Tour Blog

Welcome to the Princeton Girlchoir Tour Blog! This blog is updated every summer while the girls are traveling to perform across the country and around the world.

The final push...

Good morning! As we pack and get ready for our return to the states, I thought I'd finally post an update to the blog. It will be slightly abbreviated because I still have to pack. I apologize--they've packed our days so well that I've been exhausted when I return to the hotel. I meant to write this last night, but after taking some time to take in the Dublin nightlife on a Saturday night...I kind of fell asleep as soon as I got back to my room. Whoops.

So on Friday, we had a quick breakfast at the hotel before heading out to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. For those of you who don't know, this is a VERY old Gospel book that was created by monks c.800. It is stored in the library of the college, along with an exhibit that was actually quite interesting to see. We saw how the old books were created, as well as learning the history of the Book of Kells and the symbolism in the artwork. If you were patient enough to make your way up to the book through the throngs of people, it was actually quite beautiful. We then headed upstairs to the main library, which was pretty darn amazing to see. Apparently, they based the library in Harry Potter off of this one. You could see why!

After that, we had a bit of free time to wander the streets of Dublin with our groups, grabbing a take away lunch to bring to a Stephen's Green Park picnic. We enjoyed eating together and taking in the sight of a beautiful pond with a whole lot of birds. Some of our girls bravely fed said birds, which caused much screaming by those of us who may or may not have a fear of said birds. One chorister bravely fed a swan some Pringles. The swan enjoyed them.

We then headed over to Christ Church Cathedral for our Gala Concert dress rehearsal. Everything went well, aside from some very loud tourists who seemed oblivious to the fact that we were rehearsing. At one point, a very cute toddler stood by Dr. Galvan's podium and swayed to the music. It was kind of adorable. We then headed off to dinner at a cool little restaurant called Brasserie Sixty6, and then it was back to the church for our final concert. It was just the thing that we needed, especially after learning the news of the shooting in Dallas. Something to give us hope in such a dark time--it was a beautiful show. We then said many tearful goodbyes to our Australian friends before heading back to the hotel, where we turned in early and subsequently slept in late.

So that was Friday--and if you can wait till tonight, I'll give you yesterday. Until then...I'd better pack!


Wow, I think we were tired!

Hi everyone! I'm sorry that I haven't yet posted a post about yesterday's activities, and I'm going to have to keep you in just a little bit more suspense. I just woke up and it's 11:15AM. I need to be showered, fed, and ready to roll in a half hour. You can look forward to an extensive post about yesterday and today this evening!

Until then, have a good one!


Quick post

Our gala concert went beautifully tonight, so we are celebrating by going to bed early and sleeping in tomorrow. I'm taking advantage of this situation, too. So goodnight--I'll post a detailed blog post tomorrow!


Goodbye, Belfast; Hello, Dublin!

Hello from Dublin! I'm once again up late writing the blog after another eventful day that should have exhausted me; alas, I'm restless as usual. Lucky for you, I've got a lot to write about!

I suppose I should start with yesterday, seeing as I didn't really post a summary of the day's activities. I need to look through my photos to even remember what we did--it seems like ages ago! We started the day by heading over to Belfast's City Hall for a tour, which was actually pretty impressive to see. It's a beautiful building whose construction started in the late 1890's and finished in 1906. When we entered the building, we were greeted by the sight of the beautiful marble grand staircase, as well as the interior of the dome which is illuminated by a huge chandelier. Heading up the staircase, we arrived at the first floor rotunda and learned all about the history of the city as it was illustrated in a huge mural. We then headed into the council chambers, where we were able to sit in the Lord Mayor's seat--but we were NOT allowed to sit in the very old chairs on which the current Queen's grandparents sat. We wouldn't have wanted to anyway, as they've seen better days...

Next, we were treated to the sight of our dear Campbell donning one of the councilor robes in the robing room. We learned why the sleeves had extra bits of fabric on the end (hint: sewage used to run down the street right in front of the hall), and also saw some older ceremonial robes. We then headed to the reception hall, which features gifts from many ethnic minority groups that live in Belfast. The banquet hall had a Titanic theme, with many replica items from the Titanic as well as a memorial plaque that had been taken down to the wreck and brought back up to the surface. Finally, we made our way to the great hall, which was HUGE. This room, like nearly every other room, contained beautiful stained glass windows. Interestingly enough, during WWII they were removed and stored in the basement of a local home to protect them from bombings, being replaced once everything was safe.

