USA Tour Day 12 – Disneyland Studio Workshops

Day Twelve – Tuesday 14th April 2015.

Today was another huge day on our USA tour. Very quickly there is the realisation that it is all coming to an end, this time tomorrow evening we’ll be back on the plane heading home…how time has flown!

Anyway, that’s enough of me pondering on what is to come, there’s so many exciting things that we have managed to fit into today.

Today was our second day at Disneyland, and boy oh boy was it an exciting one. The day started early with breakfast, the parks opened at 9:00am and the plan was to be there bang smack on 9 to ensure we got the most out of the day before and after our film score workshops in Disney Performing Arts Studios. I was going to heading off with the Concert Band for their workshops being held at 12:30pm.

We got to the park by around 9:30am and headed through California Adventure to get our Fast Track tickets for the evening event “Disney’s World of Colour” this is the finale show held every evening at Disney California Adventure, the Fast Track ensured we would get a good viewing position for the entire show.

Once we had gotten our passes we headed off for some time in the park. I had only a short amount of time, until 10:30am, to get through as many rides as possible before meeting up with some fellow staff members to head back to the hotel to load the instruments onto the buses for the students’ workshop. We had decided that this would be a more effective way for the students to get more time in the fun parks  plus logistically just beefier for us. I headed over to Disneyland and managed to get on the Indiana Jones Rollercoaster Ride – it was pretty cool, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I walked around to see if I’d be able to get onto Big Thunder Mountain, another roller coaster, prior to 10:30am, unfortunately the estimated time was going to cut it too close for my liking so I headed back to the hotel to meet up with my colleagues.

The loading of instruments worked exceptionally well, we had all instruments loaded onto the bus by 11:00am and headed back to the park. We were meeting the students at 11:30am, this meant that we didn’t really have enough time to go on any more rides so we headed into Down Town Disney. Down Town Disney is basically a number of tourist shops and cafes located outside of the theme parks for people to spend a lot of money. I had a look through some of the shops as well as find The House of Blues, the place we;d be having dinner later int he evening before heading back to the meeting place inside California Adventure.

Once all the students were assembled we headed to the entrance point of the backstage area. We were informed that we had to turn off our mobile phones, no photography was allowed back stage, if anyone was seen with there phones out then they’d be taken off them. We had an official group photo (for the memories) in the Disney Performing Arts School before walking through the carpark to the recording studio.

Having arrived at the recording studio we were welcomed and escorted into the room where we were going to record some well known music from various Disney films. We were introduced to our Musical Director taking the workshop, Sal Lozano, a professional freelance musician from Southern California.

His biography was impressive and quite intimidating with him being a featured member of ensembles lead by Johnny Mandel and Tom Kubis as well as being a member of the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band. He has also recorded and worked with Paul McCartney, Natalie Cole, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Lalo Schifrin, Brian McKnight, Michael Buble, Keely Smith, Barbra Streisand, Joey DeFrancesco, and Maynard Ferguson.

Sal has been a member of the Dancing with the Stars House Band, the American Idol House Band, and the Academy Awards Orchestra along with numerous other television and commercial credits. He has also performed at the Gala for the President at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. and as a soloist with the Pacific Symphony, The San Diego Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Sal can be heard on numerous movie soundtracks including National Treasure, Legally Blonde 2, Public Enemies, Just like Heaven, Happy Feet, Phineas and Ferb the last three Star Trek movies and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, to name a few. He frequently occupies the principal chair at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles as well as the Pasadena Playhouse.  Shows include Matilda, Follies, Sleepless in Seattle, The Drowsy Chaperone, Chicago, The Producers, and Edward Scissorhands.

After the introductions we got straight to work, beginning with tuning and tone exercises. Sal made the ensemble focus on tone production and picture piercing a hole through a wall with the intensity of sound and tone regardless of volume that was being used, the difference in the quality of the intonation over the ensemble improved dramatically through using this technique.

Sal explained the every day expectations of studio session musicians, they’d arrive at 9:00am and have brand new charts placed in front of them. By 9:30am musicians would be expected to record all the music for the session, being analytical at appraising their individual performance and getting it right the first time, after all time is money in the studio.

These expectations were then placed on the ensemble for all the pieces that were recorded, these included pieces from The Emperor’s New Groove, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Pinnochio and Tangled. After each piece had been recorded we were given the opportunity to watch them synced up to the animation.

The whole experience proved enjoyable and a great learning tool for all the musicians involved.

At the conclusion of the workshop we were able to head back into the theme parks for some more free time. I needed to help in the packing up and returning of instruments to the hotel, after this I headed back and enjoyed rides including Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and The Haunted Mansion. After having finished in the Haunted Mansion it was time meet up with the rest of the group for our evening meal at The House of Blues.

Dinner at the House of Blues was enjoyable, only a short walk through Down Town Disney we arrived and dined on food included pulled pork rolls, corn cakes, chicken and various salads. As with every meal, I ate way too much and was regretting it later that night!

We then headed back into he parks for some free time before the evening event “The World of Colour”. This was one of the most amazing spectacles I have ever seen, using water jets and lighting Disney have produced an hour show featuring various songs and vision from Disney Movies projected into the mist created from the water jets…truly breath taking.

