A Trip to London -Part 2

The Saga of the Luggage

and

The Big Concert

December 11, 2009 12:00 Noon
It is the big day! The concert is tonight at St. Pancras Parish at 7:00 PM. My bag has still not arrived. I called the 800 number they gave me which turns out to be the Heathrow baggage counter. They said that the bag had indeed arrived on the previous night and was put on a truck at 8:00 AM and hmm I wonder why you haven’t gotten it yet…..

So Heathrow called the courier and then called me back to say that the truck had needed to deliver some urgent medical supplies first and they were now promising my bag by 3:30 PM.
December 11, 5:00 PM.
Just a quick note. My bag is still not here. The Heathrow people finally gave me the number of the courier to eliminate all the calling back and forth. My bag is supposed to be delivered by 5:30 PM but I am not optimistic. If it isn’t delivered by 5:30 PM I am going across Cavendish Square to John Lewis again and by something to wear to the concert. I was on the phone for a long time to United Airlines baggage in the USA and they said they would pay for clothes if I needed them and I really need something to wear. I think if I wait any longer it won’t be possible to get the clothes picked out and paid for and then put it all on and take a taxi to the concert.

Since the Sisters have been in-and-out during the day I have had to stay put so I can take possession of the bag if it arrives. Someone was here for awhile around noon so I did leave for about an hour. I found a nice Italian restaurant that appeared to be fun by actual Italians. I had Parmesan encrusted chicken with some kind of really delicious cheesy pasta. Other than that I have been checking email, reading my book, and just kind of hanging here waiting to hear the door bell ring.
December 12, 12:00 AM
(I confess that I this has been severely edited after the fact to make sense, maybe, of my ramblings)

I am back at the residence (I have never heard them call it a convent) after a great concert. The performance of “Close By Me Forever” went just great and I had a great time meeting the members of the choir, the musicians, and the conductor afterwards. More about this later…

I went to a pub after the concert with some of the choir members. Rahul, who is the treasurer who actually paid for my music, invited me to go with them. We left when the pub closed and here I am. It seems like pubs close early. (I know there is more to this..) {Edit: This dates back to WWII, I was told.}  It also seems like a lot of people visiting London are here for a good time and they start drinking around sundown. Since it gets dark by 4:15 PM, that makes for quite a party.

My bag was not at the residence by 5:30 PM, so I took off for the John Lewis store which was a short walk across Cavendish Square. I talked to the first guy I found in the men’s department and told him what I needed to do. We looked at a lot of dark suits but we couldn’t find an acceptable size in both coat and trousers for any of them. So we looked at tuxedos and found a coat/trouser combination that fit great. The pants were about 2” long… During all this the sales guy had to go to some place where things were stored to check sizes on things, so this took quite a little while. While he was off looking for things I picked out a tie and talked to another guy about a shirt and found socks. They went off to look for sizes of shirts for me too, and then after we had found everything else and the guy was looking at shirts I went to pick out shoes. We narrowed it down to two choices and then they had to get the right sizes of those as well!!! They just display one size. They go through this door and wait for the box to come up a little conveyor belt which seemed to take forever since I was in a hurry. After I tried on the tux jacket, the only things that didn’t have to come from some mysterious other room were the suspenders, bow tie, and socks. The shirt came with studs in, thank goodness.

At last I had tried everything on and it looked like I was getting close to having an ensemble for the evening. I came out of the fitting room with the trousers in my hand and got ready to pay. The one remaining hurdle was getting the pants pinned up in some fashion since they were too long. John Lewis doesn’t have an in-house tailor. By this time there were two more men helping me, one that appeared to be another sales person and another who was older, wore glasses, had less hair, and appeared to be something of a supervisor. I still needed to pay for everything and time was growing short. So the older man said I should take the tag from the pants along with all the other merchandise and get in line to pay. He kept the pants. This line was too long, but it moved quickly. Of course there was no tag on the tux jacket so I had to wait for a price check. (110 bps) Finally I paid for everything with plastic money and went back to the fitting room to retrieve the pants. Mr. Supervisor had found a woman who worked at the store who sewed. She had stitched up the pants well enough for me to wear them for the evening. The supervisor must have had an excellent eye for clothing, because he pinned them up and the woman put in a temporary hem and they fit just right when I put them on. In fact, they let me put the entire tux on in the fitting room. I thanked everybody and gathered up the clothes I had worn in, which I ended up taking to the concert. It was about 6:30 PM.

