An exhilarating day — and night!

Friday dawned rainy and grey — a typical London day, as a matter of fact (very UNlike the clear blue skies we’d been enjoying up to now).  But we had some major sightseeing planned, so after our hotel breakfast we boarded our two coaches, “Bernstein” and “Rimsky,” and set off for the South Bank of London,  (The breakfast room seems to be getting more crowded by the day, it seems, with fellow guests, the majority of whom seem to be Eastern European — I’ve chatted with Russians, Hungarians and Romanians so far — but there’s an abundance of food for all.  In fact, if you grab a good protein-y breakfast at the hotel, you can pretty much skip lunch, I’ve found.  But maybe that’s just me…!)

By the time we reached the South Bank (the opposite side of the Thames from Parliament) patches of blue were peeking through grey and black clouds, and though it threatened rain and actually sprinkled on us a few times, we lucked out and just got a nicely dramatic sky for photo-taking.  Our morning’s missions: to take a cruise down the Thames, followed by a ride on the giant observation wheel, the London Eye.  The Thames cruise, operated by the same company that runs the London Eye, takes you briskly down the river from the Eye to Tower Bridge, and then back, with a lively guide pointing out the sights.  My only quibble was that they focus so much on the historic sights, like the Tower of London and St. Paul’s, but give rather short shrift to all the exciting new architecture that’s rising all over the city.  Cranes and massive skyscraper projects seem to be everywhere (and a city “on the build” would seem to be a good economic sign…).  But aside from a few mentions of the Shard and a few others, scarcely a word about the “new” London.  Ah, well, it’s probably not what most tourists come to see – but a little balance might be good.

A brief break for lunch on our own (or in my case, since I’d had my big breakfast, souvenir shopping – I need my refrigerator magnet from all major trips!  I used to collect fat pencils, and then those beautiful Danish-made pens with the moving thingie inside the gel — but I’m down to just fridge magnets now…older but wiser…).  Then the whole group lined up in a long but pretty fast-moving queue for the London Eye.

OK, the Eye.  It’s the world’s largest observation wheel (as it’s properly called; NOT a Ferris wheel) at 443 feet tall.  The thing is very impressive, especially from the ground looking up.  It’s cantilevered out toward the Thames, held in place by two cables anchored in a nearby park.  Built for the Millennium celebrations in 2000, it was so popular that it has remained and has become another of those great icons of London, a bit of lighthearted fun right across from the staid old Houses of Parliament.  Each of its 32 glass pods can hold up to 30 people, and it turns slowly but continuously (you hop on while it’s moving).

So we all hopped on, filling up several pods with blue-jacketed OCYSO members and staff.  It’s a wonderful, slow, smooth ride up and up for about 15 minutes, then a few minutes at the very top for the best view of London anywhere — miles and miles of it spread out around you, but most notably all the landmarks right across the river in Westminster and adjacent: Big Ben and Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and St. James’ Park, Old Scotland Yard, the Treasury, the Admiralty, Trafalgar Square and more.  Down the river you get a grand view of St. Paul’s and all the way down to the Canary Wharf area.  Then it’s another 15 minutes or so down the other side of the wheel.  We all snapped plenty of photos, photos of ourselves taking photos, and photos of the OCYSO folks in the adjacent pod taking photos of us.  The weather had brightened considerably by then, so all photos probably turned out very nicely.

After that, it was back on the buses for the drive to West Dulwich Cathedral, in the Lambeth borough of south London.  We passed through some very diverse and exciting areas of South London. with shop and restaurant names hailing from Africa, Jamaica, Afghanistan, Portugal, India and many more places of origin.  As our guide Jan pointed out, London has always been a melting pot of varied nationalities, but possibly more so now than ever.

We arrived at West Dulwich Cathedral, tucked in a residential area of Lambeth, to find a very interesting church indeed.  In 2000, a fire destroyed the roof and facade of the church — so the congregation raised funds to restore it.  But rather than restore in to its historical appearance (ne0-Gothic), they rebuilt the roof and facade in more modern style, resulting in a light and airy church that feels old yet contemporary at the same time.  And, it turned out, a church with GREAT acoustics.  If we thought Bristol Cathedral was good, with its marble reverb echoing away to a dying fall amid the high groin vaulting, West Dulwich seemed to go one better with a bright, lively reverb that turned out to be perfect not only for the orchestra but for our partner performers in this night’s concert, the South London Jazz Orchestra.