After the tour, a large group of girls made their way over to Victoria Square to take in the view from the top of the dome--and to do a bit of singing as well! Once their impromptu concert was over, they found themselves some lunch and then headed by to St. Patricks for a dress rehearsal for the evening's gala concert. When the rehearsal was over and we had figured out the logistics of moving from our seats to the "stage", we headed back to our hotel to change into our concert attire and eat a delightful buffet dinner.

Last night's concert was truly special--the girls were totally on in their solo set, and all of the hard work in the rehearsals paid off in the festival choir portion of the show. We had the audience in the palms of our hands! We ended the program with two gospel pieces, "Take Me to the Water" and "Total Praise", adding a drummer into the mix. To say we brought the house down is an understatement; I think we blew away even our own selves. It was a very spiritual experience, with many tears being shed. I know for a fact that I was not the only one feeling the way I was feeling last night, or even during our whole time in Belfast. It was one of those experiences that will definitely stay with us for the rest of our lives.

This morning, we arose at a reasonable hour, ate some breakfast, loaded our luggage back onto the bus, and headed down to Dublin. Stopping in a lovely rest area along the way, many of the girls spent their first Euros of the trip on coffee and oodles of candy; some of them just played around on the playground. In any event, we all managed to find our way back on the bus and complete the journey to Dublin. And my, what a change of pace!

First off, Dublin has WAY MORE people. Our first day in Belfast, we were lucky to see other people walking on the streets with us. In Dublin, we were greeted by throngs of people on every sidewalk in the city. There are also a lot more street performers, which is very cool to see--musicians, magicians, people pretending to be statues. We were dropped off on Nassau Street (how appropriate!) for some time to wander and find some lunch, and then headed over to Dublin's St. Patricks Cathedral. While getting a short tour (we'll be singing there on Saturday so we'll have more time to explore!), we learned about St. Patrick's two symbols: the clover and the Irish cross. We also were able to see the death mask and skull cast (kind of creepy) of Jonathan Swift, who aside from being an author and satirist found time to be the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

As we made our way to our hotel and past "The Stiletto in the Ghetto", Ms. Butler made an exciting announcement: after checking in, we were going on a special surprise excursion in celebration of Emma and Nora's birthday: a visit to the National Leprechaun Museum! Not entirely sure what to expect, we found it to be a really fun and interesting place to visit. We learned facts about leprechauns (Did you know that it was Disney and Lucky Charms' fault for making the "normal" look of the leprechaun a green-clad, red-headed creature? In folklore, leprechauns actually wore brown coats and a pointy red hat!), walked through magical tunnels, visited the land of giants, learned about the history of folklore in Ireland, traveled through a rainbow, found a pot of gold, and heard stories and legends from our awesome tour guides. At the end, we performed for the museum staff ( and posed for pictures as leprechauns.

Our evening ended at a very cool restaurant called (appropriately enough) "The Church". It was a hip bar and restaurant that was housed in an actual church that they had gutted and retrofitted. It was quirky and cool to be eating our awesome dinners (salad, lamb and potato, and apple pie--gluten free and vegetarian options available!) while looking at stained glass windows and a large pipe organ that Handel (yes, the "Messiah" guy!) had played when he was in Dublin. After we sang "Happy Birthday" and "She's a Jolly Good Fellow" for Nora and Emma, we all headed back to the hotel for an early night in. I, of course, went for my evening walk, wandering all around the city and taking in the sights and sounds. It's amazing how musical this place is--as I walked the streets, I could hear live music coming from nearly every pub. It was also very cool to be in town during the EuroCup--when France scored for a second time, I happened to be standing on a bridge over the River Liffey and could hear a collective roar from the whole city. It was a very cool moment!

So that's all for now. We have our second gala concert tomorrow night (or tonight, actually, seeing as it's 2AM). Until then, hope you're all doing well! It's hard to believe it, but we'll be seeing you relatively soon!


A few words before bed

I've just gotten back to my room after a great time partying after tonight's first gala concert. I am very tired, so will only offer a few words before heading to bed.

Speaking personally here, it's been a particularly heavy trip. Between learning about the history of this city with The Troubles while walking the very streets where so much senseless violence occurred, the reality of the horrors of the Titanic sinking and its human toll that was made so vivid yesterday, and the current state of the world, I've just been feeling all sorts of feelings that I wouldn't normally be feeling on a typical concert tour.

But let me say this: being able to work with the BEST of humanity (your daughters, Ms. Jenkins, Dr. Galvan, and the amazing parents who are along for the ride as chaperones) and seeing the beauty that they bring to the world on a daily basis gives me such joy and hope for the future. We are living in some crazy times, but to see everyone coming together with the common goal of sharing their beautiful music with the world--and sharing it so beautifully!--I'm just overwhelmed and in tears. It is an honor to even be here to experience this, and I am so happy to call PGC family. I love you all, and thank you for helping to bring so much joy and beauty to a world that so needs it.