The supervisor man took me out to the curb and showed me the taxi stop. It took me a while to figure out that I wasn’t actually standing in the taxi line. In the UK, lining up is a high courtesy. So I had to get in the back of the line when I figured out where it was. Of course there was one taxi about every seven minutes or so. It was after 7:00 PM when I finally caught a cab to the 7:30 PM concert. The cabby spoke with a heavy cockney accent and it was really tough trying to communicate. I finally was pretty sure he knew how to find St. Pancras. The Friday evening London traffic was about what you would expect. I was wondering if they choir would be nice enough to repeat my piece after the concert was over if I missed it. I was sorely vexed at United Airlines and their baggage courier. If they had just told me that my bag would be late….. I could have bought a ticket on the Heathrow express and gotten my luggage much sooner. As it was my luggage got a tour of London and I spend a day in a wonderful city waiting on it. I was thinking how disappointed everyone who had helped make it possible for me to make the trip would be. We turned a corner and just stopped! It took us three lights to make a right turn, which is the British equivalent of a left turn. We weren’t there, but we were on Euston, which I knew was the right street. He let me out across the street from the church to save some time. I gave him a ten-pound note and told him to keep the change, picked up my new bag of old clothes, and booked it down to the light. It was about 7:35 PM. I figured that you never put a world premier piece at the very beginning of the concert, but who knew?

I went in through a door that was so large that I would not have guessed that it was a door except there was a wheelchair access ramp leading up to it. It was only about a 3” step. So I gave a push, it opened, and a hugely loud siren started outside which I was letting inside. So I kind of helped the door close and went over to the ticket table. I gave my name and the woman at the table fished out an envelope with my name on it. I took the ticket and went to the door. There was no singing happening so another woman, who was manning the door, let me in. She had an interesting Slavic accent that was a surprise after the plethora of British accents I had heard so far. She never took the ticket. I still have it for a souvenir. She asked if I was supposed to be singing since I was wearing a tux. I said no, that I was, in fact, Robert Reck. This elicited nothing but a quizzical response from her.

I found a set behind two of the Sisters, Pamela and Jean, who were at the concert to hear Eva and Lotte, the two Sisters who were in the choir. They looked happy and relieved to see me. I finally had a chance to look around and take things in. During the breaks in the songs I took some pictures of the crowd and the church in general. (Probably being an uncouth American, but ah, well, I had to have pictures.)

The concert was excellent. The choir did a great job and the rhythm section sounded like they had played over a hundred concerts with the Swingle Singers. (The bass player had, in fact done just that.) The trumpet player rocked as well. Paul Ayers’ arrangements of Handel were a lot of fun. At last it was time for my piece, and he took a little time to announce that it was a world premier and that Robert Reck,the composer, had come from Tulsa, Oklahoma to hear the performance. Sister Pamela kept pointing at me and trying to get me to stand up, but I finally managed to convince her that it was normal for this to happen afterwards. I did stand up after Paul turned around so that I could shoot the video that is posted on Facebook.

It was just the best. After all of the hassle and stress of the day, to finally be in the hall for the performance was a mixture of relief, joy, expectation, and anticipation. The bass notes, which lead the listener into the piece. started, the choir began to sing, and I finally was listening to the first performance of Close by me Forever. I had finished this piece in 2006 after writing the basics of the song over a year earlier, and I had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, survived the whole luggage/tux buying adventure, agonized through a cab ride that seemed to last an eternity, and here it all was. The choir did a great job. You could tell they really liked singing the piece. I had written chord symbols into the parts for this performance since there were bona fide jazz musicians playing the parts, and the pianist put a really nice hype on the last chord. Very tasty.

After the sound died away the applause started. Paul got on the mike and asked me to come forward and “take a bow”. Wow. I was just expecting to stand, smile, and wave. I walked down the side aisle to the back of the church and walked up to Paul at the front. I gestured my appreciation to the musicians and to the choir and turned around. To my delight and surprise, the applause was still enthusiastically continuing. I was a stunned. Paul leaned toward my ear and said, “Take your bow….” (You have to imagine the British voice….”So I did.

Then I returned to my seat. I don’t know how to describe the feelings I had at the moment. I didn’t know whether to cry or shout “Hallelujah”. So I just sat there and enjoyed the rest of the concert.

At the end of the concert I was called back to the front for another bow. The rhythm section players and guest soloist and I all got a present, which turned out to be a bottle of French wine. (I immediately thought that it would have to go into checked baggage, for some reason.)

It was just the best talking to the choir and the rhythm section after the concert. Paul had told me that the piece was a favorite of the choir, and many of the choir members said that it was their favorite piece on the program. The mince pies were small but delicious. I had two since I had missed dinner during the tux ordeal. When I went to throw away the pie tin I learned that they don’t have trash in England, they have “rubbish”. The woman with the Slavic accent was all happy too. Paul had to leave early to put his son to bed and relieve the baby sitter. So we made a date for dinner following his rehearsal for Messiah on Saturday.

Then, Rahul, as I mentioned, invited me to go a pub and hang out with some of the singers. I had emailed with Rahul because he was the choir treasurer and he had paid me for the music. The pub was fun too. I sat next to a woman who was working on a PhD in papyrus restoration and talked to a tenor from New Zealand, among others.

Tomorrow I finally have a day to explore London. Kind of like “One short day in Emerald City” in Wicked.

***********

I should add that the bass player was Alexander L’Estrange.   He is a first call bass player in London and a great arranger and composer as well.   He writes for everything from children’s choirs to the King’s Singers. You can do an internet search.

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