We rehearsed for a few hours in the cathedral, then broke and walked about 10 blocks to our dinner at the local Rosendale Pub.  In the pub’s upstairs room, we enjoyed beef burgundy over rice (a veggie tagine for the vegetarians) and cheesecake or banana cream pie-ish cake (a concoction they call Banoffi cake).  Then it was a quick walk back to the church to get changed into concert attire.  The crowd was already flowing in — another capacity crowd for us.  (And a word about British audiences  – they are very, very polite.  No snuffling or loud coughing, no rattling of candy wrappers, and most notably, not even a single clap of hands in between movements — proving to (ahem) American audiences that yes, it can be done…respectful, attentive, gracious audiences who read the program and are there to hear the MUSIC, not to applaud like penguins whenever a movement ends.  OK, rant over…).

All of our concerts, by the way, have free admission but have also been planned to benefit local charities by asking the audience for voluntary donations.  Tonight’s charity was L’Arche, a worldwide organization that assists adults with disabilities (coincidentally, Chapman University honored the local OC branch of L’Arche with this past year’s Schweitzer Award of Excellence), and a number of their clients attended the concert tonight (exhibiting, it must be said, the same exemplary audience behavior mentioned above) and loved it.  In fact, it was a night to love on many levels, from the great performance of both the “Sheherazade” and the “Candide” by OCYSO (which won them an enthusiastic standing ovation) to the second half’s rousing performance by the swingin’ South London Jazz Orchestra (led by Bob Bridges, an American and a sort of dead ringer for Hollywood’s Beau and Jeff, but not, he swears, any relation at all…).  The SLJO made Maestro Wachs an honorary member of their ensemble (gifting him with one of their official T-shirts), much to the delight of the OCYSO members.

Then, as the SLJO swung into Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” Bob invited audience members to feel free to get up and dance in the aisle.  A few of the L’Arche clients got up and were happily dancing away by themselves, when a bunch of our OCYSO women got up and ran over to dance with them.  And then some OCYSO men got up and began to boogy, too — and pretty soon the whole aisle and side aisles of the cathedral were filled with dancing OCYSO and audience members.  It was a magical moment, totally unexpected, and perhaps a moment of release and exhilaration for our students, tired and yet full of energy, happy with their performance and the company of a warm audience and other fine musicians, and just ready to let those high spirits soar in a moment of sheer exhilaration.  The dancing went on through several numbers — Teren has posted some iPhone video of it on the OCYSO Facebook page, and I’ll try to figure out how to post it here as well.  The video will give you an idea of it, but for those of us who were there, tonight is pretty much what it’s all about when it comes to kids and music education — the joy of music made real and immediate, and a moment none of us will ever forget.


In line for the Thames River cruise



Gotta get those pix of Big Ben!


OCYSO members enjoy the Thames cruise.


The London Eye – an impressive sight.


Our cruise took us right under Tower Bridge.


In another line – this for the London Eye.


In line for the London Eye.



In line for the London Eye.



In line for the London Eye.


Mr. Shaffer with his tux bag, a convenient tree, and a banana.




Taking a few selfies aboard the London Eye, with all of London at their feet.


Big Ben (properly called Queen Elizabeth II Tower) from the London Eye.


Our pod people aboard our pod on the London Eye.


Arrival at West Dulwich Cathedral – the modern rebuilt facade replaced part of the church burned in a fire in 2000.


Rehearsal inside West Dulwich Cathedral – the cross on the altar is made of charred wood from the burned part of the church.


Maestro Wachs leads the rehearsal in West Dulwich Cathedral as Mr. Shaffer listens intently.


Maestro Wachs is welcomed by Mark Bennett, the Mayor of Lambeth, and Kathleen Boyle, who runs the Lambeth branch of L’Arche, the charity benefited by audience donations at tonight’s concert.


OCYSO performs to a sold-out crowd in West Dulwich Cathedral.



OCYSO members and L’Arche clients dance in the aisle to the music of the South London Jazz Orchestra, as the Mayor of Lambeth looks on.

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