Ah, the Fast Hotel. We met again, and some for the first time.
The name depicts how we felt about one of France’s gems: wanting to get in and out as fast as possible. Let’s just say that we had some encounters with bugs and strange smells….oh, and you’re able to brush your teeth and shower at the same time. I’ll leave it at that. Despite the interesting accommodation, it was actually my favourite hotel of the trip (and the trip my freshman year. If you’re new to the website, hey! I’m a rising senior at Samford).
As soon as we were safe and sound in the hotel (or maybe I should say sound), we crashed after a long day of travel and rested our voices for the day we’d been waiting for…
Day 1: We drove in to town and parked in our usual spot by the theatre (such travelers, duh). Rehearsal began, we ate lunch and went in bakery after bakery, loading ourselves up with macaroons and chocolate (I’m talking to you, Rob). Our performance time was not until 9:40 p.m….a little awkward, to say the least, but it was great in that our voices were well warmed up by then! We delivered a great performance for a rockstar panel of judges including Brady Allred (previous conductor of the University of Utah Chamber Singers, coincidentally winners of 2014 Florilege), Ko Matsushita (composer of Jubilate Deo, a song we performed at the 2012 Florilege) and Thierry Machuel (composer of our “Afraid” and “Homesick Blues”).
Day 2: Wifi was few and far between and the showers were cold, but France remained a kind host. After rehearsing outside and eating a leisurely lunch (baguettes and pain au chocolat) with great company, we walked around Tours and sat at a French coffee shop. Literally, the name was “French Coffee Shop.” We wandered back to our rehearsal space and regrouped before our 7 p.m. performance.
After singing, we sat at a coffee shop right next to the theatre (they probably made bank that week). Five of us were sitting there, and some French women asked us to sing. Thankfully we had every voice part represented (at least, SATB), so we gladly sang “Mille Regretz,” a French favourite. Depressing lyrics, but beautiful none the less, and special for us to share!
All competition participants gathered in the theatre lobby at 9:30 that night to hear if their choir made the Grand Prix, or essentially the finals round. There were five choirs announced, and we were the fifth!! That meant we performed last the next day. It was an exhilarating feeling, and we headed back to the hotel with high spirits.
Day 3: This day held so much meaning for so many of us. We had been in the same position two years prior, and had won second place along with many other awards. We brought out the big guns for the Grand Prix, presenting the best literature we had poured over.
Performance time was 4:20, so I woke up for a mint tea + croissant breakfast, 10:15 rehearsal and roommate date for lunch. At our 2 p.m. rehearsal and walk-through, my friend Daniel made a helpful storyline for the six songs we were to sing. We benefit by picturing the message of each song, and Daniel’s image really engaged us…
The set follows Mary’s story. We opened with “Salve, Regina” that details Mary’s doubt, awe and the complexity of her calling and responsibility. Fast forward to Jesus’ birth, and imagine Simeon holding Christ in his arms. “Nunc Dimittis” tells the story of Simeon understanding that as soon as he sees the Son of God, he is going to heaven. Mary looks upon this event with the realization of her son as Saviour of the world. “Mille Regretz” depicts Mary’s grief over Christ’s death. Could she have done something different? But then the third morning comes… The dawn is awakened by three cockerel calls in Ligetis “Reggel” and Jesus rose, to Mary’s delight! Our fifth song,”Mate Saule,” is a Latvian piece also about morning…mother churning the butter and getting ready for the day. Some went about their daily activities and didn’t know that Jesus had risen, until He gloriously appeared. And we finished with a dance break, because Pentecost happened and the Holy Spirit came down in “Nyon, Nyon”!
We sat behind the stage curtain for the dreaded wait until we sang, hearing Latvians bust out some powerful music. Competition gets in your blood and it’s hard to shake it. We felt it pulsing, and we were excited.
It was time for the 5 p.m. awards ceremony. Almost identical to two years ago, we started a group sing with “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” inside the beautiful theatre. Other choirs followed suit and sang songs that represented their group. We ended up singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Goodnight Sweetheart.” It was so fun, and as the clapping and singing got louder, the curtain lifted and out came the announcer.
Waiting is so nerve-racking, isn’t it?! (See what I’m doing here?). Most of you have already seen, but if you’d like to read about the awards in more detail, click here.
We are extremely grateful for the experience and truly benefited from it. Because of competition, we are a better choir–more committed, driven and unified. We have loved both Florilege Vocal de Tours competitions, but there is a little twang of sadness that comes with second place (for the second time!). Even so, we came together and celebrated the huge accomplishment that is second place in an international competition, and the general success and fun of a whole year! Each choir sang for the last time in the public square (surprisingly, a huge crowd was gathered) and a reception was held in the stunning Hotel de Ville for all the participants. We then traveled back to the Fast Hotel for the last time (mixed emotions, I’m sure you can tell).
As our bus ride to Paris (in order to fly home) began at 3:30 a.m. the next morning, we decided to conclude the official trip activities with “toilet paper awards” at midnight. I can’t share, but I will say much laughter filled the Fast Hotel parking lot. Groggy-eyed and exhausted, we woke up (or stayed up…guilty) ready to be back home.
Man, what a group of people. Traditions and songs draw us together, but the friendships that have been built are what keeps us together. My heart bursts with love for these people, and I can assure you that many tears (and laughs….I was quite delirious after 42 hours of no sleep) were shed when we exited the bus in Birmingham.
A Cappella, you’ve been good to me. But even more so, Jesus, you’ve been so good to me. He causes not just my mouth, but my heart to sing. I have so graciously been given a voice to praise my Saviour’s name. What an honour to sing praise in different languages–from Alleluja to Jesum to Dieu to Deo, God is all throughout choral music. I’m so excited for August, which begins my last year at Samford and my last year in A Cappella. Bring on the fresh faces, and bring on a new adventure! Thank you for joining me in this traveling journey! Gotta end it with the hashtag.. #ACinEU #noregretz