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Published: September 20th 2019
Westwinds approaching St Giles Cathedral
We are going to sing in a 14 century cathedral!
Since Edinburgh was a fairly short drive, we were allowed a slow morning. Ironically, we were so well drilled that everyone was assembled on the street before the buses arrived!
As we drove through the rolling landscape filled with sheep and grain farms (hay and barley), our new guide informed us that we were looking at relatively poor agricultural land. As we entered the outskirts of Edinburgh
, light industrial land uses took over and then residential areas appeared. We drove all the way into the city, which was heaving with the Fringe Festival
. St Giles Cathedral, our distinguished performance venue, was in the heart of the Fringe; our bus could drive only so far, and our guide walked us the rest of the distance, not more than five minutes.
Entering the magnificent historic Cathedral
, knowing we were to perform, was like entering into history. We already wore our black clothes; a Cathedral docent escorted us to the toilets, four women at a time because of our numbers. For a short while, we wandered through the incredible structure. The altar is in the centre of the church, and the seating for the congregation is on the four sides amongst huge pillars.
St Giles nave
Inside the huge building
The aisles for walking are wide, all around the church and beside the chapels.
Soon our director, Nicole, quietly indicated we should gather in the choir stalls. These were modern, grouped in three rows in a curve to one side of the altar. For ease of access after my introductory words, I was positioned in the back row at the end; usually, I don’t like this position because I cannot hear the others well, but after so many performances, I can now keep the tune quite well on my own. An achievement! We must have been intimidated by the vastness of the space, because both Nicole and accompanist Greg (very unusually) encouraged us to sing out with confidence.
After the short rehearsal, we had a bit more time to wander. Band members had the whole time free, because there was not enough space for them to set up and perform. Nicole did a warm up for us. At noon the service began and ran 15 minutes with prayers. The short sermon was about the belief that we are all one, regardless of our homeland, a controversial concept to some British (and other) people right now. The priest announced
My view of St Giles Cathedral
Quick snap with pocket camera
our group. This was the only venue that there were no posters.
Because of the confines of the choir stalls, we performed “Yanaway Heyona
” in our places rather than spread through the church as usual. And at the finish, we did not exit while singing “Kom!
”. Tourists circled around all the time; some sat to listen, perhaps 200 – 250 people. The seating on all sides made counting difficult, especially since I was supposed to be concentrating on the songs. For the first time during my intro, I went blank for a moment. “Yanaway” gave me the shivers, as the chanting sounds rose high into the arches. Time passed quickly.
Suddenly, our singing of this repertoire during this adventure was over! Now I felt as let-down as the band members. Later, some band members told us our performance was at a professional level, for which I was glad - hearing ourselves was difficult.
Beautiful piano music rolled through the Cathedral. Greg Massey
, a splendid pianist and our accompanist, played a rich piece of music from memory, his own composition. Appreciatively we gathered round to soak in this personal moment for him and by osmosis for us.
us went to lunch. My group went to Burgers and Beer (B&B
), a bit of an odd choice for a day in Edinburgh. Except the burgers were delicious – both the meat and the charring. Susan and I shared one, and I drank hot water and lemon to stay sober and counteract dehydration.
Susan and I broke off to walk out into the fun of the Fringe Festival. Crowds of people cheerfully brushed shoulders and pushed their way through others who were watching street performers. Every fifty metres or so was a stage with an act. In between those were buskers and single street performers, such as painted people who pretended to be statues until a tip was given – then they moved like stone come to life. Noise poured into our ears, from performers, friends, other people and off-duty performers thrusting handbills at prospective customers - if you put on a show, you must persuade an audience to come.
With only time for a few blocks and few pictures, we met the guide again in front of St Giles Cathedral. He walked us some distance to the bus; an enormous number of tour buses thread through these
Innovation draws audiences
narrow, tourist-clogged streets. Designated areas were closed to traffic; otherwise pedestrians and vehicles contended for road and sidewalk space. Arriving in the suburbs, we checked into a Marriott Hotel
. Kind of nice to have a big room with all the amenities.
A shower and change of clothes later, we returned to the bus to go to Howie’s Scottish Restaurant
. They offered a disappointingly normal menu, perhaps arranged to be dairy and gluten free, to satisfy allergies: chicken breast (overcooked) with a good complex red-pepper sauce, excellent new potatoes, carrots and broccoli. The glass of (white) wine was included. Lemon and orange sorbet followed.
We followed our guide through increasingly confusing but exciting streets towards Edinburgh Castle
for the Tattoo
(pronounced as if sneezing, we were told). As the pulsating crowds grew larger, the streets grew narrower - everyone was in a good mood. Gradually we siphoned into the purpose-built stadium in front of the Castle. Our bus 2 group, mainly the band, was seated on one side of the stadium, and our bus 1 group was high up on the other. The view was spectacular as the sun lowered, casting warm light on the historic buildings beyond the stadium. Gradually the 7000
Westwinds at Tattoo
Edinburgh Castle as backdrop
spectators filled all the seats.
The Castle glowed in the evening light as the first marching Scottish band entered with a flourish. Flourishing continued all evening as the sky darkened into night. My heart marvelled at the colour and variety of marching bands. A band from Oman featured two women on horses each playing two big drums, followed by men in flowing robes with their own bagpipes. An award-winning US military drill team wowed us with fast changes of gun positions in which a missed action would have injured all of them. Unbelievably they were upstaged by a much larger Belgium drum corps that moved so fast their drumsticks were a blur, sometimes even while marching in complicated formations. A group of young women from Malawi walked/ran in brightly coloured dresses, and later they shared a dance with Scots secondary school girls in which their countries’ dance steps were exchanged. In the long and massive finale, more kilted Scots bands entered the stadium with all of the other performers, all performing together in mind-boggling colour and sound. Then silence fell for the lone piper high on the Castle ramparts. Respects paid, all the bands marched out. View my video.
Girls from Malawi performing
Guests of the Edinburgh Girls High School
followed the safest exit I have ever experienced. Marshalls held back certain areas and rows, while allowing others to go. As we all had to exit along the same route as the bands, and as the narrow road up to the Castle was the only route out, their calm traffic management prevented any pushing and kept our high spirits flowing. Our guide led us through the streets of the old city to our buses.
At the hotel we all gathered in the lobby to say a group thank you to Nicole (choir) and Mike (band and organizer), Greg (accompanist), as well as Nancy (tour manager). In our room, Susan doubted she would sleep, because three hours later she would have to rise and get the bus to the airport with most of the others on the tour. View map of trip to date.
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