4 AM. A rude awakening after a boisterously successful final concert of Esprit’s first tour to China. Most of the orchestra had had two hours of sleep, but there was a 5 AM bus call which means you have to be checked out and on the bus by that time.
Our volunteer translator/PA’s were waiting in the lobby for us, even though they had also been part of the lobby party two hours previously. They wanted to accompany the orchestra to the Nanning Airport to say goodbye. Sally, leader of the volunteers, asked me how to say goodbye, but meaning ‘see you again’ rather than a final farewell, so I suggested “à la prochaine”. It was a little tricky for her (her first language being Chinese) and she kept repeating it over and over until she remembered it. Each PA was so sad to be joining us in the lobby for the last time.
On the bus, it was an unusually subdued bunch as almost everyone was too tired to talk. Maria Pelletier, personnel manager of the orchestra on this tour did a roll call for the final time. The musicians yawned their responses and the bus took off.
There were many hugs and some tears and final photos taken with our PA’s when we stood in line to check our luggage. Some final goodbye gifts were exchanged as we made our way through Nanning Airport Security. Everyone slept on the plane.
At the Beijing Airport, we circled the baggage claim conveyer belt, taking photos of each other. Alex and I were on our way to Pingyao (a 2,800 year a preserved ancient walled-city southwest of Beijing) while most of the orchestra was on its way back to Toronto. It was a very happy group of musicians knowing that they had performed really well, had been recognized as such, and they had had a great time to boot!
By then, everyone was awake and chatting excitedly about the tour, recalling favourite stories with each other. There were big smiles all around. We had eaten Chinese food several times a day (heaven help you if you didn’t like Chinese food!) and several of us had even chosen Chinese breakfasts on the road, although I have to admit eating Chinese food with a
chaser of coffee was a little weird! We had performed energetically and enthusiastically under the very strange twelve hour time difference (jet lag at its worst?) and we had learned to navigate the very dangerous road crossings in Beijing and Nanning! We had even eaten street food together at the night market!
Each of our concerts in China was wildly successful, with cheering packed houses, including that opening concert in Beijing even given the percussion snafu! (see Blog #3: Esprit’s Heroes). Yes, most of the percussion had arrived in
time for the baton drop on that first concert (we were all quite nervous) and in fact, the last instrument to arrive that night was the glockenspiel, which was handed to Alex exactly ONE MINUTE before he was to walk on stage. The final handover happened right there onstage with Alex thrusting the errant glockenspiel into the waiting hands of our percussionist just as he walked on stage for our first ever performance in China! An indelible memory!
Since many of the musicians had never before been to China, they had said they didn’t have a clue what was in store for them. The trip had greatly exceeded their expectations!
The musicians had all withstood the challenges of being on the road in China with good humour and a sense of adventure. Not a crabby musician in the bunch. They had really risen to the occasion, had performed dynamically, and had peaked at the performances. The audiences were raucously appreciative and the orchestra loved that.
A new bond had developed in Esprit given all these shared adventures in exotic China. Also, a bond had developed between our orchestra and its Chinese hosts. Nanning wants Alex back to help train its orchestra. Of course, they also want Esprit back for more high octane performances.
Our next high point will be the opening concert of Esprit’s THIRTY-THIRD season in Toronto in our fabulous Koerner Hall on October 4, 2015.
Come hear what all the noise was about!
– Alexina Louie