At the conclusion of this spectacle it was time to head back to the meeting point, our time at Disney Land was coming to a close. I managed to make a quick stop at the Disney store, I have bought my daughter a little Piglet doll, I hope that she likes it!

Once everyone had assembled we headed back to the hotel, tomorrow will be our last day in the USA, then our flight home!

As I reflect on the last two days at Disney Land I must admit it really is the happiest place on earth, I know it’s definitely a place that I will want to come back to and share with my wife and children in the years to come!


USA Tour Day 11 – Disneyland and Baseball

Day Eleven – Monday 13th April 2015.

It’s 12:30am as I begin to write this post and boy oh boy has it been a big day!

Today was our first of two days at Disney. There’s actually two parks here in LA, on is called Disney Land, the other, Disney California Adventure. I spent most of today in the California Adventure Park as we were told it had better rides. I made the decision to go around the park by myself rather than with others, they’d slow me down and then I’d have to negotiate what I wanted to do. My philosophy is to try and get around as quick as possible, see as much as possible and go on as many rides as possible.

It was very exciting to be at Disneyland, words can’t really describe it, the wonder, the awe of the place. The parks are separated into areas / zones, with rides and attraction reflecting these themes. I walked through Buena Vista Street and Pacific Ward to an area known as Paradise Pier. I wanted to start here because it has what are considered to some of the scariest rides. My first was the roller coaster, California Screamin’. The line wasn’t too long so I managed to get through it quite fast (yay). Whilst nearby I got myself a fast track pass which allows me to ride on the ride without having to lineup for a specific windowed amount of time. I had some time before the window so headed off to the next ride on the list, “Toy Story Midway Mania”. Unfortunately the line for this one was way too long so I headed off for the Sliding Fun Wheel, a ferris wheel whose carriages actually slip and slide around. I was about half way through the line when the ride started doing funny things and not working properly, looking at my watch I saw the fast track time had begun so I left it and headed back to the Roller Coaster. After this was done I skipped the other two rides mentioned above and went straight to the Silly Symphony Swings.

You would have seen things similar to the swings at the Royal Show. Its basically a big carrousel, rather than have animals you sit on there are swings that you sit on. As the the ride gets faster the swings go higher from the ground, to change the height you go at the main axel moves up and down. I got off the ride feeling a little dizzy, it’s funny, for someone who doesn’t do great with heights I went ok on these rides 🙂

My next two rides were Goofy’s Flying School and the Golden Zephyr. The Flying School is just the same as the Wild Mouse from the Royal Show. It was ok, no where near as fast or thrilling than the roller coaster though. The good thing I discovered at this ride was the single rider service – as I was by myself I could skip a lot of the queues and just be added to fill places – very cool and saved me lots of time. The Golden Zephyr is similar to the swings but you’re in an open space ship shaped carriage.

After finishing this I had completed everything I wanted to do on Paradise Pier so headed to the next area, Grizzly Peak. There were only two atractions to complete at Grizzly Peak, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and the Grizzly River Run. The Challenge looked pretty tame when I was there so I skipped it and headed straight for the River Run, this was awesome, I got so wet. It’s basically a giant rubber tire with 8 seats in it. You go through a maze of river canals, up ramps and down waterfalls. I really enjoyed this one.

My next stop was to be Condor Flats but this was closed so I turned around and headed back out and around towards Cars Land. To get to Cars Land I went through Pacific Wharf, basically a setup food hall.

Cars Land is very cool, it’s the full recreation of Radiator Springs, the town the movie Cars is set in. They have a complete Flo’s Diner as a part of it. The main attraction of Cars Land is “Radiator Springs Racers”. I managed to skip most of the line using the Single Rider line and got on this fast racer ride. It starts off with you going for a leisurely drive through tunnels, meeting a number of the characters from Cars and preparing for the race. After this you race against another car. All very cool. Oh and by the way, my car won.

There weren’t any other rides open there so I headed through “a bugs land” and into Hollywood Land. There was a ride there I wanted to go on, The Twilight Zone Tunnel of Terror. It doesn’t have a single rider line so I was going to have to lineup. I was told the line was only 40 minutes long, not too bad so I thought I could do it, it turned out to be over 2 hours before I got on the ride. It’s basically one of those big drop rides… it was pretty thrilling!!!

After having completed this I headed through Hollywood land, past Monsters University and back out to Buena Vista Street. My next stop was going to be Disneyland.

I knew that I wasn’t going to get too much time in Disneyland due to the wasted two hours (so not impressed). I headed straight to Tomorrowland, the first ride I went on was Star Tours. Star Tours is a 3D adventure movie / flight simulator it was awesome fun. I then went by Space Mountain, another Roller Coaster, but the line was too long for the amount of time I had left so I went on to Autopia, a car ride. It said that the time would be a 20 minute wait, it was longer than that…long enough that I had to leave the queue to make to back in time for the rendezvous time of 3:45pm.

