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Chester Cathedral Choir Tour the Cathedrals of France

Over the summer, Chester Cathedral Choir accompanied by Fran Waddams, their music tour coordinator, set out on their tour of the French cities of Reims, Troyes, Toulouse and Albi. On the tour they performed in beautiful historic cathedrals to vast and appreciative audiences. Read all about the tour and their experiences in Fran's tour diary.

View more photos and videos of the tour»

Day 1

It's 05.45 in the Chester Cathedral car park on a clear (for once) Tuesday morning. Parents, Lay Clerks and choristers are gathering in varied degrees of excitement as we await the arrival of the coach that will take us to France and back. I talk to Philip Rushforth, the Director of Music, and Matron, who is in charge of the younger choristers.

The coach arrives and we set off 30 mins later complete with Choir, adult helpers, trunks of robes and boxes of music.

13.15  We're at Dover and it's 30 degrees - how hot will France be? Choir, adult helpers and Matron are happy and excited.

19.00 French time. It's hot in Reims, but the welcome at the Campanile hotel is warm and the rooms have all been sorted for us based on our rooming list. The rooms are simple, comfortable and air conditioned. The meal is ready and the hotel has even provided a child-friendly option. After dinner most of us drift off to bed early.

Day 2

It’s breakfast time and the youngsters have choice overload at the fulsome buffet. The Concert programme opens in Troyes today, but first, it's a morning in Reims. The coach drops us off near the Cathedral and it's time for photos and wandering around the glorious Cathedral in which there is plenty to see.

Troyes Cathedral is spectacular, and the tremendous cool breeze blowing out of the Cathedral door is a huge relief to us after another 37 degree scorcher.

M le Recteur bustles out to meet us. He maintains and services this glorious Cathedral himself with only a very small staff. The acoustic is sensational - requiring some skilful managing by 'Mr Philip'.  M le Recteur is impressed and begins to smile.

After a cheery dinner at the Irish-themed James Joyce Restaurant, the Choir returns to the Cathedral for a splendid concert which wows the audience - our smallest of the tour. The Mass in G Minor by Ralph Vaughan Williams takes the French music buffs by surprise; most of them have never heard of RVW before, let alone this glorious work. Choir CDs fly off the sales table.

We arrive back late, so it’s straight to bed after a long day of touring.

Day 3

We travel to Toulouse and we're all pleased to arrive at the cool and civilised Hotel Ibis in the Centre of Toulouse and the party makes short work of the meal.  Afterwards several folds venture out into the town to find themselves in the middle of a festival with a superb lights and fireworks show.

Day 4

We depart for Albi, that wonderful hilltop town with spectacular brick built fortress of a Cathedral. When we arrive we spend some free time exploring picturesque Albi. The Choristers find a delightful restaurant and experience a proper French lunch, including escargots!

Albi's magnificent cathedral is packed with tourists who stare open mouthed, sit down and stay as the choir rehearses bite-sized chunks of the musical feast in store. In the end, about 400 attend the concert, standing up and cheering at the end. CD's once again walk off the shelves, to the delight of the sales team.

There's thunder in the air as we leave Albi, but we escape it - for now. The choir are amazed by the huge choice of meals in Flunch. Matron has her work cut out as till operators, eager to ensure that the youngsters get their full 15 Euros-worth send them back for ice creams and drinks.

Lightning plays and thunder growls as we return to the hotel. The Olympic Games opening ceremony is on the TV and we're torn between watching that and the storm.

Day 5

The final concert of the tour is in the Basilica of St Sernin, Toulouse. Working via the network that links fine organists the world over, Ben Chewter (Assistant Director of Music) has received permission to use the Grandes Orgue - one of the finest in France - for his organ solos.

We receive a warm welcome from Olivier at the Basilica and tourists and shoppers come in as the choir rehearses. Once again, there are several hundred appreciative listeners, many of whom stand to applaud the choir at the end of the concert. Choir family members have attended the concerts and today some bring French guests, including the President of a neighbouring regional choral association. Afterwards they congratulate 'Mr Philip', one commenting that hearing the choir, especially the 'glittery tone' of the top line, had made her feel "proud to be British".

By this time some CDs have sold out and several people leave disappointed.

The rest of the day is spent taking free time in Toulouse, enjoying the shops, the river boat ride and the restaurants.

Day 6

It's goodbye Toulouse, hello coach as we retrace our road north for Paris and Disneyland. It's much cooler today, but we're all pleased to arrive at the hotel and have an early night in preparation for the rigours of Disneyland the next day.

Day 7

Today the Choir lets off some steam! While some of the adult members of the party head into Paris, the rest of us arrive for a full day at Disneyland Resort Paris. I tag along with Matron and the ladies and boy choristers and particular thanks are due to Alistair who is such a good sport when I cling onto him and scream in his ear as we whiz around Big Thunder Mountain! Even the Coach drivers join in.

'Fastpasses' are new even to some experienced Disneyland Resort Paris-ers and help everyone make the most of the day. The longest we wait in a Fastpass queue is 15 minutes, which really beats 1hr 15mins for the normal queue!

Day 8

Back to the UK, fog and cool weather. A very prompt departure enables the coach drivers to get us onto an earlier ferry to Dover where it's time for me to leave the group. What a wonderful tour. I can only hope the Choir and helpers enjoyed themselves as much as I did.

Find out more about Halsbury choir, orchestra and band tours by visiting our music tours section.