The choir arrived at Colombo Airport in the blazing heat of midday, with squinting eyes and exclamations of ‘where did I pack my suncream?!’. The excitement was palpable as the lush tropical landscape revealed itself during the coach transfer to Colombo. After twenty chaotic minutes spent dropping bags off at hostels, hosts and hotels, and trying to make ourselves look vaguely presentable after sixteen hours of travelling, we were whisked away to tea at the Tourist Board. We nibbled sandwiches and sipped tea as we watched the tropical sun sink into the ocean before a quick rendition of Jingle Bells. This contrast was something we would become very accustomed to over the next twelve days! A whistle-stop tour of Colombo gave us a much better sense of Sri Lanka’s leading city, as well as who in the choir could handle the sheer terror of low-flying bats and birds… A delicious buffet dinner at the Colombo Swimming Club was welcomed by all, and was the first in a long line of generously hosted meals which kept us energised throughout the tour.
Our first full day in Sri Lanka began bright and early, in order to fit in a visit to Galle Fort before running our first workshop with local school children. Some of us enjoyed the opportunity to display our parkour skills on the UNESCO Heritage Site, whilst others were happy to take photos and enjoy the balmy weather. After the next installment of incredible local delicacies at a buffet lunch kindly put on by Deco on 44, the choir was ready to run its first workshop. The young school girls appeared to enjoy the afternoon as much as we did, playing rhythm games and learning various pieces such as Blue Moon, and simpler nursery-school rhymes. Feeling buoyant after such a positive start to the tour workshops, the choir relished the chance to swim in the infinity pool at the Lighthouse Hotel, with certain members behaving in a way not unlike the young children they were teaching only an hour before! Once the frivolities were over, it was down to some serious rehearsal work, as the first concert of the tour loomed that evening. Much to everyone’s delight, the evening went very well, and we were very touched that some of the girls from the workshop came to see us perform. The concert also featured a local dance troupe, which couldn’t have contrasted more with our Western classical offerings!
Our second full day was spent at St Thomas’ College in Colombo, where we worked with another group of local schoolchildren. The morning was spent rehearsing in the chapel with the boys choir of St Thomas’ College for the joint Service of Lessons and Carols that afternoon, and running another workshop with pupils from local schools. During the lunch break, we enjoyed eating in the school dining hall and finding out more about life as a Sri Lankan school pupil from some of the more talkative boys. After another successful workshop in the afternoon, the choir once again took full advantage of the opportunity to swim, with some members using this chance to show off their Olympic water polo skills.
We enjoyed listening to the choir of St Thomas’ singing some well known Christmas pieces in the joint Christmas service, as well as performing some works alongside them.
Processing out to the final verse of Adeste Fideles and catching the end of the striking tropical sunset was a moment none of us are likely to forget any time soon! However, one of the most memorable evenings of the trip had only just begun… Just under an hour later, we found ourselves in the courtyard of The Mount Lavinia Hotel, one of the nicest hotels in Colombo, in a tropical storm, waiting to sing in a Christmas tree, whilst a fireworks display was let off at a slightly closer distance than was comfortable. Soon, we were performing Jingle Bells and White Christmas from inside the model Christmas tree itself… None of us were quite able to process this unique combination of circumstances! Shellshocked, we moved on to a dinner with the Cambridge Sri Lanka Society at which we performed some of our shorter pieces, and ended the evening with a jolly rendition of Goodnight Sweetheart.
The third full day of the tour featured what many members will remember as the most challenging concert of the trip. The choir spent the morning hard at work rehearsing in a dance studio, and Mark took great pleasure in making the group sing to their own reflections – a traumatising experience for some. Lunch was hosted by the British High Commissioner, and a few members were very excited by the opportunity to get some Foreign Office interview tips. The early afternoon was spent at leisure, and most of the group chose to indulge in some retail therapy. This was a good chance for some to correct a few packing errors. Another rehearsal at the Colombo Ladies College Hall followed, and, as Mark pointed out, the pressure was on, as the concert that evening was to be filmed and recorded. The concert itself was very well received (read a charming review here: http://bit.ly/1vfaLLY), but was made very challenging by the heat on stage. The audience was full of positive feedback however, and the main solos from Jaliya, Declan and Julia were a particular highlight.
The choir was treated to another incredible buffet meal post-concert, and then a much needed night of sleep before moving on to Kandy in the morning…