We rushed back to the hotel, got changed quickly and then got on the buses to go out to Dodger Field for the Dodgers Baseball game against the Seatle Mariners. The drive to the ground took about an hour and a half, we got to experience the famous LA highway system, this intricate interweaving mass of concrete is quite astounding, it blows me away how people manage to navigate themselves around it. Having said that though, the layout of LA has a very homely feel to it, there’s lots of similarities to Perth such as the climate and a lot of flora…it’s more that everything is just on a bigger scale here.

I’m not a baseball fan, but the atmosphere at a live game is pretty cool. I got into the spirit with the food by having a Dodger Dog, a pretzel and some Nachos, the Nachos were gross and I couldn’t finish them. We had to get up and dace to music, sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame and many other interesting and engaging activities. This is definitely something I’d recommend to anyone coming to the USA.

The game itself was a beauty all being tied up after the 9 innings so it went to a 10th. The Dodgers won it in the bottom of the 10th innings which made it even more exciting.

I had a little snooze on the way home but am now going to head off to bed…it’s late and we’ve got a slightly earlier start tomorrow.

USA Tour 2015 Day 10 – Trains, Planes and Automobiles

Day Ten – Sunday 12th April

Today has been an incredible day, very busy and hectic but another enjoyable time experiencing another aspect of the city that doesn’t sleep. This is the last day we were spending in New York with our flight leaving tonight for Los Angeles.

The day started early for me, not because of breakfast or early morning tour commitments but because it was a Sunday and I wanted to go celebrate Mass. I was up by 6:30am, quickly got ready and then headed off towards St Patrick’s Cathedral. The walk too me about 10 minutes which meant I arrived just before the beginning of the 7:00am Holy Mass.

St Patrick’s Cathedral is a beautiful cathedral, it’s size is difficult to describe accurately – it’s massive. The interior and exterior are still undergoing restoration work, this means that throughout the cathedral there’s a lot of scaffolding up on the pillars and covering a significant part of the sanctuary. It’s a bit disappointing as I would love to see it when the work is complete and the church is restored to its fully glory.

After Mass I enjoyed my walk back to the accommodation, we needed to have breakfast and then get our bags down to specific rooms where it was being stored until the end of the day. On the way back to the accommodation I came across a stunning view of the Chrysler Building, the one I have found most difficult to get a good vantage point to see during the past few days. Unfortunately I did not have camera with me so I haven’t managed to get a photo, total fail on my behalf!!!

Once we had breakfasted and emptied the rooms we all headed off for a day of exploration. I went with the majority of the boys and some of our girls up towards Central Park, our destination was FAO Schwartz, a world famous toy store. There are many cool and exciting things in FAO Scheartz including the giant keyboard piano that Tom Hanks played in the movie Big, I also found Zoltare the fortune teller from the same movie on the ground floor. FAO Schwartz also are the only shop in the world where you can design, create and design your own Muppet.

Once we had finished in FAO Schwartz we headed to the New York Subway, our destination was the trendy area known as SoHo, short for South of Houston Street. The New York subway is quite an incredible and elaborate system of over crossing tunnels throughout the city, at some points there are additional lines running both above and below the track you can find yourself on.

Having arrived in SoHo with all of our students we separated into smaller groups to explore the precinct. I ended up in the Converse shop to begin with before continuing down a side street. The whole area is known for having a series of small cobblestone side streets, having explored some of these we ended up n a local cafe for lunch. The meal was quite interesting, it was a steak sandwich and chips, I thought it would be fries but it wasn’t, they were potato crisps (quite different). Once we had finished eating it was back into the exploration including looking through a bike shop and the Adidas shop before waiting at the meeting point for all of the students.

The frustration of students being late continued, this resulted in us getting less time to spend at our next stop, Greenwich. Greenwich isn’t far away from SoHo (about a 10 minute walk), we continued down Broadway and turned at Washington, heading through some of the buildings of NYU to arrive at Washington Square, the heart of the Greenwich precinct. time had gotten away from us by this stage and it looked as if we would only get 10 minutes in this incredible place, however we got news that our flights had been delayed so this time got extended to explore the park. There were many musicians including a pianist playing Rachmaninov and Chopin on a grand piano, various jazz and folk bands. I would have liked to spend a lot more time in Greenwich, it’s a cool place and a lot of famous people have lived in this precinct over many centuries. We located Charlie Parker’s house in East Greenwich, unfortunately this was too far to get to so we had to leave it.

Our trip back to the subway was interesting, we managed to lose half of the groups due to them falling behind on the walk, they were located (thankfully). At the subway line we separated into two groups, some students needed to ear back to FAO Schwartz to pick up the Muppets they had made whilst the rest were going to go back to the hotel. I accompanied the students needing to go to FAO Schwartz, we got on the subway and exited it at 5th Ave 59th St exit. The tie was tight after having collected the Muppets so it was decided that we would catch two cabs back to thew accommodation, this has managed to tick another box on my “to do” list in NYC.

Arriving at the hostel we immediately got started on the loading of the buses, this was an interesting experience and more thought should probably be put into how this can be done more effectively by the tour guides in the future.

