High Spirits in St Louis

Our final concert, in St Louis, MO, took place in perhaps our most stunning venue yet – the vast Basilica Cathedral.

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Having performed the programme five times already, we limited our rehearsal to an hour or so, giving us time for a relaxing lunch in sunny Missouri. Some of us were more relaxed than others – poor Tom waited in vain for his bag at the luggage carousel on arrival from Orlando. A lost bag is always a pain, but a lost bag containing music and suit on a concert day is a disaster. Fortunately it arrived and was driven straight to the cathedral, arriving at 8.02pm. Unfortunately, the concert was due to start at 8pm, but Tom managed a record-breakingly quick costume change and the show went on!

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The generous acoustic and enthusiastic audience proved the perfect end to the tour. It was rounded off with a fantastic party hosted by the concert presenter, John Russell, and his partner Daryl at their grand apartment on the 25th floor of the iconic Art Deco Chase Building, with views overlooking the whole city.

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James talks to one of our hosts

At midnight we returned to the hotel for our traditional final night “Fines” party. This is where miscreants are made examples of, with shots being dished out for every misdemeanor. Heads were even more sore than usual this morning since it was a ‘rollover’ Fines Party – the fines from the previous US trip (October 2013) being added on to the (lengthy) list for this tour! Selected highlights of ‘crimes’ include:

- Eleanor’s unfortunate Spoonerism when instructing the Vermont audience to listen out in Byrd’s Vigilate for the “cocking of the crow”.

- Tom, our resident Australian, living up to his home nation’s reputation by being the first Stile member to be pulled over by ‘the feds’ and receiving a speeding fine.

- Jim, for pointing out a particularly amusing name on the church roll just before we were about to go on stage in Jackson, leaving James in paralysis with laughter and almost unable to hold it together for the first piece.

- Tom, for a mysterious incident involving a broken toilet flush just as we were about to go on stage in Florida.

- Becky, for flirting with the idea of giving up wittering for lent, and then deciding not to, much to everyone’s disappointment (we love you really Becky).

Since this tour was in Lent, there were a few non-drinkers, so forfeits were provided in lieu of spirits. Will, reading out the last three SMS messages he received proved very revealing, and I don’t think any of us will forget the sight of Becky attempting ten pushups in a hurry. It took some time….

All in all, a great end to another action-packed US tour. Next stop, Wigmore Hall!

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A rare behind-the-scenes shot of the blog editors in action at the bar on Cocoa Beach

Gibbons in Orlando

Unlikely place for early music? Here’s Ben with a round-up on a great day in Florida… and some bad puns.

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Palm trees are always a good sign

“Since the first snowy stop in Boston the excitement had been growing about the potential for a bit of seaside fun in Florida, and when we finally arrived yesterday it didn’t disappoint. After landing in Orlando we drove straight to Cocoa beach. Some of the more shark-averse singers rolled up their trousers and went for a paddle, while a heroic group of four got the swimming costumes out, braving the treacherous waters and the embarrassment of revealing pasty skin tones in front of tanned surfers. It’s not often you can take a swim in the sea before a concert so we were pretty pleased with ourselves.

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Tom, Eleanor, James, Jim

The beach vibe continued into the pre-concert rehearsal with lots of smiles and sun-burnt noses. There was widespread relief that our rehearsal scheduler, Emma, had had time to top up her tan – it’s one of her favourite activities and without it she might not have been so lenient on us. It was very nice to have a special guest listening in on the rehearsal – Margery Bollinger, who recently turned 108!

The relatively dry acoustics of St Mark’s church were definitely the most challenging of the tour so far, having performed in bigger churches up to that point. Having said that, we often talk about the Byrd mass being more at home in less resonant spaces, so arguably it was a good thing, even if it wasn’t quite so easy. You could say it was better for some of the more florid(a) lines.

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Action shot of James on the phone. Lovely sunset just before concer

The food laid on before the concert was lovely, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and it was the icing on the cake (best I can manage at this stage) to sing to a big, appreciative audience.”

For the final concert of the tour we’re returning to the impressive St Louis basilica later today – looking forward to it!

