We are in Toronto. This morning at 4:30AM we met at the Moncton airport- 7 minutes from Dieppe so that was the easy part! Our friends from JCA sent us off- of course there were tears because we’ve shared so much together through this exchange.
Here are some highlights from the past few days:
Thursday, July 7: We boarded our buses with our friend Mario driving one of them, and headed up the coast to Bouctouche. Now all you french speakers, say “Bouctouche” out loud. aha! HERE, in Acadia, it’s pronounced “Bahk Tooosh”. This was an Acadian community from like the 1760s. Charming houses, tidal marshes, birds, blue red white and yellow painted dorys (open rowboats)… lovely. We stopped at Irving Gardens and chapel and wandered through the gardens- the rain started lightly. It was a nice break from the fast pace of the week. The Irving family, originally from Scotland, started in the logging business in New Brunswick. Now, Irving family businesses own most of the province! From lumber to electricity, to petroleum to french fry production (apparently their fries, under the name “Cavendish Farms” label, are wonderful)… the family businesses are extremely influential. We had the opportunity to sing in the beautiful wooden Irving Chapel- the acoustic was GORGEOUS!
It was a bit windy, and quite cool out. We were all thankful for our CSMA coats! We ended up getting way more wear out of our jeans and coats than we ever imagined.
From there, to Pays de la Sagouine. This is kind of like an Acadian version of Burnaby Village Museum, except way more. La Sagouine is the washer-woman character in Antoine Maillet’s novels that depict Acadian heritage and life in the old days, through the eyes and musings of iconic Acadian fictional characters. First, you walk along this long curving boardwalk over the water, towards this cute island covered with traditional style Acadian homes. From the moment you arrive, you feel like you have jumped back in time, and all the people who work there, are dressed and interact with visitors, like the characters they depict! VERY FUN!!! You wander around from house to house, where you get invited to a “Le kitchen party” or you end up walking in to a show or dancing to a band… all super fun. Highlight for me (Diana) was when we were at the kitchen party, and the guy starts singing the same Reel a Bouche that we know!!! He was blown away and so were we- because when we choose repertoire that says it comes from a traditional Acadian song… one can only hope that it’s the real deal. Reel deal. See what I did there? Jeff”s punster humour has apparently rubbed off!
Anyway, there at Pays de la Sagouine, WE were one of the shows! The actors set it up on the stage- which was made to look like a barn- as though Citrouille, the town goofball, was trying to write a show and write a song. We were listening like mad to the rapid fire French language and Acadian Chiac, trying to hear our cue! When it was our turn, the kids were pretty much frozen cold. Our fearless chaperone Marni was the coldest of all, because our adults give the shoes off their feet and the coats off their backs, to singers who have forgotten their uniform bits!!!!
We opened with Thulele Mama Ya, then Reel A Bouche. We joked around about “is there anyone here who plays spoons?” and our bus driver Mario- a spoon virtuoso- came up to join us. The audience- all french speakers- LOVED our performance, and were stomping their feet and grooving along to our Acadian piece. THAT performance for me was a highlight. Our friends in JCA joined us for Partons la Mer est Belle, Bravo Monsieur le Monde, and Sail Away. Sail Away had become a favourite on the tour- we just love singing it together! And now that singers all have their own set of spoons… we’ll have to keep it in our repertoire.
After we left the island- and imagine that we are pretty much immersed in Acadian French/ Chaic all this time- we headed to Dune de Bouctouche. This is a 12km long sand bar that goes out along the bay, is about 2000 years old! There is a very long board walk, and super soft sand. “I like long walks on the beach” takes on a new meaning with 50 young people, cartwheeling, giggling and dodging Lion’s Mane jelly fish! Many of us were expecting “Dunes” like Oregon… but this was more like a long sand spit. Marni is reminding me that once again, we JUST wrapped up at the beach as the rain began. Lucky again!
A little nap time on the bus ride back to Crandall University, where we were to rehearse with the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra and NB Pops Orchestra. You need to understand the context here: for WEEKS I’ve been keenly pep talking the choir “we are going to be singing this song with ORCHESTRA for the Atlantic Nationals Car Show!” and they’ve been looking at me like “ya whatevs” because the songs on paper, don’t seem great: Do Re Mi; Partons la Mer est Belle (the long verses in French seemed impossible to learn); and Bravo M le Monde. BUT… when we all got into the rehearsal room, and the VSO-sized orchestra began to play the intro “storm music” for Partons.. and then we got to sing… it was AWESOME in the real sense of the word! Full body, full on intensity of sound. Goosebumps. And to see singers faces and eyes get that “holy sh*t!!! I’m singing with this!!!!” look on their face… was priceless and unforgettable.
