Tour of Sri Lanka: Return to Colombo

JakeSecond year Tenor Choral Scholar and our resident Historian, Jake Dyble, reflects on the last few days of a wonderful tour of Sri Lanka…

The service of lessons and carols at St. John’s College, Jaffna was our last singing commitment for several days. The Choral Scholars naturally viewed this hiatus as a chance to conserve energy and rest voices. Forgoing late-night use of the outdoor pool and politely refusing the free drinks offered by the hotel manager, everyone retired early to bed.

After a curiously subdued four-hour coach journey the next morning, we arrived in Anuradhapura. The ancient city has a recorded history that goes back more than 2000 years, and remains an important site for Buddhists in the present day. Unfortunately the choir’s knowledge of Buddhism was rather hazy; posting filtered snaps of our new elephant pants on Instagram was the closest most of us had thus far come to Enlightenment. Thankfully our host, Professor Senanayake, a practicing Buddhist, was on hand to help, and her commentary greatly enriched our tour of the ancient temples. The sight of these monolithic structures rising above the forest canopy was extremely impressive and had a profound effect on the Choral Scholars. Those possessed of fertile imaginations fancied themselves as Indiana Jones reborn. Unfortunately our purple umbrellas rather spoiled the illusion; those with a firmer grip on reality remarked that I was closer to Marcus Brody. Decide for yourself with this picture…!

Anuradhapura

Our journey across Sri Lanka continued and progress was characteristically inconspicuous thanks to our sensitive demeanour and acute knowledge of local custom. I’m joking of course. We lumbered across the landscape in a ten-tonne air-conditioned chrome juggernaut, which, while guaranteeing maximum comfort, drew the eyes of attention of pretty much every other road user we passed. But this massive bulk was to prove advantageous. Thanks to unusually high rainfall, many roads were badly flooded. Our fording of vast road-lakes provided a welcome diversion on our circuitous journey back to Colombo. Unimpeded, we continued to leave a buffet-based trail of destruction behind us as we trundled from one excellent Sri Lankan dinner to another. It was all highly agreeable.

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Sigiriya was our final stop before reaching Colombo. The ruins of this fortress are located on top of a huge column of rock – on all sides lie precipitous 200-metre drops. It was constructed in the 4th century BC by a Sri Lankan prince who, having murdered his father, hoped (in vain) to escape his vengeful brother. Once at the top we were rewarded with a breathtaking view.  We could see lakes, gardens and Buddha statues in the foreground, and great mountains on the horizon, all wreathed in an unearthly mist – at least before the weather moved in. It was well worth the climb, and the long journey back to Colombo.

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Our last two nights in Sri Lanka were spent at the Pegasus Reef Beach Hotel. Many choir members began our final day with a swim in the pool or in the sea, followed by an open air breakfast. After some morning shopping, we had lunch with the Senanayake family at their home, yet another buffet. (You know you’re doing well on tour when you’re enjoying a buffet to performance ratio of about 5 to 1).

Colombo RehearsalWe were eventually reminded that the ostensible purpose of our tour was singing rather than eating. Our final concert was a rare opportunity for the Choir – a performance at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, in front of an audience of more than 1500 people. The repertoire was mainly Christmas classics and carols, but with a few notable additions including the Gabrielli setting of the Magnificat. The audience were not particularly animated, but once again we were touched by the openness and appreciative comments of those we talked to after the performance. I particularly enjoyed talking with members of the Aquinas College Choir, a choir of young students whose leaders and conductor were drawn from their own number. They said that the performance had been very inspiring and they had been encouraged to add some of our music to their repertoire, providing a good example of the benefits of cross-cultural exchange.

We ourselves have learned a great deal from our stay in Sri Lanka and we all owe a great debt of gratitude to Mark, the Senanayake family, and all those in the UK and Sri Lanka who made the trip possible. This is not an experience that any of us will forget. The demands made on us were few: all we had to do was turn up at the coach at 3 o’clock on the 11th (and some of us didn’t even manage that!). From that point on we were led from one incredible experience to another. It is hardly possible that a student ensemble should deserve the hospitality we were shown in Sri Lanka. Hopefully our performances and workshops went at least part of the way to repaying that generosity.

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