Deep South, Deep Fried

Correspondent Kate blogs from Jackson, MS

“Our editor, in his wisdom, has attempted to ban any more references to food, since this blog seems to be turning into a culinary critique, but I’m afraid I will have to disobey straightaway and tell you all about our fantastic meal in Jackson, MS. The Mississippi Academy of Ancient Music is run by the irrepressible Richard McGuinness, whose wife Jackie is a fantastic cook of traditional Southern food. We had heard from other UK musicians of the spectacular feasts offered by Richard and Jackie, so were looking forward to what awaited us on arrival in Jackson. We were not disappointed!

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Richard and Jackie’s house

Every corner of the imposing house seemed to be full of delicious food: cornbread, gumbo, fried chicken, pineapple cake, greens, salads and even a fantastic vegetarian pasta dish. We ate like kings, and still managed barely to make a dent in the food. It turns out that catering for twelve hungry Brits was nothing for Jackie, who feeds about two hundred people every Christmas Eve!

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Incredibly, on waking the next morning, a number of the group were so hungry that they needed to make the annual pilgrimage to the group’s favourite breakfast place: Cracker Barrel. Since our first visit to “The Old Country Store” it has become something of a tour obsession, famous for the ‘Healthy Breakfast’ that came on three separate plates!

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Our favourite restaurant!

Well, enough about food. Keen to get some fresh air after two days in the car, we headed (after several navigation errors) to LeFleur Bluff State Park, a nice wooded area on the outskirts of Jackson, then headed to downtown for a picnic lunch next to the State Capitol before driving to the concert venue.

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St Philip’s Episcopal Church, Jackson

It was great to return to St Philip’s Episcopal Church – another lovely acoustic (we have been very spoiled on this tour so far!) and to perform for such an enthusiastic audience. They were extremely welcoming and friendly, but sadly we had to make our excuses and head back to the hotel – the alarm clocks all set for a 5.45am wake-up.

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Now on-board the plane to Orlando, I have amused myself/procrastinated doing the blog by colouring in all the States in which we have performed on the in-flight napkin. Still quite a few to go, although we can now add Florida to the list!”

An Unresolved Case

“What are the EXACT measurements of Eleanor’s largest suitcase?”

A question that has challenged luggage experts for decades. Here, to end years of speculation and suspense, is Eleanor’s answer:

“Committed as I am to travelling light, the largest suitcase I own measures a mere 55x35x25cm. There are several reasons for choosing a small case, the most obvious being that I don’t much fancy lugging anything larger around countless airports and hotels. It also helps when trying to fit luggage into hire cars, which, as mentioned in yesterday’s blog, can turn into a fairly tricky jigsaw puzzle. And, of course, a small suitcase leads to a correspondingly small amount of property to lose! Helen’s normally the queen of lost property, but it seems that the rest of us have over-compensated for her absence in this respect. Amy has shown herself to be a be a very apt replacement for Helen by either temporarily or permanently losing her glasses, gloves, scarf and playing cards. Kate has twice left music behind after a concert, and Katie, who had previously maintained a clean sheet in this department, has managed at various points to misplace both her concert clothes and her phone.

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Severe delays on the tarmac as BA staff try to work out how to load Jim Clements’ enormous orange suitcase…

Although these advantages tip the balance firmly in favour of a small case, it’s also true to say that I’ve rarely had trouble fitting everything I need into my modest one, and have often wondered what exactly it is that other people bring with them. The largest suitcases on this trip belong to Amy, Jim and Matt, all three of which must have roughly double the volume of mine. I decided to use a long and rather unvaried day in the car to solve this mystery.

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‘It’s barely big enough for my hair tongs and eyelash curlers’, Matt exclaims

I can’t say I was overwhelmingly successful, but I did get a few clues. Some members of the group like to come with a half-empty case so that they can make use of free time, plentiful shops, and a favourable exchange rate to stock up on clothes. James is the prime culprit in this department, having so far obtained no less than five shirts and two jumpers. Ben has also done well, with two shirts and a pair of trousers, although at least one of these purchases was forced upon him after his black trousers ripped on the night of our first concert!

Another reason to leave extra room in our cases is for the transportation of CDs from one venue to the next. Becky does a great job of ensuring that we have plenty to sell after each of our concerts, and is often on the lookout for willing volunteers to squeeze a few into any available space.

This tour has also shown that others may be a little more shrewd than me when planning for unexpected changes in the weather. After an extremely cold winter in many parts of the US, the weather is proving highly changeable, and it’s touch and go as to whether my meagre supply of warm-weather clothes will last till we get to Florida!