Our delayed flight was supposed to be leaving JFK at 7:45pm, we took the Queens bridge out of Manhattan and drove through the county of Queens. The organisation of all our students collecting their bags from the buses was quite effective and then we headed into check-in and security. Once again the check-in and security has proven to be one of the biggest aspects of this trip that I have not enjoyed. The lines continue to be long and the process extremely slow. It seems over the top for every person to need to need remove their shoes to go through a ginormous x-ray machine. Anyway, that took a while, once through we proceeded to the gate and handed out the money for students to have their dinner.

We experienced another USA airport phenomena when the students were gathering at the boarding time – more flight delays with our flight being pushed back to an 8:05 brooding time. Eventually we got on the plane by 8:30pm and then took off after sitting on the runway for another 15 minutes.

USA Tour 2015 Day Nine – Jogging in Central Park, Sight Seeing, Q&A, Broadway Take Two

Day 9 – Saturday 11th April 2015

The rigorous schedule that had been this USA tour continued with a day jam packed with activities and excitement.

I started the day early with a run through Central Park. It was a beautiful day to go running, the air was crisp and had some night in it (but not too much). The running group consisting of myself, Chris and three of our boys set off just after 6:00am heading towards Central Park. The run was a little stop/start until we arrived at the park due to the traffic signals that we had to follow.

Having arrived at the park we commenced a relatively easy run of approximately 4km., it took us through the zoo, past the main promenade and a part of Strawberry Fields before looping back to the top North West corner. I thoroughly enjoyed the run and would liked to have run further or a little more often, unfortunately the tight schedule really hasn’t allowed for either of these desires to be fulfilled. By the time we had completed ou run back to the hostel the time had moved on to just after 7:00am having covered approximately 8km.

The first activity scheduled after breakfast was a guided tour of the city. Our tour guide Matt was phenomenal, entertaining, engaging and informative. We headed down Broadway toward Central Park. Along the way he gave us information on various buildings and icons including the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, various theatres, the Columbus Fountain (where all distances in New York are taken from), Lincoln Centre, Julliard School of Music, the 2nd site of Madison Square Gardens (there;s been three locations) and Trump Towers.

Our first walking stop occurred at Central Park, getting of at the entrance near Strawberry Fields we had the Dakota building pouted out to us. This building is famous for a number of things including getting it’s name for being so far outside the city limits when it was built, there was the saying that “it was so far out it could have been built in Dakota”. The building is also famous for having been the home of John Lennon and the place where John Lennon was murdered.

Entering Strawberry fields we stopped at a memorial for John Lennon. Matt got the group to sing “Imagine” at a mosaic memorial. After this we headed deeper into the park towards the main lake, promenaded and fountain. The park was stunning, just starting to come back to life after a long, cold and harsh Winter season. There was still no water in the fountain, it gets drained in the Winter which gaver the group the perfect opportunity to tale a picture inside it.

The next stop in the Park was the yacht lake. Around the yacht lake a number of bronze sculptures have been made designed to draw children to the park. There was a sculpture of Hans Christian Anderson with his most famous creation, the Ugly Duckling, and further around was a sculpture honouring Alice in Wonderland featuring characters from the book and little quotes around the outside of the sculpture. Having completed this we headed up to the buses to reboard and heads to our next destination.

The buses moved down 5th Avenue through the shopping district, this district is renowned for the high end brands including Prada, Versace and other designers. We also viewed important buildings including the Rockefeller Centre, St Patrick’s Cathedral, The Empire State Building, The Public  Library and the Flat Iron. The Flat Iron was interesting as it is also known as the building used as the Daily Bugle in Spiderman. Continuing down 5th Avenue we entered Greenwich where many famous artists, musicians, poets and actors have and continue to live, it is also home to NYU.

Getting back onto Broadway we continued to the Financial District. We saw the Freedom tower on the World Trade Centre site for the first time, it is huge!!! We also managed to see Wall Street and the bronze bull, unfortunately e didn’t get to see the bronze bear statue as well.

Our next stop was at the ferry terminal, getting out and walking a short distance gave us all an excellent opportunity to get photos of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. One our way back to the bus he had the globe from outside the old World Trade Centre pointed out to us which has been mounted as a monument on the peer. We then boarded the bus and moved to the World Trade Centre Park Site.

I don[t think anything can prepare you for the World Trade Centre Site, the size of the waterfall monuments constructed out of the footings of the old towers or the number of names on the plaques. It is amazing to think that this event is one of those where everyone remembers exactly what they were doing when the planes hit, it changed our lives forever. There is one solitary tree that survived the devastation, it has been replanted on the site as a symbol of hope, it is also inspiring to see that from the ashes and rubble a new begging through the 8 buildings being constructed has emerged, it truly is now no longer “ground zero”.

The next stop was lunch at a food court, awesome food – I had BBQ spare ribs, totally delicious.

After lunch we boarded the bus and continued up Broadway towards Times Square. We went through the regions of SoHo and NoHo and under the High Line and through Chelsea until we arrived at our final stop on the tour, the Q&A session at a local music studio.

The 2nd Trombonist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, David Finlayson, hosted a Q&A for our students. It was real enjoyable, he was engaging and could communicate well. I think all the students got a lot out of it, I know that I did.

