The first trip the Palestrina Choir has taken since the outbreak of the coronavirus and it's a double whammy to Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland! It wouldn't be a Palestrina Choir tour if we didn't have to wake up obscenely early and this trip is no different...with a 5AM start for us all. The boys arrived in their choir blue at 7AM, all of them on cloud-nine.
We split into our groups and made our way through the airport. Security is always a bit turbulent, as majority of us all get stopped for random checks; which is good I suppose! After security, even the boys noticed the drastic inflation of everything at the shops and all wisely saved their money. Once we got to the gate, we all regrouped and got settled as we had an hour and a half left till the flight! Of course, Ryanair had to change our gate and delay our flight...but thankfully we had given ourselves plenty of time in Estonia in case of situations just like this.
The flight itself was mainly occupied with grumpy senior boys who were in desperate need of a nap, but the rest of the boys and some of the staff were quite smitten with this 'Perplexus' sphere maze:
It's certainly one way to keep oneself occupied on a plane-ride.
Once we arrived in Talinn, we were greeted by our contacts from the Embassy who did a great deal of the preparation work behind the scenes to allow the trip to go ahead and for that we are eternally grateful. We made the surprisingly quick journey to our hotel and very quickly threw our bags in our rooms and quickly got back on the coach (thanks Ryanair) to head to the Estonian Maritime Museum.
There's nothing quite as shocking as the boys demonstrating their knowledge of historical war weaponary because of a video game. However, it was quite funny watching boy after boy crash a flight-sim only for the last boy to realise that the joystick was broken...The Maritime was also the first souvenir shop of the trip, unfortunately some of the boys took it upon themselves to buy some fish plushies which make a harmless weapon, but a rather startling one nonetheless.
After our martime expedition, we went back to the hotel for dinner. As much as we'd like to say the boys indulged in some culturally appropiate Estonian cuisine, however the boys' palettes aren't as adventurous as you might think...even my stomach would turn at the sight of a marinated eel! We decided on some spaghetti bolognese and it went down a treat.
Amidst all of the above, the gentlemen of the choir took it upon themselves to get acquainted with the old town and found themselves a lovely little restaurant and proceeded to soak up the shockingly warm weather despite the forecast.
Back in the hotel, the boys were winding down for what was probably one of the longest days they've had in a very long time (17 HOURS)!!!
Day two began with many late risers, but with the bribery of a hearty breakfast, which I have to say was delicious, the boys managed to persevere. The energy levels rose as the first full day of touring began. We saw quite a lot of Tallinn in a short amount of time, it really attests to how small the city of Tallinn is. From the beautiful wooden houses to the Baltic Sea, and yes the boys all saw to it to use the phrase "It's baltic!"...
But one of the standout moments of the morning was when we visited the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. The sheer size of the grounds was quite deceptive, until it took the boys a solid 30 seconds to race down the hill to the stage (at full tilt) and by some miracle they all kept their footing. The boys gave a rousing performance of 'Down by the Salley Gardens' which, believe it or not, could be heard from the top of the hill despite being open-air!
We finished up our touring with a walk through the Old Town, which the boys used as a wonderful opportunity to stimulate the local economy and support all the souvenir shops with some interesting finds along the way. Another culturally inspired meal was to be had in McDonalds and Burger King, but in a time crunch it really was quite shocking that 22 boys can be fed and watered in under a half an hour!
With all the touring out of the way, it was time to get ready for our first concert of the trip. We made the short journey to St. John's Church and begin our rehearsal for what would be the choir's first performance unmasked since the start of the pandemic! The acoustic was quite wonderful which is always a worry when going on tours away. Following our own rehearsal, we were joined by the St. Michael's Boys' Choir for a joint rehearsal of their director Kadri Hunt's composition "Hold One Another". The sound was mighty and both choirs were performance ready.
The concert went as smoothly as we could've asked for and much fun was to be had afterwards in the Embassy, where the Irish Ambassador Frances Kiernan hosted a beautifully intimate dinner reception for us. There was a wonderful atmosphere to the evening, which was topped off by a particularly piquant speech our Administrator Fr. Kieran McDermott's, followed by the admission of Ambassador Frances Kiernan's initiation as an honourary member of the Palestrina Choir.
The night ended with a spontaineous performance from some of the Gentlemen of the Choir, who sang 'Stórin na Chroí' an Irish translation of an old barbershop standard which is probably better known as 'Heart of my Heart'. The translation work was done by one of our own baritones Kevin Boushel and it was a very fitting end to a very special evening.