Ellesmere College Choir Returns Jubilant after Barcelona Tour!

The Music Tour to Barcelona in 2023 will always hold happy and special memories of spending time with a remarkable, talented, funny, resilient and special group of people. Life is all about shared moments and in Barcelona we got to experience many of these. From first flights or trips away without parents, to monumental performance experiences, to meeting Ester with her bright energy, boundless enthusiasm and effort to make sure we had the very best introduction to her home city.

Barcelona is a city that is proud and vibrant, daring in terms of architecture, colourful in every way and, most of all friendly.


We struck up interesting conversations with Catalans everywhere we went. They were interested in finding out about Ellesmere and how the choir came to sound so magnificent. Everywhere we sang, people reflected on how moved they were with the performances. This is not a typical reaction but suggests a level of shaping and connection from a group of musicians who work together as a real team.


Seeing La Sagrada Familia for the first time creates a simultaneous sense of awe and shock - there is simply nothing like it in my experience. That doesn't mean to say I loved it straight away. The Catalan Music Palace and San Pau Hospital designed by Gaudi's teacher, Domenic i Montaner were absolutely beautiful and perhaps more to my taste. Gaudi's work takes some thought, but as soon as you start to consider his reuse of existing materials, design elements that are improvements on existing ideas like the seats at Parc Guell , alongside the aesthetics, you can tell that Gaudi's work is simultaneously ingenious and daring. Like all great artists, he saw the world not for what it is but for what it could be. This is why when you set foot in La Sagrada, with its myriad of stained glass windows refracting coloured light in all directions, it feels like you are under the canopy of a forest, protected and safe. It was in this moment that I really came to understand and love Gaudi's work.

We performed a short concert at the Gate of Glory, at the West End. People stopped to listen, the building that was humming with the sound of construction and visitors seemed to fall away and although it was hard for us to tell, the sound radiated out around the large and cavernous structure like ripples on a pond.

Singing a Mass and concert in the Crypt of La Sagrada Familia, where Gaudi is buried was a truly unforgettable experience. As we sang the final phrase of 'God Be in Head' with the words, 'God be at mine end, And at my departing', I reflected on the humble death of Gaudi in 1926. Having been hit by a tram, and wearing his dusty work clothes he was mistaken for a beggar. As a result he did not receive medical care until it was too late. Now he is immortalised in the Crypt but in his time only a small number of people recognised his ability - this is too often the story of great innovators.


At the end of the concert, we were presented with our diploma by the priest who said, 'You will always be welcome to sing here - this is now your home!'

Our next venue, Barcelona Cathedral with its beautiful and ancient seating in the choir had a gothic splendour to it. Judging and timing the acoustics was the challenge here. I have always been hugely impressed with the speed and ability of Kevin Whitley to adjust and respond to difficult performance scenarios - here the audience sat in between the choir and organ and the visual/aural delay was tricky. A need for focus and constant adjustments between Kevin, the students and myself was needed - and worked!

Wholehearted pastoral care came in the form of Nicky Welti, an unsung hero who skillfully picks up on and manages all manner of needs often without anyone knowing it has happened. Her emotional intelligence and support helped to ensure that everyone had a great time.

I always try to cram as much as possible into a tour - best venues, lots of culture etc. - you have to make the most of your time don't you ! Two people who have experience of working with this high level of demand are Scott Phillips and Jo Mattinson. Having missed out on Vienna, cancelled 3 days before departure, Scott joined our staff team, bringing his good humour, singing skills (much appreciated by the tenors) and energy to the trip. This time Jo did a brilliant job as tour manager at the UK end and ensuring that the logistics were well handled.

An example of this value-added approach came on our 3rd morning, when we were due to visit the Picasso Museum, but stopped off to see the ancient ruins of Barcino on the way - something I had researched the previous evening. Walkways have been erected over the ruins in what was once a large covered market. It happened to have a great acoustic but security was tight. We organised for the 40 people on tour to start singing from across the space, converging on the central area showing that they can sing anything, anywhere and at distance from one another. No arrests were made and on our subsequent flash mob in the courtyard of the Picasso Museum, people enjoyed and watched from all levels.

We attended a wonderful concert at the Catalan Music Palace listening to the music of Bernstein, Duke Ellington and a world premiere of a new Piano Concerto. A beautiful, colourful space with tiled and glass surfaces, unlike any concert hall I have ever been in. Ester, our tour manager, and I took the opportunity to seek out the concert hall manager at the interval. I was keen to give our students the opportunity to perform in the space. Imagine not one but two friendly people who both believe that the impossible is always possible. He didn't stand a chance. One hour later, the students entered the concert hall and were joined midway by the composer, concert pianist and his family who sat to listen and then talk to us. AMAZING!

A last minute booking saw us performing a concert at Our Lady of Nuria to the most friendly of audiences. Gigi Locela joined me once again for what was now our Eurovision-worthy double act in presenting concerts in Spanish and English - not sure what Gigi was saying but she certainly got more laughs!

As we started to sing the Mozart Ave Verum, a gentleman on the front row joined in very nicely with the bass line. Later in the concert a lady on the front row shouted 'Magnificent!' and began an applause midway through 'Northern Lights' as we paused after a huge climax. To be fair, this also happened at La Sagrada and the students were unphased - we waited for the applause to die down and continued to the end of the piece.

We were joined by parents and families from Ellesmere. When this happens and I see people I know in the audience I always have to pinch myself - is it real? I have no words for the many ways in which we are supported to do what we do but my gratitude to the parents is endless. They allow the students to take part in the trip, making sacrifices to encourage these amazing opportunities. They champion everything we do and none of this would happen without their belief. Whenever you doubt yourself as a parent, your children know and understand deep down that they are very lucky!





Amidst all sorts of other visits and experiences, meals and conversations, we arrived at our last day. We made our way on the rack railway up to Montserrat Monastery, one of the calmest places I have ever been. Due to a technical error, the live feed of our concert featured video but not sound. I have shared excerpts on our @ellesmeremusic Instagram feed. You will have to take my word for it that just as with every performance on this trip and at the concert on 18th March in Ellesmere, the quality of performance was nigh on professional. Astounding given the age and experience of the performers.



If the students didn't know before, I think they will now understand that delivering the best performances requires hard work in rehearsal, good ensemble skills, a desire to really communicate with the audience and a level of assured relaxation in performance.

On returning from tours, people often remark, 'You must be exhausted!'. While this is undeniably true, I am also inspired and exhilarated in having the honour of working with remarkable young people, in loving what I do for a living, and in being able to bring music to life.


And the most important lesson for our young people..... go after every opportunity in life, especially if it is something you can do together!

27th March 2023

28th March 2023  Back to News