A day of Titanic proportions!

Now that we're all a little bit more rested, I suppose you'd all like to hear about yesterday's activities! Well then, here you go!

After another delightful breakfast at the hotel, we made our way (maybe SLIGHTLY less groggy than the previous day) to our bus and headed down to the waterfront. Our first destination of the day was the Titanic Belfast museum, which was an amazing sight to behold. The ultra-modern building was designed to reflect the city's history of ship making, with the building being as tall as the Titanic's hull. Inside, we were treated to a fascinating exhibit that not only focused on the Titanic, but also the industrial history of Belfast. It was very interesting for all of us to learn about how the ship was built, from planning to actual construction. Many of the girls took a ride that took us through a simulated shipyard, learning about the conditions that the ship builders endured--and concluded that we would not have fared well in that line of dangerous work.

Of course, a large part of the museum was dedicated to the sinking. It was extremely poignant to hear actual survivors talking about their memories of that night, as well as reading distress messages sent via morse code which were displayed. I had a particularly difficult moment when looking at an interactive exhibit about the people who were on the Titanic when it sank, listing both those who died and those who survived. You could narrow things down by age groups, male or female, survived or perished. When I came across name of a young child who perished, aged 4 months, it really hit close to home (I have a one-year-old at home) and I was unable to continue at that particular exhibit. Suddenly the tragedy became a bit too real for comfort. We tend to view the Titanic and its sinking in a very romanticized way, but I think after this exhibit we all left with a new view of how things were and the scope of the tragedy.

After posing for some group shots in front of the museum, we headed to St. Ann's Cathedral for our first performance of the tour. We had a dress rehearsal to familiarize ourselves with the acoustics of the space (and it was a FANTASTIC space in which to sing!), and then headed behind the scenes to change in to our concert dress. After some issues with locking doors (we managed to find a way around this involving shoes--mine included), we were all changed and headed back into the sanctuary for the concert. Though the audience was small (who goes to a concert at 1:15PM on a Tuesday?!), they were appreciative of our beautiful performance. When the concert was over, we changed back into our street clothes, boarded our bus, and went to the center of the city for a well-deserved lunch break.

When we had all filled our stomachs (some more than others--Ms. Jenkins was in awe of my Peanut Butter Stack dessert!), we got back on the bus and made the short trip to St. Patrick's for our second festival rehearsal. I should note that something happened at this rehearsal that has never happened to me in my entire life--we had a 10-minute "corpse delay". Being in a church, our rehearsal did not supersede church business, and so we had to stop for ten minutes of absolute silence while a casket was carried in on the shoulders of the pall bearers. I'm sure some of the girls might have been a bit put off by this (for the creepy factor), but it was actually sort of interesting to see the funerary practices of a different culture. Once we got the "all clear" it was back to rehearsing for the next two hours.

We then headed to the Villa Italia for dinner with the other festival choirs. Everyone being so sociable, I'm hoping the girls didn't realize how long it took us to get our food after ordering. I'm not exaggerating when I say that my dessert arrived two hours after I had ordered it. The girls actually seemed more worried about certain logistical concerns: "Ms. Butler--our curfew is 10PM, but it's about 10PM right now. What are we supposed to do?" Fortunately, curfew was changed to a time later than when we finished dinner, much to the relief of many of the girls.

Tonight we will be having our first festival gala concert, so we are awfully excited. I look forward to summarizing today's events (hopefully) later tonight.


Check back in the morning...

All of us are the point where I am having trouble staying awake to even post this message. I will write a summary of the day sometime tomorrow morning before things get totally crazy.


Rain, rain, go away!

You know, considering how rainy today was, it really didn't seem to bother most of us. It kind of fit the mood of this morning's subject: The Troubles.

We took a bus tour through a part of Belfast we hadn't yet seen, all the while learning about the time period between the 1960's and 1990's where the entire city was basically a war zone. We learned about the political conflicts between the Irish nationalists (mostly Catholic) and Irish unionists (mostly Protestant) that turned deadly in the 1960's, as well as figures and leaders from both sides--most notably Bobby Sands, who died during a hunger strike in protest of his status as a criminal prisoner (though not before being elected as a member of Parlaiment!). It was very strange to me to see murals of this man who was a member of the IRA, a group that is considered to be a terrorist organization, as well as the other nine IRA members who died in that same hunger strike. The whole area that we visited was just a little There is still a wall that separates the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, with iron gates that are still closed at times because of tensions that still exist. There are still walls covered in murals painted by amateur artists that have barbed wire at the top. It felt very exclusive, though not particularly dangerous (I went walking through the area this evening on my own). It was just strange to see the remnants of such a conflict that was (and still is) much more complex than the simple Catholic vs. Protestant explaination that we've been fed in the past. Our tour guide somberly reminded us that if we had been riding through a unionist part of town 20 years ago, our bus would have been attacked due to our license plates being from a jurisdiction that was nationalist--which is pretty scary to think about. Belfast has come a long way in 20 years.