We then headed back to the hotel for a quick change into our theatre clothes before heading out to dinner. Dinner was held at Appleby’s, a fast food franchise whose stroe was located just off the Broadway Theatre precinct. I had my first opportunity to have some Buffalo Wings, another great meal.

The shows that were being seen started well after the time we finished dinner. We decided to give students some additional shopping time so headed back to Time Square to the red seats, this was our meeting place. I headed off with some students and we managed to visit the M&M store and a souvenir shop before meeting up with the rest of the group.

The musical we were seeing was Finding Neverland, a story about the writing of Peter Pan. It was  nothing short of brilliant! I loved every moment of it. Once it was finished we headed back to the buses and off to te hostel.

Tomorrow is going to be a huge day, I won’t get a chance to run in the morning due to wanting to go to Mass at 7:00am, fingers crossed I can get up!!!

USA Tour 2015 Day 8 – Performances, High Line, Birdland, Time Square and Top of the Rock

Day 8 – Friday 10th April 2015

Today was my first full day in New York City, and I loved everything that we did on tour today, it has been nothing short of amazing! The city just blows me away with its unending energy, it’s always on the move and really does never sleep!

I did have a shabby start to the day due to the pizza I ate last night, it didn’t agree with my stomach which resulted in me sitting on the toilet for extended periods of time.

I managed to get across to the breakfast cafe, most of the options looked quite heavy and greasy…I really wasn’t interested in anything like this so I opted for the oatmeal which came with a selection of toppings, I chose the cranberries, strawberries and apple. This was really nice, especially given the coldness of the morning outside.

After breakfast we boarded the buses to head out for the morning performance, this time at a high school in Jersey called Dwight Ellardson. The countryside was beautiful as we drove through parts of Jersey, the houses were also beautiful. We arrived at the school and proceeded to have a brief rehearsal before lunch in the cafeteria, I can now say that I have eaten lunch in an American High School cafeteria which is very cool.  The students then proceeded to perform a concert, both schools had ensembles in the concert with the running order being our strings, their orchestra, their stage band, our concert band and finally our choir. I am really impressed with the development of our students, they have all grown musically tremendously over this tour.

The afternoon activity saw the two groups get separated, the other half went to the Lincoln Centre whilst we went to the High Line. This is an interesting project of including green space throughout New York. It consists of a series of gardens being built on the elevated old meatpackers train line. Running for about 3 miles into Chelsea it gives a unique view of the city. I managed to get partly through it before heading off with a colleague of mine to Birdland, a world famous Jazz club on 42nd street.

Our time at Birdland was brilliant, a friend from university days was performing as a member of the island Big Band. Being amongst so much history and in a fine venue surrounded by great musicians was so inspiring and uplifting. I couldn’t help but think how I wish Melissa could be with me experiencing all of these great things.

When the show had ended we headed up into Time Square (a few blocks away) for dinner. Having ticked off the eating New York Pizza Pie yesterday I decided it was time to try a Chilli Dog from a street car. It was delicious, I’m just hoping that I don’t pay a heavy price for it tomorrow!

The final stop for the evening was the Rockefeller Plaza, particularly the observation deck “Top of the Rock” to get views of the city. The views were stunning from on top of the 44th floor, we got great views of the Empire State building.

Tomorrow is going to be another full day, I am hoping to start it off well with an early morning run through Central Park…let’s see how that turns out!

USA Tour 2015 Day 6 – Smithsonian; Space, Rockets, Aeroplanes, American History and Performances

Day 6 – Wednesday 8th April 2015

The sixth day of our tour of the USA has been nothing short of amazing!!! We spent the majority of the day inside the Smithsonian Museum precinct, the amount of history present is truly mind blowing and indescribable. Before going into too many details about the Smithsonian I’ll start my day at the beginning.

My alarm went off at 7:00am and I was shattered. I didn’t have a good night sleep last night for some unknown reason, this meant that I felt extra tired come the morning. I managed to pull myself out of bed and got ready fro breakfast. Breakfast was delicious, a buffet style affair, I think that I will definitely have to work extra hard in the gym as despite my best efforts I know that I have pit on weight so far.

After breakfast we boarded our buses for transportation to the Smithsonian Precinct, Our students needed to take all of their performance gear with them as we would be going straight to Thomas Jefferson high school after the sightseeing to ensure we arrived on time.

Nothing can prepare you for the size of the museums present in the Smithsonian, amazingly every thing is FREE. It is one of the things that the Americans do really well, provide learning opportunities for the people buy recognising that music is an art to be charred with all and not hoarded by the few.

My day at the Smithsonian started at the museum for Space and Aeronatical Musuem. The exhibits and collection here was simply stunning. You could stand next to the command module fro Apollo 11, a V2 rocket and a part of Skylab. There were also exhibits related to WW1 and WW2 including full scale planes and fighters (the Red Barron example plane). Other famous planes housed there include the Spirit of St Louis, a German V2 missile and a a part of skylab. It was all really cool.

