October 31, 2008

OneXOne in San Fransisco...

Finally! I now have both a good wireless connection and some free time before dinner to tell you about San Fransisco! Last week 6 chaperones and 22 very jet lagged children landed in California- here's a glimpse as to what our drive to the hotel looked like after landing as I frantically tried to capture all the palm trees on camera!

We left the hotel in Illinois at 3:30 am (this picture is obviously taken while the kids were still happy and awake before their 2.5 hours of sleep) for a 6:00 a.m flight where half of the group flew to Pheonix while the rest of us took the next flight to Philidelphia. From there we caught a connecting flight to California and after almost 10 hours of travel we landed only to find out that what felt like it should be 4:00 p.m was only 12! Needless to say that was to date the longest morning of my life. We were escorted to our hotel in the sleekest bus I have seen- cup holders and black leather seats...one of the kids exclaims "Auntie- this is A LOT nicer than our bus....is this our busy now?"
There is not much to tell of the time where we were at the hotel as we all pretty much just slept so I will spare you that part of the adventure and skip ahead to the following morning!

The next day was really exciting- after lunch we arrived at the event centre for the gala just as people were setting up for the silent auction protion of the evening and dinner. Soon after I lead the kids through vocal warm ups I met with Josh Groban's producer who introduced me to Josh's pianist(that's right- we're on a first name basis now). I then proceeded to conduct the kids through a couple practice runs of the song with Josh's pianist in his dressing room! It feels just as surreal to type that as it felt to be there that day. I was so excited- they were really happy with the prep work I had done with the kids and after running thorugh the song twice said that they sounded great and were well prepared and needed no further run throughs! From there we went to sound check with Josh who worked really well with the kids, and the run through with him ran just as smoothly as our earlier practice. Afterwards we met with Nikki Yanofsky, a jazz artist from Montreal who is only 17- for such a young girl she has one amazing voice! If you haven't heard of her I encourage you to google her myspace- if you like Ella Fitzgerald she covers a lot of her music. For having such a short amount of time to learn the music the children sang really well with her too and were confident with their entries, and really I couldn't have been happier.

That night they sang really well- I think the pressure of such a big event and nerves only caught up with me as they sang that evening with Josh Groban for such a high profile audience- I felt as though my poor little heart would beat itself right out of my chest! However, I left that evening feeling very happy and proud for the kids- they sang beautifully and smiled big. All the proceeds from the evening went to aids- and the live auction (hosted by Matt Damon) made $600, 000 on one item alone!! And here's a picture of the kids with him later that night on the red carpet!
....and now we are back into the regular routine of tour- I feel very lucky after just finishing my degree in music to have had an opportunity as big as this! It looks like we will continue to travel to more big events as in a couple weeks we are scheduled to sing at a conference in Boston for 300, 000 people! I'll keep you posted... :)

October 22, 2008

On the way to OneXOne...

After one very short hotel sleep, a time zone change, one plane ride, a layover in Arizona, and hopefully some caffine from starbucks I will be in San Fransisco California! This past week I have felt quite out of touch with you all and for that I am sorry- the days have been packed full of leading rehearsals, and we devoted what would usually be time for school or just a chance to play to more practice. I am really proud if the kids though- they all have picked up on the music so quickly, and considering the tight time line to learn the music have done really well. I have had so much fun teaching them the new songs, and it is easy to just feed off of their excitement for the event and learning new music. I find that I just walk away from a practice just smiling- I can't believe some days that this is actually my job! Today Immaculate wrote me a note on the bus ride that said "Dear Auntie Laura, I love you so much. Thank you for teaching us new songs- I am so excited for tomorrow." They sing the songs as they brush their teeth, and while they eat...I find myself thinking I've heard the songs playing even when they haven't been...I'm going crazy! Tomorrow will be a day of rest once we reach the hotel in California, and then on Thursday we rehearse with Josh Groban's producers, Josh (we are already on a first name basis) himself, and Nikki before singing on the red carpet that evening. I've been so lucky to have this chance- to teach music for such a high profile event and a good cause! What a chance- I will tell you all about it in a couple days!

October 11, 2008

over the state line...

Today's drive took us out of West Chicago and across the state line into Appleton Wisconsin. The kids were really excited about all the windmills we saw today, and how the leaves were starting to change colour. I so easily forget sometimes just all the little differences they experience all the time, and seeing their excitement is just such a fun reminder of that. Tonight the host family I am with live almost next door to their brother and sister who are also hosting kids from the choir. So there's half the choir staying in just one block! We got together with some of the other kids to watch fireworks that the Dad I'm staying with put on for the kids. The girls had never seen fireworks before- it was so fun to watch them! I think half the neighbourhood could hear them screaming for fear that some of them would "drop fire on my head!" On Monday night we have planned to make smores with the kids over their first bonfire, and before that go paddle boating on the pond behind the house here- it is going to be such a fun stay. The breakfast menu has already been planned too- pancakes for tomorrow, and then homemade waffles the next morning- I've never been treated to so many nice warm breakfasts before- what an upgrade from my usual panic to catch the bus with some toast. I like taking time to just sit and talk over breakfast- it's usually the meal in the day that you don't get together for so it's a nice change to take the time for that. It looks as though this job might turn me into a morning person!

