Ackworth School Choir's Tour Diary

I have just returned from a 7-day school music tour to Washington D.C. with the fantastic choir from Ackworth School in Pontefract. The choir consists of 27 singers aged 12-17 years. I very much enjoyed my time with them on their school music tour to the USA, which had a packed itinerary, including two concerts. Here’s what happened:

Monday 24th August

I met the group at London Heathrow Terminal 5. They were certainly easy to recognise, as they were all wearing a bright T-shirt with their school name printed on it. 

Check in went smoothly. Everyone had their passport valid and ESTA done (Electronic visa for the US) and the group had plenty of time to visit the duty free before boarding their flight.

The flight took nine hours and our airline, British Airways, really took good care of us. We had lunch and snacks before landing on time (13:45 local time).

It then took us about 30 minutes to go through customs, which was trouble-free, and we then went to meet our local coach driver, who was waiting for us outside Washington Dulles airport. 

Our coach driver was a lovely man named Bob, who was very knowledgeable about the area - he even gave us a little tour on arrival to downtown Washington, which we all loved!

We arrived at the Hotel Comfort Inn Downtown, which is in a great location, and checked in. The coach waited for us while we did this and then drove us ten minutes’ away, to our first American restaurant, called Carmine.

We enjoyed a great meal (chicken Caesar salad, spaghetti bolognaise or aubergine vegetarian lasagne, as many soft drinks as you wanted and cookies to take away!). We then headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep!

Tuesday 25th August

On our the morning of our first full day in America, we enjoyed a buffet breakfast, which offered everything you could possibly want including waffles, doughnuts, bagels, eggs, yoghurt, fruit, juices and, of course, tea, coffee and hot chocolate! 

After breakfast, we met our guide for the morning, Trisha, and our local coach, which was parked outside, and started our guided tour

Our first stop was the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the group stopped for a great photo opportunity. 

We then went to visit the National World War II Memorial, Vietnam War Veterans’ Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial (along with the Reflecting Pool from the Forest Gump film!), and the Martin Luther King National Memorial, before finishing our morning at the Capitol.

We had our lunch at the Capitol cafeteria. It is worth noting at this point that, due to high levels of security, bottles of water, sun cream etc. are not permitted into the building and there are no lockers available.  The tour of the Capitol is free of charge but you need to book a time slot before departure.

After the visit we walked to the Hard Rock Café for an early evening meal. Located on 7th Street, it took us about 30 minutes to walk to the restaurant. Our meal consisted of a burger and cookie, as well as unlimited soft drinks. The group then had a bit of time at the Hard Café shop (which is a bit smaller than the one in New York, for those that have been). 

After our evening meal, we took the metro (metro card costs $10 per person) and went to the Pentagon City shopping centre for the evening. Here the group had fun shopping for typically American brands, such as Converse; MAC and Macy’s . We had a brilliant time! Great shopping!

As the shopping centre closes at 21:30, we were back at the hotel by 22:30 (we took the metro most of the way, with a short walk at the other end).

Wednesday 26th August

After another good breakfast, we walked to the National Mall to visit some of the Smithsonian museums.

It took us about 30-40 minutes to walk down 13th street. We first visited the American History Museum (which had an exhibition on First Ladies and their fashion styles), before splitting the group up to visit either the Natural History Museum or National Gallery of Art. Magnificent buildings and extremely interesting museums, even if you are not a museum enthusiast!

We then had lunch at the food hall of the Ronald Reagan Building and discovered that lunchtime concerts often take place in one of the courtyards.

After lunch, we walked back to the hotel to get our music for a rehearsal at the National City Christian church (which was just 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel).

Mrs Sarah McAlindon , the conductor, and Mr Ian Lenihan, the musical director, conducted the rehearsal. The group then went back to the hotel to enjoy some pizza before the concert.

The concert started at 19:00 and the choir gave a good and powerful one hour performance with some really fantastic solos. They then decided to go out and do an impromptu concert on the steps of the church and many people took pictures and tried to sing along! After this resounding success, we all enjoyed the short walk back to the hotel and the restful night that followed.

Thursday 27th August

After another bountiful breakfast, we walked down to the Ford’s Theatre where a guided tour (with audio guide) was booked. We saw the seat where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and went opposite the theatre to see the Petersen House where Lincoln died.

We then met our local coach by Madame Tussauds and drove to the Kennedy Performing Arts centre, which is a magnificent building overlooking the Potomac River and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

We saw the main concert hall, the Millennium Stage (where performances can take place) and the Opera House.

The choir did an impromptu performance just outside the concert hall, in the main hall opposite the JFK statue - what an opportunity! They sang “Georgia” (apparently one of President Obama’s favourite songs!).

After a short visit to the gift shop, which had some great music-themed souvenirs, the coach drove us to the hotel to pick up our music and concert dress, and we drove to the Franciscan Monastery (just outside of Washington) for a short guided tour

After the visit we had dinner at the Bucca di Beppo restaurant, where we enjoyed a huge amount of food, including salad, pasta, chicken and brownies, as well as unlimited soft drinks. 

We then returned to the monastery, where the group performed another fantastic concert right by the main altar. The acoustic was amazing and the group had an enthusiastic and warm audience - even our coach driver came to hear them! The concert was also live streamed on the monastery’s website!

Once again, the choir gave a wonderful performance and Mrs McAlindon was, quite rightly, very proud! 

After an exciting evening, we returned to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Friday 28th August

After two really busy days, we went to the King’s Dominion Amusement Park in Virginia. Before reaching the theme park, we stopped at one of the most prestigious schools in the country: The Sidwell School (known for educating the children of US presidents, including those of President Obama), where the group also gave a short performance. This was another great experience for the choir. 

After their performance at the school, the group spent the day at the theme park, where they also had lunch and dinner. The theme park was a great success and everyone loved it, including the teachers!!

We arrived back at the hotel at 22:30 and started packing for our departure the next day.

Saturday 30th August

After a smooth check out, we walked to Macy’s for a spot of last-minute shopping! We got some real bargains too, thanks to the pound being so strong at the moment!

Then we walked to the Air and Space Museum and National Museum of the American Indian for our final visits. 

Our driver, Bob, met us at the museum and we drove back to the hotel to pick up our luggage. 

We had an overnight flight and we arrived on time at London Heathrow, when the time came to say goodbye. 

The week went by so quickly; Washington is a beautiful and elegant city full of history and musical influences. We all had such a fantastic time that I would have no hesitation in recommending this city for any school choirs going to the US for the first time.