I headed over to the American History Museum next. This museum is the one that I wanted to go to first but unfortunately couldn’t. Whilst in this building I got to see dizzy’s trumpet, a grammy award, a model T-Ford. There was also an example of a Revolution war ship in the Philadelphia present int he gallery to have a conversation with other people. The biggest disappointment for me today was not getting to see more, there were rooms sing he American History Museum. time was so packed that I didn’t get to do the war history section. I did get to see a copy of the declaration, a lot of information on the Presidency, American television, music and film influences including Dorothy’s red shoes form the wizard of Oz. I then managed to rush down to the lower level to the car section where we will be admiring a number of car groups including the Model T Ford.

After the Smithsonian we headed out to the school, Thomas A Jefferson for a performance opportunity. I was really proud of our students, their behaviour was great on and off the court.

Tomorrow is another travel day, we leave early for DC. I am hoping that there will be a chance to stop for some lunch along the way.




USA Tour 2015 Day 5 – Airports, Gigs, Pasta and Monuments in DC

Day Five – Tuesday 7th April 2015.

Today has been very very long, no other way to describe it. We were up at 5:00am to have breakfast and be on the bus by 6:45am. The trip to the airport was rather uninteresting, we did get to see some of the “real” America with the houses and shops in the lower socio-economic suburbs though.

We were leaving from a different airport to the one we came in, Midway, and I got my first real taste of American airport security, it is crazy! I had to take my shoes off to go through security and then got in trouble for having a handkerchief still in my pocket. It took a long time to get through all the stops, but we finally got there with plenty of time to spare.

The flight was good and quite short (only an hour and forty-five). After touching down at Ronald Regan airport we headed on the buses out to Alexandria in Virginia for lunch and an afternoon performance in the Market Square. Alexandria was really beautiful, lots of old Colonial style houses with the high pitched roofs and the cherry blossoms were out on all of the trees – it was absolutely stunning and looked like we had stepped back in time. After our performance in the afternoon we rebounded our bus and headed back to our hotel.

Once check in was complete it was a quick get changed and head back out for dinner and then a night tour of the Washington monuments and buildings. My mind was blown by the size of everything – it’s huge! On our way into DC we went past a number of the monuments including the Jefferson and Washington Monuments as well as parts of the Smithsonian, the National Archives and Treasury Buildings. We arrived at Carmines, an Italian Restaurant, for dinner and boy was it a dinner – more like a feast! We had a number of courses including salad and garlic break, penne pasta, spaghetti bolognaise, eggplant parmigana, chicken and chocolate torte for dessert.

Feeling exceptionally well fed (again) we re-boarded our buses to head off on our night tour of the city. Our first stop was the capital building, nothing can prepare you for the size of this thing…it’s ridiculously huge! Unfortunately the main dome is covered with scaffolding at the moment. For the first time since being build it’s main dome is undergoing repairs/restoration which includes the peeling off of the seven layers of paint (including the three original ones) before patch work can happen on the iron dome structure.

Once we had finished at the capital building we headed down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House. We stopped near the Treausry building and walked the remainder of the way. Again, it’s just all so big that you can’t fathom it all. We were given explanations about the various wings of the White House including where the Oval Office is located in the West Wing. We also had a look at Eisenhower House (next door) whilst there and the building where all foreign leaders stay when in Washington as guests as the President.

Our next stop was the Lincoln Memorial. On our way there we drove past the Washington Monument. This obelisk is the tallest stone masonry structure in the world and when it was completed was the tallest tower in the work until the Eiffel Tower was completed.

The Lincoln Memorial is stunning and awe inspiring, there is a lot of history and symbolism used in its construction. The thirteen pillars at the front represent the thirteen states of the Union at the time of the American Civil War, these names are written above the collums as well. We got to see the place where Martin Luther King Jnr made his famous speech as well as go in and view the impressive 19 ft marble statue of Abraham Lincoln. On the walls around the statue are the engraved words of his inauguration speech. I was literally speechless at the sight of this place it is so impressive.

Our final stop was at the John F Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts. We got to walk through the Hall of Nations which has a flag from every country on the plant and view a bust of JFK. We also went up and onto the roof of the centre to view the city of DC, stunning views. Whilst up there we were also show the Watergate Hotel, infamous for the impeachment of Nixon.

The tour finished at just after 11:00pm, we are all absolutely shattered and have another big day tomorrow. Smithsonian and performances!!!

USA Tour Day 2015 Day 4 – Morning Run, Shopping, Museum and the House of Blues

Day Four Monday 6th April 2015

Today was an awesome day, very full (again), but I think it’s better that way as it means the boys are kept busy and on their toes throughout the entire day. We were able to have a sleep in / late breakfast but I managed to get up at 6:40 to go for a run. I had intended to just run for about an hour but it was such a lovely morning and the temperature was perfect for running that it almost ended up being a two hour run instead. I headed out from the hotel and joined up at the river where I ran down to the lake. I then headed north along the lake for probably about 15km, I went past the Museum of History, Soldier Field (football stadium) and kept going until I got up somewhere near the University of Chicago campus. I turned around at this point and headed back, I think my legs will be pretty stiff tomorrow morning as they’ve already started to seize up a little. I thoroughly enjoyed the run, the sun was already up but the sky had tinges of orange throughout it and whenever there was a break in the clouds there were shards of light coming through in perfect beams into the water – it looked stunning. As I said earlier, I saw some squirrels and a rabbit whilst out for the run which was cool. My only regret is I didn’t take my camera to be able to get some pictures of the stunning scenery.

