There is always some sense of trepidation before embarking on the mammoth task of organising, fundraising and going on any choir tour, and our tour to Lourdes and Paris was no different. This was heightened even further by the fact that this year was the Cathedral’s 175th anniversary and the first time that the choir has visited Lourdes. For me, however, it was the perfect way to round off my first year at university and my first year as a choral scholar at St Barnabas.
A few hours before flying to Lourdes we embarked on learning some of the varied and often technically challenging music. We constantly refreshed and revisited this music throughout the week, meaning that by the end it felt much more familiar than it had at the start. Musically, the highlights for me included Tavener’s Mother of God Here I Stand and Durufle’s Ubi Caritas. It was also very special to sing the Mass of St Barnabas which was written specially for the Cathedral’s 175th anniversary by our Director of Music, Alex Patterson, and felt like we were bringing a piece of Nottingham over the channel to Lourdes.
I found that one of the best things about the tour in Lourdes was the variety of locations and services we had the opportunity to sing at -from the International Mass, where thousands of people from all over the world joined together and we heard mass sung in six different languages, to singing for only a few people at the baths. The reception everywhere we sang in the Sanctuary of Lourdes was excellent and I felt really lucky to positively impact people’s time of worship in Lourdes. Every place we sang offered its own unique atmosphere, but the Marian Procession was unlike anywhere I’ve ever sung before. Thousands of people processing with their candles made it extremely atmospheric, especially when hearing everyone sing the Ave Maria.
We were lucky enough to do two concerts during our time in Lourdes, as well as singing all day within the sanctuary. The two venues for our concerts, Abbatiale de Saint-Savin and l'Eglise Saint Jean, could not have been more juxtaposed from one another. Nevertheless, receiving a brilliant reception in both places made the hard work worth it. Furthermore, the support from members of the Nottingham Diocese who were on the pilgrimage really added to the tour experience. It was great to add something extra to their experience of Lourdes and it was lovely to hear how much it had influenced them.
After a long train journey on the Friday we had a definite change of pace when we arrived in Paris. Having never been to Paris before I was really excited to explore the city as well as getting to sing in some incredible venues. La Madeleine and St Eustache both lived up to and exceeded expectations, and were very different from the more intimate venues in Lourdes. We also had the chance to go and see the Notre Dame Cathedral and to sing outside. Whilst tinged with sadness, I felt so lucky to be able to see a world landmark and sing the French Hymne à la Vierge outside. We rounded off the tour with a group meal; it was lovely to have the whole choir together and reflect on what was a jam-packed but unforgettable week.
Although the music was the focal point of this tour, the chance to spend time with the friends I’ve made from the Cathedral Choir this year and to get to know the youth choir better was also a massive highlight. I’m really pleased to be coming back next year and can’t wait for more tours in the future. Thank you to Alex and Ellie for organising such a fantastic tour!