Choir trip's high notes rose above the alarms

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
Six weeks ago, when I was asked if I would take my senior choir to Bruchsal in Germany to represent the town in a musical festival, my initial reaction was one of caution.

But why? They would be flown out for a long weekend free of charge. They would receive a lovely welcome and have the chance to sing to new audiences. It was an ideal chance to reward them for all their hard work in rehearsing and performing through the year. It was perfect.

But alarm bells rang in my ears as the advice from many was to be very careful about planning such a trip. Friends in other schools furnished me with a litany of horror stories involving litigious parents, inadequate risk assessments, badly behaved pupils and other potential pitfalls. A union official also advised against the trip.

But it would hardly be a new venture for me: I had previously led six foreign choir tours, though not for some years, and I was told the climate had changed drastically in the interim.

Yet a trip like this would be such a positive experience in so many ways. It would help the group to bond in a way that the two after-school rehearsals per week could never do. It would have obvious musical benefits and provide good publicity for the faculty and the school. So what was I to do?

In the end, the hardest decision was taken out of my hands as a member of the senior leadership team volunteered to be the trip leader, leaving me free to focus on the many musical aspects that had to be sorted out at short notice.

The trip turned out to be a great success and the least problematic I've ever been involved in. The kids were great. There were the usual hitches that are always a part of such an experience - even before we had left, I was the one who couldn't find his passport (it was finally discovered with my sandwiches). Then, on arrival at our destination, we soon found out that our accommodation for the first night was woefully inadequate. But this brought out the Dunkirk spirit in the students: rather than dwell on it, they thrived on the adversity as they partied into the night. The tone for the whole visit was set.

How could I have contemplated not being part of this? The whole experience reminded me why I became a teacher: the good-natured banter between pupils and staff; seeing the quieter pupils gradually losing their reserve and being as raucously involved as the others; the older choristers keeping an eye out for the younger ones; the a cappella rendition of the whole repertoire on the coach; the choir's ability to become a disciplined unit when the time came to perform; and their pride in their performance.

On the last day, we arrived at the airport to be told it was to be closed because of volcanic ash - but our flight might just make it out in time. I'm sure many secretly hoped we would have to stay for a few more days.

Of course there are potential problems with these extra-curricular activities, and there have been many instances of them going wrong - and it is easy to forget this when returning euphorically from a trip that has been a happy, successful experience, as most of them are. What is clear is that everything possible must be done to enable these events to continue - for the sake of pupils and teachers.

Geraint Davies, Head of arts faculty, Llantarnam School, Cwmbran, Gwent.

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