After breakfast the students had a couple of hours of shopping planned on the Magnificent Mile (the expensive retail strip). I didn’t end up buying anything, instead I got a chance to go through Macys and some other shops before settling for a cup of coffee with my fellow staff members – all rather pleasant. On our way to the coffee shop we managed to get a look at some very nice cars including a white lamborgini and a shelby cobra – both beautiful cars.

The afternoon saw us visit the Chicago Field Museum of History. This was totally awesome, we had about two and a half hours in there and the time flew so fast. I got to see a T-REX SKELETON!!!! It was such a geek-out for me, there was a huge section of dinosaur skeletons and bones, totally awesome and something I have always wanted to see since I was a little boy. They had a stegosaurus, apatosaurus, triceratops and parasauropholus to name just a few. There was also a section devoted to Native American History, this was also really cool (but not as cool as the dinosaurs). Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to get through everything in thorough detail, I rushed through the Ancient Egypt section and didn’t even get to look in the animals and plants of the world exhibits.

The day temperature wise had been really pleasant, but when we came out of the museum the temperature had dropped significantly (from 14 down to about 5 degrees). On our way back to the hotel we got to stop at the aquarium to take some pictures looking back to the city, I got some nice ones of the skyline…I am so sorry I haven’t put up any pictures yet – will try to later today to get that done for you.

This evening we headed out to The House of Blues for a meal. It was a simple make your own cheeseburger arrangement but it was alright in general. There was a live blues band who started to play towards the end of the time we were there…they were ok but not brilliant either. We walked back to the hotel and the temperature has definitely dropped again, it wouldn’t surprise me if the temperature got down towards the zero mark.

Tomorrow is an early start to a long day in transit. We fly out to Washington in the morning, however, there are performances planned during the day as well as a tour of the city by night. We don’t check in to the hotel until 10:00pm tomorrow which will make for a very long day. Oh well, we have no control over that so we’ll just roll with it I guess.

I’ve really enjoyed my time in Chicago, there’s so much that we haven’t had time to do, it’s definitely a place that would be awesome to come back to one day.

Bring on DC!

USA Tour 2015 Day 3 – Towers, Deep Dish and Performances

Day Three – Sunday 5th April 2015

Today’s day has been another really enjoyable (and full on) day with things to do continually from early in the morning. We started with breakfast between 6:00 and 7:00am today, it had to be this early as there was Mass planned at Assumption Catholic Church starting at 7:30am, there was a 15 minute walk for us to undertake to get there on time.

Mass was really nice, beautiful building on the inside, which is funny because the outside was quite bland. There were lots of mosaics and paintings on walls and the room, pink marble for the sanctuary and really colourful stain glassed windows. All the parishioners were really friendly and welcoming.

After Mass we headed back to the hotel and quickly got changed before heading out meet up with the group members who had attended an Anglican service. Originally today we were going to have free time for people in morning, however, with it being a Sunday and Easter a lot of the shops were closed making it not the best use of time. Our wonderful guides managed to change our itinerary around to visit the John Hancock building and the amazing viewing deck of the city and surrounding area (360 degree views), first, we needed to walk there.

Our walk took about 20 minutes to get through downtown Chicago to Michigan Avenue and what is referred to add the “Magnificent Mile” due to the number of expensive retail shops along it. We met up with the rest of our group outside the John Hancock building which contains 360 degrees Chicago, a vexing platform at the top of the 94th floor. It is possible to see four different states of the US on a clear day including across Lake Michigan. The day was a little cloudy in the distance which hindered the view. Some the group went on this thing called “Tilt” which is basically a wall of glass that tile out away from the building at various angles…the longer you are on it the further it tips over the street below – I didn’t do it (surprise surprise).

Our next stop was for lunch back in down town, I had my first ever Waldorf salad which was very enjoyable. This meant another walk up the Magnificent Mile, one thing I’ve found about Chicago is a love the atmosphere here, it’s a really nice city to visit.

At the conclusion of lunch we all headed back to hotel and prepared for the sound check and evening performance. We weren’t going back to the hotel until after tonight’s performance which meant we needed to suit up completely. We boarded buses and arrived a short time later at the Symphony Centre where we saw the Symphony last night as this is where the performances were occurring. The sound checks went really well, I got to walk around the building during this time and take in some of the history – I think I got the best job for the day 🙂

After sound checks we walked back to Grant Park where some of the staff had serf up an Easter Egg hunt for the students to ensure they got to experience that part of Easter Sunday – the students loved it and a lot of fun was had by all.

At 4:15pm we got back not he buses and headed off for our early dinner at Gino’s Deep Dish Pizzeria. This is apparently a Chicago institution, very fatty and greasy but delicious at the same time. I tried a slice of the Meat Supreme, Pepperoni and Buffalo Chicken.

It was then back not he bus to the Symphony Centre for the performances. Once we had arrived and moved into the waiting room we had a visit from the Australian Consul General and Vice Consul General who are based in Chicago. They heard through DFAT that we were in town and requested to come and meet everyone and attend the concert which was pretty cool.

