet style, and while there we shared our secret singer gifts. Some thoughtful and fun things were given to the person who had been sending us clues all week.
After sharing gifts and taking photos, we then headed back to Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral for a sound check and line up for tonight’s concert. That took 2 hours after which we returned home to change for the evening. Buses took us back to the cathedral and the concert which was so spectacular that we will all be buying the CD from tonight’s performance. The choirs performed Paul Caldwell’s composition written for this festival and this combined choir, which debuted tonight; he had a standing ovation and they performed it again for the encore.
After the overwhelming successful concert, all the choirs went on a river boat cruise on the Natchez paddle wheel boat. Dinner and lots of dancing kept all the kids (all 200 or so of them) busy and energized, so that when we arrived home late tonight, they were sent straight to their rooms to pack and get ready to head home tomorrow.
This had been a wonderful experience for all of us and we have learned a lot about ourselves, each other, and New Orleans. Tomorrow we get to tour of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina so we will leave New Orleans with a greater respect for what these warm and friendly people suffered.
Everyone is looking forward to getting home and seeing family very soon.

We're singin' in the Rain 6-29-2008

Started the day with a continental breakfast then we headed off to Trinity Church in the Garden District to sing as a part of the Sunday service. We hopped, literally, the streetcar and all crowded into one bus to take us on our way. As far public transportation goes it was really fun and possibly an experience some of us had never had. The girls were beautiful in their concert attire and they warmed up in the church so we got an extra treat listening to their beautiful sounds in the morning. For the service they sang 5 songs for the prelude and two more songs during communion accompanied by the church choir for one of those songs. The girls were happily surprised to have such great bass sounds for accompaniment. There were also 3 baptisms at the service so it was a special Sunday morning.
After the service we had a wonderful picnic lunch (with fabulous pizza and Caesar salad) at the church in their park area with stone walls and chairs and tables on which to perch. Fortunately the rain held itself at bay. Then we returned to the hotel by streetcar – this time many of us stood as the car was half full when we embarked.
The girls had another amazing rehearsal for 3 hours with our two choir directors and the harmony they were pulling from these six choirs sounds perfect. All of the choirs are intermingled so the girls are making friends from all over the states.
We had a little free time for the ninth graders to organize for the paper plate awards happening later tonight. Many gathered in others’ rooms to stay away from younger roommates. And a few of the chaperones became instant seamstresses to mend falling hems on some of the dresses. We then headed out to an all choir festival dinner and Cajun dance party at Michaul’s on foot and arrived full of expectation and energy for a good time. Well, we were not disappointed! The food was simple but plentiful and the bread pudding was the best! There was a Cajun band and dance caller who taught all the choirs to dance the Cajun jitterbug after throwing them all mardi gras beads from the stage. There was a little bit of competition but everyone got a strand or eight! Let them show you how they can tie the beads into stars! Then we had a contest to determine who were the best 4 couples, and although none of the PGC girls won, everyone had a good time. Some of them mixed with the other choirs and made more new friends!
We then walked home from Michaul’s and gathered to hear the ninth grade paper plate awards. They, as always, were creative and thoughtful awards, one to each “underclasswoman” from a ninth grader who knows her well. The ninth graders enjoyed thinking up awards and presenting them to the girls they love so much. Some tears, many laughs, lots of applause and the paparazzi were stalking. Our girls are very photogenic and love to pose – fortunately. They even got a “best ninth graders” award from Mrs. Westrick. Off to bed for another early morn at Café du Monde for beignets and hot chocolate before n the flea market!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Loose in the City 6-28-08