This past week has been a busy one for the kids- we've done more shows during the week than is normal, and so we're going to suprise them as a treat with a stop for icecream on Tuesday when we make our next long drive back to Illinois. This week the kids are performing live for a news show on Wednesday afternoon- but the most exciting news is that I will have the very lucky chance to go with the kids to San Fransisco on October 22nd! The kids have been invited to sing at a fancy gala and fundraiser there- and will be singing "You Raise Me Up" with Josh Groban. I have the lucky job of preparing them musically for this- and even getting to meet and work with the kids and his producers once we're there! Guests include Matt Damon and Brad Pitt too- I am not even one who follows celebs at all- but I must say I am feeling pretty darn excited- who knew that life would ever see me here!

No matter how busy the days get one host family put it well last week- "what a blessing your job must be- you get to hear these children sing each day"- and really, she couldn't have been more right.

October 7, 2008

A note from Yorkville IL...

As I sit down to write the clock already reads 10pm- and once again I feel as though the day has slipped away, and the moments I have to spend with my hosts and kids have gone all too quickly. Somehow hours of the evening full of playdough creations, enjoying dinner, and colouring giant sized colouring pages has felt like only a couple minutes.
There is something so heartwarming about having the opportunity to be apart of someone's family- if only for a mere couple days. This past stay, I have truly experienced how quickly you can feel at home somewhere, and just how much you can share with someone in such a short while- and now I must say it is a bittersweet feeling to move on from here after having the chance to more deeply get to know these people. The family I have stayed with has hosted the African Children's Choir before- they bought playdough for the 2 girls I am staying with, and jumbo sized colouring pages. It was the first time the girls had played with playdough- and tonight we all spent an hour making tons of playdough animal creations, and one of the girls made 5 pancakes out of playdough for the animals to eat.....I believe this girl was just feeling really hungry at the time. All those years of studying art have come in handy I guess- the girls were delighted with my cat and hen creations- and because of that now "Auntie Laura is very bright".
Yesterday I taught my second english lesson and am having fun as I try to incorporate creative ways to explain and practice concepts. It is nice that our team has so many chaperones too- it means that the teacher to child ratio is quite small- in my grade 2 english classes I work with only 4 girls. As I continue to work with them and get a better feel for where they are at in school I can begin to use some of our longer bus rides to help them with any concepts they may need more practice with. After seeing how high the standards of the schools in Africa are, I really want to be committed to helping these kids do well in their schooling so that they can succeed in their classes once they are back home.
Today I had my day off- and last night (over good tea I might add!) I made plans with the woman I am staying with for a day out together. She offered for my friend Sarah (who is also a chaperone) to join us- and then the three of us started the day off right at Starbucks. We did some shopping, and then found a thai restaurant for lunch before I had my first experience at Target. It was such a wonderful day together- I am just continually blessed by the generosity and warm hospitality of the people I meet- and I believe that I will walk away from this experience rich in the blessings of friendship.

Before I head off to bed, I have a couple quotes from the kids that I want to share:

Gilbert pulls out carrots from his bagged lunch: "Auntie look! These are my enemy!"

Rose: "Auntie Laura- if your hair is not straight tomorrow I will not smile in the concert."
...and "In tomorrow's concert when we tell the everyone what we want to be I am going to say Hello! My name is Rose. When I grow up I want to be Auntie Laura."

Gilbert: "When I first came to America someone offered me a hot dog. I did not want to eat it because I thought it was made from a dog. But now.....now, I know that is not true and it is okay to eat."

...and finally,

Nelson: "Before I came to America I did not have many clothes. But now I have nice clothes and ay-yi-ay! I look smart!!"

October 2, 2008

A Day in the City...

Tonight I write to you from just outside of Chicago after spending my day in the city! Today was my first day off- and I took the train into Chicago with my friend Angela to see Seurat!! Now my trip is complete. So I guess that's it- thanks for all your support!

....just kidding.

It was a wonderful day though- I have looked forward to this chance to see the art gallery since I knew we would be touring in this area- unfortunately half of the impressionist exhibit and the entire modern art exhibit was under construction and not available for viewing, but I was able to see the American art section and the famous painting "America Gothic" which I didn't know was even in this collection! In the afternoon I had a my first Caribou Coffee experience, and left with Angela and her friend to walk around Millenium park chai latte and lemon loaf in hand. We saw the bean, and then I got to see Moody Bible Institute where Angela went to school.

The weather has now become quite cool- but I am resisting it with my spring jacket! I was glad for some warm stew at my host family's home tonight when I got back though. Tomorrow we have a short ride to our next concert- and this upcoming week we are performing at two colleges- it is not a normal schedule so we won't have another day off for a couple weeks so I was really happy today worked out!