Don's diary: Notes on a natural high

November 28, 2003

Thursday
How do you get 120 students out of bed and on to a freezing-cold bus station at 6.30am? Promise them a fun-filled weekend in Holland. I call a register but they're all here and already in high spirits.

Inevitably, the journey is a catalogue of minor disasters - the coaches miss the ferry due to M25 traffic, someone loses their passport and when found it turns out to be out of date anyway (luckily passport control does not bother to study every passport) - and we finally arrive in Alkmaar at 10.30pm rather than the expected 7pm, but the students are still in party mood. The hostel turns a blind eye to female-male segregation as they all pile haphazardly into the dorms and, most important, the hostel bar stays open until 1am.

Friday
The School of Music has been invited to Alkmaar (a town twinned with Bath) to perform Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha . We gave the first British performance some years ago. Alkmaar has a weekend of performances at the Great St Lawrence Church each year: Glass is the featured composer this time.

We arrive at 10am for the rehearsal at the church, and "great" it is - a huge building, now a deconsecrated concert hall and gallery, with an excellent cafe. We are greeted with much-needed coffee and spectacular cakes, the beginning of three days of Dutch hospitality above and beyond the call of duty.

The students are bleary-eyed, and we now know who are the snorers and sleep-walkers, yet we summon up energy and the rehearsal goes well: there's a real buzz about playing in this magnificent space.

The organisers tell us that the concert is sold out (650 people), so no pressure there. The students then go off sightseeing around Amsterdam after a probably redundant speech from me about pickpockets and a couple of no-go areas: the red-light district and "coffee shops".

Saturday
Performance day. Another 10am rehearsal, and no casualties from yesterday. The organisers have laid on a canal-boat trip followed by a visit to the cheese museum. Some of the queasier students give this a miss but join us later for a sumptuous pre-concert dinner hosted by the mayor who, it seems to me, unlike her British counterparts, is funky and gives a speech that is both moving and funny.

I get anxious about student concerts, but they always manage to pull that extra something out of the bag at the last minute. There's nothing like a full concert hall to get the adrenalin going. The performance goes really well. We get a standing ovation, which is unexpected and exhilarating, and then, yes, another party/reception where all of us are on a high, with ideas for return visits flying about.

Sunday
The long journey home. Amazingly, the students still have the energy to party.

Monday
About half of year one heroically make my 10am lecture. They should go back to bed for the day (which I think they do), then they'll be fine for tomorrow's first rehearsal for the next concert, Haydn's Creation , in four weeks - this time in Bath. I'm not worrying about it (yet). In any case, one of my colleagues is conducting this one. I am going to wallow a little longer in the memory of what was rather a good performance.

Roger Heaton is professor of music performance in the School of Music and Performing Arts, Bath Spa University College.

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