“Woke up this morning, you were on my mind…”
Continental breakfast was followed by a 3 hour rehearsal with maestro Paul Caldwell who has the girls working very hard and really learning the finer points of this composition. It sounded fabulous, and he keeps them entertained as well. Gives them feedback with humor.
Following a morning inside we ventured out to the city and hiked down to the river front where we each had our CHOICE of lunch at the River Walk food court followed by a little window shopping before an afternoon at the Aquarium of the Americas. The girls and adults were all fascinated by the rays and sharks, jelly fish and seahorses, turtles and otters, macaws and piranhas. There was also a pirate, touch and jungle gym type area, and us adults enjoyed watching our mature ladies jump in lines to touch the reef shark and sting rays! They played like kids; it was very refreshing to see them not take themselves so seriously.
Well, on schedule, it rained, it poured so we stood outside under the aquarium canopy and girls, as usual, spontaneously broke into song, every passerby stopped to listen and enjoy. Walked home after the rain abated, still drizzling, we arrived back at the hotel, and had a brief time before heading out for a private showing at the original PRESERVATION HALL!!! Some of us sat on benches, many of us stood, we all clapped our hands sore and bought many CD’s and tee shirts. The hall is like nothing you would expect, and I think the girls were very impressed that such a homespun hall could be the famous home of so many jazz bands and well known musicians. Every president since and including Lyndon Johnson has sat on the same benches!
After our private concert we wandered to our restaurant and had chicken, catfish, and shrimp with salad, veggies and cheesecake for dessert. Our first true sit down dinner with all of us in one room. The kids had a great time. Then… Our illustrious leaders spirited away our ninth graders to have dessert at BRENNAN’s and the rest of us peons came home where a number of them took a night time swim on the roof tops outside! So headed to bed shortly- the end to another full day!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Singing Tourists 6-27-2008

Today was a day for sightseeing! We rose bright and early and boarded our coach at 8:30. Our driver, Jackie, is a cheery, kind person with whom we fell in love with immediately. We first went to the Oak Alley Plantation. It is an amazingly beautiful place with a fascinating history. We got a tour from yet another Jackie, who was in traditional house clothes for the 1800s. We heard old traditions of courting and dining, as well as walked the famous and greatly viewed Oak Alley. The trees down it are Virginia Live Oaks, and they are just reaching their “mid-life crisis” at age 300. Their life expectancy is 600 years! We all enjoyed a refreshing VIRGIN Mint Julep outside in the Southern heat and humidity. Afterwards, we graced our wonderful tour guide, Jackie, with some of “Let It Shine”. We made a surprisingly fast stop at the gift shop before moving on to the swamp tour. A sprinkling of rain fell at one o’clock for the second day in a row. We’ll see if it’s on schedule tomorrow! The Honey Island Swamp Tour was absolutely amazing. We were visited by a few gators; the biggest was named El Wappo. El Wappo was 15 feet from nose to tail, three times the height of chorister Aisling, and he is about 60 years old. The choir was separated into three different groups. The pictures you see in the blog were taken by members of Captain Charlie’s group. Our group saw astonishing flora and fauna, including alligators, Spanish moss, egrets, great blue herons, turtles, bald cypress, gum trees, duckweed, and much, much more. At the end of the tour, we sang the first part of “Let It Shine” for Charlie, who enjoyed it immensely. Sadly, there wasn’t time to stop at the gift shop, but there will be plenty of time for shopping. We had dinner by the pool, on the roof! Later, we went to rehearse with Paul Caldwell. It was exciting to work with such an energized director, especially when he wasn’t good at the “standing still” and fell off the stage. A few went to swim afterwards, then……….bed.

PGC Invades New Orleans 6-26-2008

Today was a monumental day in Girlchoir history. For the first time ever, the plane was on time and no one lost their luggage. Our luck turned, however, when we got out of the airport. Mrs. Westrick suffered a bad fall and hurt her leg. Luckily, she’s fine and soon will be good as new. We had a delicious dinner at The Grocery. To show our thanks, we sand the owner “Java Jive”, and the manager even took his cell phone out and taped us! Our concert went well. We opened our set with “Cantate Domino”, a Princeton Girlchoir favorite. “Cantate Domino” was followed by Bob Chilcott’s “The Swallow, “Barb’ry Ellen”, “Java Jive”, “Mood Indigo”, “Let It Shine”, “The Storm Is Passing Over”, and finally “Still I Rise”. Featured singers in “Let It Shine” were Elsa , Lizzy, Emily, Susanne, and Sydney. Ellie sang the beginning solo in “Still I Rise”, and other featured singers included Ginny, Rose, Maria, and Nitya. We briefly got to know the other choirs, but more of that to come! After the concert, the bus broke down at the church. Mrs. La Nasa brought us a special treat there, and in the end we all made it safely back to the hotel.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Festival is Near

Last Saturday, PGC performed at the Nassau Park Pavilion in a concert sponsored by the West Windsor Arts Council. The audience loved the music, and it was a good rehearsal setting for some tour music. Secret Singers have been chosen, and it goes a bit differently this year. There will only be one gift at the end to the singer who has been giving you clues. This will make for a lot less havoc caused by finding many small presents along the way! The flight to New Orleans is tomorrow morning. Choir members are getting excited for the upcoming tour.