Some like their luggage in bright colours - and that seems to extend to trousers...

Some like their luggage in bright colours – and that seems to extend to trousers too…

Then there’s the odd luxury item, some of which give us all reason to be grateful. Top prize goes to James, whose Bose speaker gave us a taste of home with Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite as we sat down to brunch in Kate and Becky’s Cincinnati apartment. So perhaps what I’ve really learned here is to be careful before pouring scorn on everyone else’s inability to travel light!”

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Eleanor’s favourite luxury item (as long as someone else is carrying it)

A Night in Nashville

One night in the home of Honky Tonk – an update from one car as the convoy hurtles down the freeway…

Boots, stetsons and the Johnny Cash museum - it's Nashville!

Boots, stetsons and the Johnny Cash museum – it’s Nashville!

After a civilised getting-up time this morning we picked up two hire cars from Cincinnati airport, in order to head to Nashville. Thankfully American cars have plenty of room for six people and six suitcases – it wouldn’t be possible in the UK! There was a school-game-style standoff while ‘teams’ were picked for the cars, but luckily all embarrassment was spared as it was decided eventually on suitcase size and, as far as we’re aware, no one was left standing on the tarmac.

Having a four-hour journey ahead of us, the next thing to look forward to would be lunch, and we had several abortive forays into promising-sounding roadside towns, finding alarming signposts (see below) but no sign of lunch.

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We pressed on to the quaintly-named college town, Bowling Green, and found the perfect spot for an al fresco lunch in the 26°C sunshine. (We all very virtuously had salads in preparation for what would be a big meal in the evening but discovered much later that the other carload had ‘accidentally’ had an enormous lunch – easy to do in America).

It seems like we were remarkably lucky with the weather – there was evidence of snow on the pavements, suggesting the boiling sunshine had only arrived just before us! The weather also led to a frantic hunt for shops in which to buy summer clothes as we’d all packed according to the then weather forecast and loaded up with wooly jumpers!

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The other carload was commanded by Captain Jim, who likes to run a tight ship, but we realised quite how tight when we arrived over three hours after them! (Not helped by a pile-up on route I65 which meant more spontaneous sight-seeing of random American towns).

The evening saw not just the biggest meal of the tour so far, but perhaps the biggest meal some of us had ever seen, as well as possibly the most unhealthy (Ben’s battered and deep fried steak being a highlight). In fact there were some among us who feared it might be our final meal if we actually attempted to eat everything on our plate.

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We had a bit of a wander around Nashville in the balmy evening sun and couldn’t believe how lively things were so early in the evening! The main street, Broadway, is lined with bars, all of which have live music, and Honky Tonk Row is buzzing with various live acts competing in adjacent bars.

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Honky Tonk Row

It felt a bit strange to be there not to do a concert, but we resisted the urge to experiment with country/renaissance crossover and saved our voices for Thursday night in Jackson…

Sunny Cincinnati

Emma blogs on a successful return to Cincinnati!

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Cathedral of St Peter in Chains

“Today started, well, yesterday. After a less-than-ideal travel day we eventually reached the Garfield suites hotel at 1.15am. After the most welcome night’s sleep of the tour so far, we were treated to a fabulous brunch of bacon, eggs, pastries and fruit salad in Kate and Becky’s suite. It’s great having a kitchen on tour as the thing I miss most is cooking (and it’s also the best way to get value for money!). After eating we took a bit of a busman’s holiday and did some singing! It’s often difficult for the music sub-committee to choose what goes into a new programme if the music in question is unfamiliar, so the best way to see if it will suit our forces is to sing it, and being on tour is an ideal time. In this case we were trying out some music by De Wert for a concert in Antwerp in the summer – he’s not a composer we have any of in our repertoire so this will be a bespoke programme.

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Singing through some pieces by De Wert

On this tour, in Andrew’s absence, I’ve taken on the rôle of rehearsal co-ordinator. As well as satisfying my latent bossiness, it’s mainly about trying to work out which pieces need attention. When we’re doing a programme many times in a row it’s easy to either get complacent, or (as we are prone) to go into far too much detail. I often catch myself in concerts thinking more about how to improve the bit we’ve just sung than thinking about what’s coming up! It’s always a relief to get to the last concert of tour, when we feel like we can just relax and enjoy it, warts and all.