We had been scheduled to have a picnic pizza dinner at the park after the rehearsal, but because of the rain, it had been a frantic scramble for our hosts to find a “Plan B” (you have to pronounce it “Plahn Bay”- en français)
As luck would have it, René, one of the host dads, is coordinator at Aberdeen Arts centre- it was once a school run by nuns, and it was where JCA began more than 40 years ago, (Mario attended it). This beautiful old building in Moncton became our dinner spot. Singers went home with families- some went on to Kitchen parties! Our adults went out for dinner to a place called Tide & Boar. Get it? Tidal Bore? Tide & Boar? We had the BEST chips- PEI potatoes. We’d been told to have the Poutine. This one, was fries with carmelized onions, cheese curds, heaps of roasted pulled pork, and option of gravy and ketchup. Totally yum.
Plane is loading, so more later!!!
Friday, July 8: Moncton performance & Honour Garden
Friday morning had us meeting at 7:45AM at Moncton city hall for our sound check on stage with the NBYO. When we arrived to the humongous concert stage that was set up on Main Street, there was a palpable tension in the air as production crews, sound techs, performers and organizers scrambled around to get everything set up. I believe there were set for 140 people (including us) on stage, and each instrument mic’d… plus Canadian rocker Kim Mitchell had HIS band’s stuff pre-set at the back of the stage… it was tight for space! We were initially concerned that mics hadn’t been ordered for the choir, but by the time the performance came at noon, all was good.
After sound check, we headed over to the Acadian Museum where we engaged in a fun collaborative surrealist art-making; learned about the Acadian WW 1 war effort and reviewed Acadian culture and history. The WWW 1 war effort display was interesting. Even though there were many Acadians who conscripted, apparently there weren’t enough Acadians from the area to form a full Battalion. So they were divided up among the other Battalions- mostly English- where it was difficult for them to communicate. In Europe, the Acadian soldiers ended up as loggers in France to help the war effort. In the museum’s “Acadian culture” displays, we marvelled at seeing a photo of Jeunes Chanteurs d’Acadie prominently displayed! They are INDEED ambassadors for Acadian culture and the future.
Back to Moncton City Hall for lunch on the 6th floor, where we had a view of the historic downtown area.
The “NB Pops” concert was hours of orchestral music featuring the various levels of youth orchestras in the “El Sistema” program. This method of instrumental music education, that began in Venezuela, has gained a lot of publicity because made tremendous opportunities possible to under privileged youth. The NB director, Tony Delgado is a graduate of the Venezuelan El Sistema, and has had a big impact on the instrumental scene in New Brunswick.
The young players’ renditions of Beethoven 5 and Carmen were remarkable!
We finally got our call, and off we went to the stage. GULP. Imagine singers at the back of the stage, on risers, with a full orchestra set up- chairs, stands, mics- between me on the podium and singers on the risers. And a keyboard off to my left that the choir could barely hear. When they sang, I could barely hear them, they were so far away!! We just had to TRUST the mics and sound techs, and do our best. I’m happy to report that listeners could hear the choir and all went well. I’m so proud of our singers and their performance, but most fun of all was having both choirs together, singing TOGETHER. Yay!!!!! And we were all so warmly welcomed by the audience too.
By this time, things at the Atlantic Nationals car show were really getting busy, and gorgeous classic cars were lining the streets.
We were escorted by Isabelle, one of the JCA parents who is Moncton’s Communications Manager, down to the river front to view the Honour Garden that had just opened June 4, 2016.
You may recall that 2 years ago, on June 4, 2014, there was that horrible tragic incident in Moncton where a crazed sniper sent their shocked city into lockdown for hours. Sadly, 3 RCMP officers lost their lives trying to protect the community. We thought we were going to see the new memorial statues, but the visit ended up being much more profound than that. Isabelle told us how she was out walking her dog the night that she got the first phone call from the Mayor, and the second phone call from CNN! She told us how the community banded together during the crisis, and she explained how the memorial park came to be. Because she was involved in the creation of the Honour Garden, we felt like we got a lot of inside scoop about the symbolism and design of the memorial. The 3 fallen RCMP officers are depicted in bronze, in eerily life-like detail. Each faces a different direction to symbolize their personal history, and each statue contains many symbols and artifacts to represent these lives taken too soon. Isabelle invited us all to “get right in there” and touch the bronze and look closely at the symbols and artifacts. We needed to process the experience, so we did what we do best: we sang. We all made a circle around the memorial and sang Bravo Monsieur le Monde. It was a beautiful, moving, heartfelt 4 minutes.