The concert went really well, all the students performed excellently and it was great to see some of the other bands. Americans are renowned for their Symphonic Bands and these ones didn’t disappoint in standard of excellence. The highlight was the last band, the Tennessee Tech University Symphony Band, they performed great repertoire, my only complaint would be the night went exceptionally long.

Tomorrow’s itinerary is a lot more relaxed, we have the option to sleep in and have a late breakfast. I am thinking at the moment of getting up and going for a run. It’d be a shame to miss out on the opportunity to run along Lake Michigan or the Chicago River.

Again, it’s very late…I’d better head of and get some rest otherwise tomorrow really will be a case of struggle town!

USA Tour 2015 Day 2 – Chicago Workshops, Sightseeing and Symphony

Day Two – 4th April 2015

Workshops, Sightseeing and Symphony.

The second day of Music tour has proven to be very full and extremely enjoyable. O slept very solidly after the long flight and, waking up at 6:45am (45 minutes after my alarm was set for) rushed down for a quick breakfast before needing to head off for our students’ music workshops. I have decided I am keen to immerse myself in the American culture as much as possible so tried a toasted bagel with Philly cheese and grape jelly for breakfast, I have to say I really enjoyed it. One thing has concerned me about their food (which became clearer add the day continued) they love their breads and carbs. I know that whilst away I will need to do some long runs early in the morning to try and keep the excess weight off.

We headed as a tour group off to Vandercook College of Music, the concert band and choir had sessions with a former airforce musical director and current head of music at Utah State University. I found it an enlightening and refreshing session listening and observing the way he interacted and instructed the students, there was a lot that I am already trying to incorporate into my ensemble directing which is always encouraging.

We headed back to the hotel before giving students an opportunity to go and have lunch. I went to Potbellies Sandwich shop, an institution in Chicago, and tried the Wreck, which was absolutely delicious, washed down with an Alabama Iced Tea.

After lunch we had our booked Chicago sightseeing tour, the guide was brilliant in his knowledge of the city’s history and sights. Our first stop was Millennium Park, completed in 2004 this open space area has a huge open air auditorium called “Jay Pritzker Pavillion” where free open air concerts are held throughout the summer months. The famous sculpture “Cloud Gate” affectionately know as “the bean” is also present in Millennium Park. This ginormous stainless steal polished sculpture has become quite a popular tourist attraction in Chicago.

The tour headed out along the midway towards Chicago University, along the way we passed sights including views of Lake Michigan, one of the five great lakes (second biggest of the five and biggest lake inside of one country in the world); Soldiers Field (Football Stadium); The Museum of Science (part of the worlds fair grounds).

Chicago University was an impressive campus, constructed in the Gothic style it contains a significant amount of impressive history and buildings. The faculty of the university has the largest number of Nobel Prize Laureates on it which is a great honour. Events including the splitting of the atom for the first time occurred at Chicago University as well as buildings constructed by famous architects including Frank lloyd Wright. One of the buildings that we stopped at was the University Chapel. This Chapel, built by JD Rockerfellar is more of a Cathedral than a chapel and is in the Gothic style made out of limestone. The inside is quite awe inspiring and impressive. Some interesting features include it’s non denominational status, there are images and statues dedicated to many different philosophers from various faith backgrounds. The presidents of the Univeristy have the option to have their ashes interred behind a special wall if they wish after they die, the philosophy is to allow them to remain as a part of the Univeristy community.

Once we had finished walking through the university we moved back onto the bus and drove past gthe United States President’s, Barrack Obama, Chicago residence. We were informed by the guide that we couldn’t stop as it would trigger a number of alarms if the bus pulled up on the street outside of his house as the security is that high.

On our way back we were told the history of Chicago including the great fire which burnt most of Chicago to the ground, a law being passed after this that no wood framed houses could be build, the sight of the first Ferris Wheel in the world, the train and airport history and Chicago being the hub/transfer place for all travel from East to West Coast and the three different schools of Chicago Architecture.

Once we had returned from the tour we got ready for our night at the Symphony and then headed out to a dinner at the Chicago Hard Rock Cafe. Dinner was really pleasant and very American, I had the Bacon Cheeseburger which was delicious.

The group got on buses and arrived at the Symphony Centre, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for our evening’s concert. Pianist and Conductor Mitsuko Uchinda was performing two Mozart Concertos, No 6 in Bb Major and No 26 in D Major, these pieces were separated by Soprano Dorothea Roshmann performing Schumann’s Frauenliebe ind-leben, Op. 42 where Uchina was accompanying her. The venue was stunning and the standard of musicianship inspiring.

At the conclusion of the performance the students were given the option to walk back to the hotel rather than catching the bus. The 25 minute was very refreshing, it gave us the opportunity to walk over the rive and past famous institutions including the Marina Towers Condominiums (which look like giant corn cobs) and the Chicago Theatre.

Today has been brilliant, it’s now extremely late at night and I need to get up early to go to Mass as it’s Easter Sunday. We’ve got our adjudicated performances tomorrow night, that’ll be a great experience for the boys.

Signing off from Chicago,


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