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After a delicious homemade pasta dinner, courtesy of the cathedral music series festival, the concert went well on the whole (a notable lowlight being when in a reduced-voice piece, neither of the people with perfect pitch were on stage, so we had to guess (not entirely successfully) which key to sing the piece in!), but this was more than made up for by the luxurious acoustic of the cathedral of St Peter-in-chains. There was a lovely post-concert reception laid on by the festival, then we headed to a local bar, where a quick drink turned into several…”

World's largest chocolate chip? Catering involving ice cream makes everyone happy

World’s largest chocolate chip? Catering involving ice cream makes everyone happy

Over the next two days we’ll be exploring the American Mid-West as we make our way to Jackson, Mississippi. Looking forward to the concert there on Thursday!

Unexpected Pentagon Visit

Ben looks back on a long trip to Cincinnati

“The day started well enough….

Leaving New York

Leaving New York

… but took a turn for the worse. No tour would be complete without at least one day where the travel plans cascade in front of us like a line of dominoes. It only takes one slight delay to a flight for the intricate web of connections to become a tangled mess. Yesterday’s travel-day between NY and Cincinnati was just such an occasion. This is how we feel about days like this:

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Having caught a [delayed] flight from New York to Washington DC (en route to Cincinnati), we became concerned that someone might self-destruct after six hours of thumb-twiddling and card-gaming. So we hatched a plan to escape on the metro to the nearest point of interest, which happened to be Pentagon City.

Washington DC from the air

Washington DC from the air

It’s a fairly non-descpript part of town, but is home to a branch of Californian Pizza Kitchen, which was distinctly better than anything at the airport, especially with outdoor seating where we could enjoy the evening sun and relatively fresh air.

Californian Pizza Kitchen: the escape from Wahington Reagan airport

Californian Pizza Kitchen: the escape from Wahington Reagan airport

Feeling much more human we returned to Washington Reagan airport and continued on our merry (thanks to a few drinks with dinner) way. Luckily it was plain sailing from then on, but we still had a bit of time to kill, so Jim decided to create a crossword. See below…”

The extremely late flight to Cincinnati – Will is so tired he accidentally sits in the cockpit

Clues:

Across
2             Eleanor’s degree subject (11)
10           Eight performers (5)
11           Increase laboriously (3)
12           Large bovine (2)
13           Tonic (2)
14           Not off (2)
15           Supertonic (2)
16           Meditation by Savonarola (7,3)
(also 23 down)
17           Nuchal Translucency (abbrev.) (2)
18           One (Scots) (2)
20           The world’s finest airline (2)
21           First person plural (2)
23           Critics pour these forth (8)
26           To proceed (2)
27           Of (French, or Spanish) (2)
28           Fuss (about nothing?) (3)
29           Katie’s cathedral city (11)
30           The same as 14 across! (2)
32           Irresponsible fellow (3)
34           An immeasurably long time (4)
35           Stile’s record label (8,5)
36           Mantric hum (2)
37           Petrol (American) (3)
39           Byrd wrote three of these (4)
40           Instrument played by Emma (11)
42           Belonging to him (3)
43           Abbreviation of even (3)
44           Stile’s most-recent programme (1,7,4)
46           Search for food (6)

Down
1             Composer of Woefully Arrayed (6)
2             Epic antiphon by John Sheppard (5,4)
3             Make amends (5)
4             Ashby twin not on tour (5)
5             Stile’s 2008 Grammy nominee (5,3,8)
6             Leading note (2)
7             Stile’s management agency (4)
8             One hundredth of a semitone (4)
9             Chopping tool (3)
12           Gibbons’ first name (7)
19           Spiral-horned deer (4)
20           Constricting snake (3)
22           Second mode (6)
23           see 16 across
24           Moved seamlessly onwards (6)
25           Stile’s 2010 Grammy nominee (4,2,4)
29           Pertaining to pyjamas (6)
31           Included (2)
32           Traditionally thrown into the river (3)
33           Divided (6)
34           Prolific, yet elusive composer (4)
35           see 40 down
37           A secluded valley (4)
38           After tea, a Brit’s favourite tipple (3)
40           Final motet of Lassus’ Lagrime (4,4)
(also 35 down)
41           Friendly fellow (4)
42           Ugly, old woman (3)
44           Otherwise (2)
45           Egyptian sun god (2)