Music Tour 2011: Prague

Music Tour 2011: Prague

47 students from the Robert Smyth Jazz & Soul Bands went on tour to Prague from Sunday, 26th June to Saturday, 2nd July, accompanied by 5 staff: music teachers Mrs Petersen and Mr Hughes, singing teacher Debbie Smith, and performing arts technicians Kate Miller and Benjamin Freestone.

We departed school on Sunday, 26th June at 12.30 pm travelling in a double decker coach supplied by the local coach company Hamilton’s coaches. We arrived at Dover 2 hours ahead of time enabling us to get an earlier ferry to Calais. The Blues Brothers’ DVD helped keep us amused during our overnight coach journey. We stopped in Germany for breakfast en route and arrived at our hotel in Prague at midday on Monday, 27th June, 1 ½ hours ahead of our planned arrival time.

On arrival at Hotel Duo we were greeted by our Czech tour guide from the Prague Concert Tour Company. Once we had checked in to the hotel, we had a 2 hour rehearsal in the hotel followed by an evening meal buffet. The pudding was 2 huge birthday cakes made by the hotel for Ruby Finch’s 17th birthday. In the evening the students had a choice of swimming or bowling in the hotel.

Tuesday was our first full day and first concert in Prague. Having loaded the coach with instruments, we headed for central Prague led by two local guides. Who took us on a 3 hour sight-seeing tour. The walking tour started at the top of the hill by the castle, and took us via the famous Charles Bridge down into the Old Town with the Astronomical Clock. Students had some free time for lunch before our first concert at 3.30 pm in the Old Town Square. There are normally only concerts in the Old Town Square on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and we were very lucky to have been accepted for a performance on a Tuesday; our special application had had to pass through various local councils before performing rights had been granted. The Old Town Square is a fantastic venue. It’s a huge open space surrounded by spectacular buildings providing an incredibly beautiful back-drop for our performance. The Old Town Square is the busiest place in Prague; it’s a real tourist magnet and our performance therefore attracted a large audience. We sold 23 CDs at this first concert. The students had their evening meal in the Old Town before heading off to the Krizik Fountain Show, where thousands of water jets are choreographed to music. We took the underground back to our hotel.

Wednesday we headed out of Prague towards Western Bohemia where we visited the Spa town of Marianske Lazne near the German border. This is another very beautiful town with magnificent buildings. Both bands had two concerts at the Spa Colonnade, the most spectacular building in the town, one at 3 pm and one at 7 pm. Our performance was the first in the Jazz Festival series in Marianske Lazne and it was a real privilege to have been chosen as the opening act for this annual festival. Our concert was introduced by the mayor of the town and the head of the jazz festival who handed us a framed certificate. There were very colourful posters of all the bands in the festival around the performance venue, also with our name on it. It was great to be part of the festival as this clearly attracted some true jazz enthusiasts to our concert as well as a number of tourists. The soloists in the jazz band received great applause from these real jazz enthusiasts following each of their improvised solos. The soul band also went down very well and 26 CDs were sold on this day. On arrival back at the hotel at midnight there was time for everyone to chill in the reception lounge and bar area after a long and successful day.

Thursday we had a lunchtime concert at Zofin Garden Stand, a band stand next to a restaurant, park and children’s play area on the island of Zofin in central Prague. We had a small very appreciative audience and several asked for their CDs to be signed by band members or Mrs P. Two audience members came up to get details of the school, one of whom was an elderly gentleman who sent us an email at school as soon as we arrived back in the UK, explaining how he had loved our performance, particularly the old jazz band swing tunes from the 1930s and 1940s which had reminded him of his youth years during the second world war! He purchased CDs as did a few others and in total we sold 55 CDs on the tour.

After lunch we headed for the Czech Museum of Musical Instruments where we had an excellent guided tour in English by a very enthusiastic Czech musician who demonstrated a range of instruments held in the museum.

Prague is a real hub for music, both classical and jazz; one could spend all day wandering from one concert to the next. There are numerous jazz clubs within a short walking distance of the Old Town Square with live music of very high quality every night of the week at very reasonable prices. We had decided to take the students to experience these jazz clubs on the last night with the intention of this being an inspirational, memorable and special way to end the tour. Because of the limited spaces in several of the clubs, we decided to split the group into 3. Year 13s went to Ungelt Jazz & Blues Club where they had dinner and saw the resident Lubos Anderst Blues Band; Year 12s saw the funk band Mad Finger at Agartha Jazz Club; both these clubs are fantastic venues; they are small, underground caves with loads of atmosphere. Year 10s and 11s went to Europe’s oldest jazz club, the famous Reduta Jazz Club, where many famous jazz musicians have performed. They saw mainstream vocal jazz artists Elena Sonnenshine with her band, who were superb. It was a great night and the students were highly inspired by the performances they saw. At 11.30 pm everyone made their way home on the underground. As it was the final night most stayed up to chat in the hotel reception until the early hours.

Friday was our last day in Prague. Having checked out of our rooms, we all took the underground into Prague for our last bit of shopping and sight-seeing. Some students chose to visit various music shops and several purchased small instruments to take home to the UK. We took the underground back to the hotel and the coach departed Prague at 1.30 pm. At midnight we celebrated Laura Wilson’s 15th birthday with a sing song on the coach but the sweets and treats had to wait till the morning. We reached Calais at 4.30 am as planned and arrived back at school at 10.30 am.

6.30 am wake-up calls, 7.30 am breakfast, and bedtime after midnight every night of the week had taken their tolls on everyone. We were all very tired but that’s the only way one should feel at the end of a successful tour! On arrival at school, it was home to rest for most, as in the evening the Soul Band had another gig at Rotary Rocks in Harborough!