I’d had in my brain that I wanted us to sing GTO next to a real GTO car back at the car show, but by this time, everyone was completely emotionally and physically drained. So we instead let singers explore the car show in small groups.
When we met up again, singers were excited to trot off with their host families because there were all kinds of exciting plans for the night! Escape rooms, kitchen parties, ice cream… lots of fun. The adult travellers were excited for the night out too, because Kim Mitchell was slated to play at the same stage we’d been singing on earlier in the day!!!! Patio Lanterns? Rockland Wonderland? Rock Song? THAT Kim Mitchell!!!! Free! And by then, having been at the stage much of the day, we adults knew the best vantage points from which to see the show up close without being deafened nor crushed.
Kim Mitchell and his band did not disappoint. In fact, he even stopped for a moment to tell the crowd how he had heard our concert earlier in the day, how impressed he was by the passion, artistry and intensity of the young musicians and went on to talk about the importance of music learning. You DO totally ROCK Mr. Kim Mitchell. Thank you for that.
On the 20 minute walk ‘home’ to Dieppe, to our hotel, we passed a sweet house for sale. Central location, heritage character home. $89,900. No, I did not forget a zero. $90K and we can buy a house here on the Moncton/ Dieppe border. So we 9 adults thought we’d just buy a house here, chip in $10K each.
Saturday, July 9: Market, Sheep Dogs, Parlee Beach
Our last day together. I could feel the heaviness in the hearts and see it on singers’ faces today. Everyone was trying to be brave and keep smiling, but we all knew this was it. And thankfully, we got to SLEEP IN today!
At 11AM we met the bus. Originally, we were slated to be at the famous Parlee Beach all day. But it was cold and threatening to rain, so we bundled up and headed out on our “Plan B” (pronounced Plahn Bay) adventure. First stop, the Saturday Farmers’ Market in Dieppe. This indoor market was bustling with musicians, food, flowers, veggies… Yum yum and more yum. Some of us got to have more traditional Acadian food like fish cakes, poutine à trou and chowder. Others headed for ice cream and maple sugar treats.
Back on Day 1, our bus driver JP had told us how he had a sheep farm and had champion sheep herding dogs. He had invited us all over, but at the time, we didn’t think it would work out in the schedule. But by now, needing a Plan B because of the weather, it seemed perfect. So off we went to Scoudouc (near Shédiac) to JP’s house.
2 big yellow school buses pulled up in to his yard, and were warily eyed by about 15 ramlets (4 month old rams) plus their big ram daddy leader. Meanwhile in another field, were the ewes. It was so cool and interesting to see the sheep dogs’ INTENSE faces as JP and his wife whistled or called commands. And by golly those sheep went wherever the dog herded them. Remember the movie “Babe” about the cute pig and sheep farmer? It was kind of like that. We learned about dogs being “left handed” or “right handed” (imagine throwing a ball to a dog, and they run it back to you- they will always grab and turn back a preferred side) and how trainers had to teach them to be able to turn and run the other way if needed. Very very interesting and fun for dog lovers to see these intelligent animals in action. Of course a few people were asking about the lamb chops and mutton sausages also sold at the farm…
We arrived at Parlee Beach for some fun. It was 15 degrees cold. Had it been sunny and warm, the beach would have been PACKED, but instead we had the long stretch of soft sand all to ourselves. Not surprisingly, some of the singers were not to be deterred by the weather, and they went for a dip in the Atlantic! Many played in the sand and ran around together.
The time to bid a fond adieu to everyone together, came at 4:45pm.
How do you muster up the words “good bye” after such an intense, fun-filled adventure, life changing week??? Adults too, made some friends and connections with our hosts. All of us, so totally filled with gratitude at the experiences, friendships, music and memories made possible because of this Experiences Canada exchange tour and by the generosity of our hosts.
Singers can tell you how they spent their last night in New Brunswick. Apparently their were more kitchen parties, nice dinners, Lobster eating contests at Shédiac Lobster Fest… fun fun fun.
And now, on the plane, we all are trying to keep it all together when we are so full of emotion and fatigue and excitement at being home to our families.
Please know how totally fabulous Children’s Choir singers were this week. Never a complaint nor an issue. Group leaders totally responsible and reliable. Singers acting responsibly and respectfully. An absolute joy and privilege to travel with this group.
Have fun hearing all the stories from your singer!
À bientôt mes amis!