This day wasn't a total downer--in fact, the bus tour itself wasn't even a total downer! We made a stop and posed for some group shots at The Queen's Univeristy of Belfast, braving the rain. After a short ride back into the center of town, we were off to an early lunch on our own. Many of the girls took the extended amount of time to do some shopping in the local stores, though because of the rain we weren't quite as adventuresome as yesterday in the distance traveled. A LOT of coffee was consumed, as it was much needed--a whole section of girls fell asleep on the bus during the tour, experiencing jet lag. After lunch, we headed back to the bus and made our way to St. Patricks Church for our first festival rehearsal.

The girls were very excited to meet and work with three other choirs--two of them made up of similarly aged students from Australia, and one of them made up of the 11  bravest people on the planet: a group of singers from Georgia whose average age seems to be around 70, give or take a few years. We all seemed to get along very well, and our girls were especially excited to work with some BOYS--but only from a musical standpoint, I'm sure! A choir with REAL tenors and basses is a new experience for many of our girls; a choir with tenors and basses who all have Australian accents sweetens the deal! Our festival conductor, Dr. Janet Galvan, was energetic and engaging throughout the entire three-hour rehearsal, as were our girls. We all really know how to work, and it's paying off beautifully in the sound.

After rehearsal, we took a quick stop at the hotel to drop off our things and then piled right back onto the bus for a short ride to our dinner destination: the Ten Square Hotel. Accompanied by all of the festival choirs, we had a great evening of making new friends. Each table had a mixed group of all of the different ensembles (well, aside from our Georgian friends who seemed to be a little bit intimidated by our collective volume), and it was wonderful to see and hear the kids having so much fun together--some of them even sharing clothing (some non-PGC children were seen sporting our red PGC jackets as they mingled through the banquet hall!). As for the food: my goodness, are we eating well on this trip! I should have mentioned that we had a FANTASTIC breakfast at the hotel this morning, aside from the coffee (or lack thereof). Dinner followed suit in its amazingness--wonderful vegetable soup, chicken with a few different types of potatoes, yet another amazing cheesecake, and in my case (but no one else's--the perks of being the festival accompanist!) the national beverage of Ireland. At this rate, I'm going to have to go for a long walk every night of this trip! So far I'm 2/2. 

I'm not sure what happened after the girls returned to the hotel, as that's when I made my way back into the troubled part of town. I'm assuming that they took advantage of the extended hours at the swimming pool. Maybe some of them went to bed...but probably not. We're having too much fun to go to sleep, which is probably why I'm sitting here at 1AM wide awaking and writing a blog post. :-P I guess I should hit the hay. Hope you all had a wonderful July 4th!


Day...1? 2? Both? What day is it?

As I finally find myself sitting at the desk in my hotel room in Belfast, I'm really quite confused as to what day of the tour we've just completed. I think if I just call it "Day 1.5", it would be accurate. In any case, I've now been up for nearly 36 hours and I'm a tad worried that this post might not make as much sense as it should. Please accept my apologies if this sounds like the ramblings of a very exhausted man...

So yes--we've managed to find our way to Northern Ireland! We survived the insanity of the United Airlines ticketing counter (if you could come up with the most convoluted and inefficient way to get our girls their boarding passes and tag all of their luggage, they NAILED IT!), a not-so-difficult time at the TSA checkpoint, and I even managed to spot a couple of celebrities (a certain wild-eyed character actor from "LOST" and his equally talented wife were snacking on some delightful tacos in Terminal C)! We all enjoyed ordering food with the iPads in the food court, and may or may not have stolen some fruit (if it doesn't have a barcode, how are you supposed to pay for a banana when no one will help you?!) along the way. In any case, Terminal C was a hit as far as airport terminals go. 10/10 would wait for a plane there again.

