Tuesday 30th October 2012
It was very cold and very dark when 21 bleary eyed girls and five equally bleary eyed teachers arrived at The Downs at 4.00am on the second Tuesday of half term, to board the coach bound for Gatwick North Terminal. Before long, however, the sun was starting to peak over the horizon and we were off to Malta for the inaugural HSW Senior Girls’ Choir Tour.
The transformation from cold, dark, damp SW20 to warm, sunny Malta was amazing. A short 3 hour flight and half hour minibus transfer and we arrived at the Gillieru Hotel in St Paul’s Bay. Situated on the shores of the bay where St Paul was shipwrecked in AD60, and just around the bay from the Hobbs family’s apartment, all the girls had windows or balconies looking out onto the Mediterranean and many could also see Mr Hobbs enjoying an early morning cup of tea on his balcony!
First stop was the beach and a chance to explore the rock pools for anemones and crabs, dip a tentative toe in the waters and even to break into an impromptu performance of ‘Zu Jiggyman’. Later on there was an opportunity for a swim before we entered the tardis-like dimensions of the Hobbs’ apartment for a delicious lasagne supper prepared by Mr Hobbs before heading back to the hotel for a welcome early night.
Wednesday 31st October 2012
Wednesday morning, after enjoying a buffet breakfast, we were off to the walled city of Mdina for our first performance. Built from the local, golden limestone and famous for its splendid palaces, Mdina is a maze of narrow streets, high walls and impressive doors. Our first venue was the Carmelite Priory where the girls were to perform in the Refectory. The acoustics were excellent and after a brief rehearsal, and a spot of fresh air on the ramparts of the city, the girls performed to an audience of about 25 people, with another 15 or so either listening from the doorways or arriving part way through. It was wonderful to have the familiar faces of the Servaes family also there to support us. By the time we had finished, the wind was picking up and the sky was clouding over so we were treated to lunch at a local pizzeria rather than the planned picnic. Returning to the hotel, the heavens opened and so we all retired to our rooms to wait out the rain before diary writing and supper at Mr Hobbs’.
“We sang in the Refectory in the Carmelite Priory. It was the most breath-taking room I’ve ever seen in my life with vibrant colours dancing on the ceiling and pictures of saints, which were interesting to ponder upon.” Millie Stokes (7X)
Thursday 1st November 2012
Thursday saw us back in Mdina for our second concert. This time in the open air on the loggia of the Xara Palace Hotel. The girls were in fine voice again and coped well with their more mobile audience of tour groups, restaurant clientele, karozzin and even some rather noisy traffic. Our own fan club had by this time increased by 50% with the addition of Mr and Mrs Aston. Our local link took photographs of the girls as well and posted them to the hotel and restaurant’s Facebook pages, along with a glowing review, almost before we’d finished! Lunch was a very grand affair at the Palazzo de Piro where the girls enjoyed a variety of pasta options and then some rather decadent eclairs!
“Our second performance was in front of the loggia of the Xara Palace. There people can come and go whenever they want so it was more casual and I think everyone preferred performing like that.” Kiera Bowes (10U)
From Mdina we returned to the hotel via Mosta where we visited the church that boasts the third largest unsupported dome in the world – and which is further renowned for having survived a bombing during WWII. The bomb bounced around the congregation without detonating and the girls were able to see a replica of it in the sacristy. It was at this point that the girls’ fame became evident… staff were approached by various people who had heard them sing earlier on and who wanted to communicate how much they had enjoyed it and how impressed they were that the girls, “looked so smart”, “knew all the words”, “were so well behaved”, “sounded so beautiful.” Back in St Paul’s Bay, there was a chance to swim in the Roman baths, and explore the town a little – including a long stop at the ‘Bocci’ court to try to determine the rules of this boules-like game, before the routine of diary writing and supper.
Friday 2nd November 2012
So to Friday, and the Tigne Point shopping centre in Sliema where the girls performed with the strangely familiar backdrop of… Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and New Look! By now we were encountering a growing number of people who had come along specifically to hear the girls, including a number of Hobbs’ family friends. The girls’ dulcet tones could apparently be heard as soon as one entered the shopping centre. The girls found it a very different experience singing here and were even a little insulted that people just kept walking past while they were singing. However, a number of them enjoyed chatting with various passers-by afterwards before being given time to go and investigate the shops.
“I didn’t think a lot of people would watch us because when we started to sing they just walked straight past taking no notice. However, as we carried on, more and more people stopped to listen and NOT to laugh.” Nora Matseke (8W)
Unfortunately, the minibuses were delayed in picking us up from Sliema but we passed the time identifying various shapes in the clouds and playing “Inky, pinky, plonky, wonky”… ask the girls! Back to St Paul’s Bay for a picnic lunch with traditional Maltese bread and cheese and then more swimming, this time with a group of trainee SCUBA divers for added entertainment! We went out for dinner in St Paul’s Bay to a local pizzeria and engaged the interest of other diners to such an extent that the girls were called upon to perform ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ a capella, to great applause.
Saturday 3rd November 2012
Saturday saw our final visit to Mdina, the christening of donkey Ian, a chance to buy some local souvenirs and our most blistering concert venue. On the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral (a little smaller than London’s version) in the midday sun, the girls once again excelled and treated great crowds to their full repertoire. One tour guide delayed her group’s progress purely so they could hear the girls and then invited them to a choir competition in California! A picnic lunch under the trees on the ramparts provided some welcome shade and relief but we still made it back to St Paul’s Bay in time for more swimming.
“We started singing at 12, all trying to fight the powerful heat of the sun. It was our hardest concert, yet never the less many tourists crowded St Paul’s Square with huge smiles on their faces.” Imene Bouriah (11T)
Sunday 4th November 2012
Sunday morning and we were off to the capital city of Valletta for Sung Eucharist at St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral. We were given a warm welcome and rehearsed briefly before taking our places in the choir stalls for the service. Thankfully this was an English congregation so we were all able to follow the order of service. While the congregation took communion the girls sang ‘O Perfect Love’ and Chloe and India sang their duet of ‘Ave Maria’. After the service, the girls sang three pieces to more rapturous applause.
“The service was Holy Communion, so we were all blessed at the altar. We sang ‘O Perfect Love’ and Chloe and India performed their duet, ‘Ave Maria’ while members of the congregation received their bread and wine. Lots of people complimented us on our singing and we were applauded as we left the cathedral, which was the perfect way to end our concerts.” Clare Brown (11T)
A picnic lunch ensued, this time in the Upper Barrakka gardens overlooking the Grand Harbour, before a series of group photographs and our return to St Paul’s Bay for a well earned ice cream on the beach. A final swim, diary writing and supper and then it was all over. If we’d had a fat lady with us, she would proverbially have sung!
A selection of photographs taken on the tour is available to view in the Photo Gallery.