We excitedly boarded our plane, and managed to totally confuse our flight attendants with our penchant for trading seats once we've boarded. After sorting all of that out, we sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed a 6-hour flight. Many of us took advantage of the on-board entertainment--many of us watched movies, TV shows, and even had a few cut-throat multi-player checkers matches! We also enjoyed a lovely (well, I enjoyed it at least) dinner, though the second round of drink service was disrupted by a pretty wild bout of turbulence that lasted a little bit longer than some of us would have wanted it to. After the excitement, we all did our best to get at least a little bit of sleep. Before too long, we had breakfast and coffee on our tray tables and were flying into Belfast--even making out some sheep in the pastures as we made our final descent. Yes, the sheep were very exciting--because they were IRISH sheep!

We made our way off the plane and into passport control, followed by a trip to what must be one of the world's longest luggage carousels. Many of took advantage of the time it took the luggage to make its way around to use the restrooms (which were FANCY for airport bathrooms!), indulge in some candy from the delightfully stereotypical "Tayto" vending machine (featuring a sweet, cartoon potato wearing a hat, white gloves, and black shoes), and--exciting to me--trying some Coca Cola "Life". We're still not sure what makes it different from Coca Cola, Diet Coke, or Coke Zero, but I felt like I was really alive when I drank it! So there's that, I guess.

Once we had all of our luggage, we met our tour guides, got on our tour buses, and made our way through the countryside to Belfast. Our guides talked a little bit about Ireland and Northern Ireland (and they had IRISH ACCENTS, which was enjoyed by many of the girls), including vital statistics about the two jurisdictions. We all found it a little bit confusing that even though both Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland are both considered part of Ireland, NORTHERN Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union. That means that while we are staying in Belfast, we will be using Pounds Sterling; when we travel to Dublin, we will be using Euros. Also, everyone in both Irelands speak English--even if you can't understand what they're saying. But sometimes they also speak Irish. It's all a little bit confusing, but I'm sure with some more tours in the coming days, everything will start to make a whole lot more sense.

Once we entered the city, we were dropped off in front of City Hall and had a few hours to wander around the city and take in the sights. The girls were eager to find some lunch, making our way over to the wonderful St. George's Market. This place was amazing--many artists, food stands, antique vendors, live music, a CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN, and face painters made this a must-see destination for most (if not all) of us. We picked up a lot of food, including samplings of fudge, fried potatoes, crepes, etc. A highlight of the day was when a whole bunch of us got our faces painted. Yes, I did indeed say "us". I am included in that bunch. All of the girls got lovely, sparkly butterflies painted on their faces...and so did I. I guess that is what happens when I let them decide what the face painter should paint on me. I asked the artist, "Is it safe for me to walk around town with this on my face?" She responded, "You're fine in Belfast--but don't go to any small towns."

Many of the girls opted to visit the Victoria Square shopping mall, which features a beautiful glass dome. You are able to take a whole bunch of spiral staircases up to the top for a lovely panoramic view of the city. Some of the girls also made their way down to the waterfront (the River Lagan meets Belfast Laugh) to see the "Beacon of Hope" sculpture--A.K.A. "Nuala with the Hula" or "Thing With the Ring", as well as viewing the giant cranes "Samson" and "Goliath" at the shipyards where the Titanic was built. We all made our way back to City Hall, which features some amazing bathrooms (or so I'm told) to get back on our buses and head to our beautiful hotel.

After getting our keys, some girls went swimming, and some girls rested--though we were highly discouraged by Ms. Butler from taking naps so as to avoid serious jet lag. We got dressed (some of us washing off our face paint beforehand, some of us not) and headed down to a lovely three-course dinner: Potato and Leek Soup or Caesar Salad, Salmon or Chicken with vegetables, and finally Cheesecake or some chocolate-covered amazingness--with vegetarian and gluten-free options included, of course. Needless to say, the girls seemed pretty satisfied with dinner before heading to a short rehearsal and then upstairs to get ready for their 10PM lights out.

I took advantage of the long daylight hours (lots of sunlight at night up here in the north country!) to take a nice walk through the city to work off the caloric intake of the cheesecake, enjoying more of the sights of this beautiful city. When I arrived back at the hotel around 10:30, it still wasn't dark. I'm hoping the girls realize that they have sliding wood panels in their rooms to block out the sun, or else they might find it difficult to go to sleep at the assigned time (because we all know they go to sleep right away after lights out!). I know it's messing with me--that's why I'm up writing this so late! Even though I've been up so long, the late sunlight is really screwing with me.

So that was today/half of yesterday! We have our first festival rehearsal tomorrow, as well as some more touring of the city. Should be fun! Until tomorrow night, goodnight!


Here we go again!

What's the craic?

It's hard to believe that we are heading off on another adventure in just a few short hours! I'm happy to say that I'm back onboard as both accompanist AND tour blogger!

Check back here for updates on our Irish antics!

See you soon!



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