One year ago, I heard about the World Percussion Group’s upcoming European Tour.
Eight months ago, I submitted an audition video that took me weeks to record and edit.
Six months ago, I woke up to a Facebook message from Tim Palmer, asking if I had time for a call. I scrambled out of bed, and fearing that he wanted to video chat, quickly jumped in the shower. Ten minutes later, with my hair neatly in place and wearing some sort of collared shirt, I was on an audio-only call—oh well, at least the shower got me out of bed.
And now its been two months since I was on a cruise liner, somewhere in the middle of the Baltic Sea, quelling my fears of playing Prokofiev on marimba (thanks Sam Chan), with trips to the hot tub and the fruitiest adult beverages you can imagine.
Surreal. It’s the only word that can describe (and simultaneously not describe) exactly what went on those three and a half weeks in Europe. It all seems like a blur now (some of it really was a blur—disco dancing in the ship’s “Live Lounge” until the wee hours of the morn), but I’ll do my best to recount some of it.
I arrived in Birmingham, England, on the morning of May 26th. Jason Huxtable met me at the airport, and after telling myself the entire plane ride that I wouldn’t get in on the wrong side of the car, I inevitably opened up the driver’s side door.
“Wrong side mate.” England 1, Cameron 0.
After a quick breakfast at Jason’s, I crashed in his guest bedroom. I woke up drooling. Please don’t read this Jason.
We went to the airport to pick everyone else up, and it was great to have the group all in one place for the first time. To celebrate, Jason bought us all a round of beers, probably somewhere around 4 or 5pm. This was clearly (scarily) foreshadowing British drinking customs. Oh well.
The next two days were full of the quickest rehearsals I’ve ever been a part of. Each piece only received two 45-minute sessions (maximum), and by the end of the rehearsal days we had 2+ hours of repertoire. It was honestly ridiculous, and so shocking that we played together so easily. I’ll never forget how quickly Kyoto and Toccata (Prokofiev, marimba duo) came together. It just seemed unnatural.
The next day was the group’s trial run for both concert programs at the local Quinton House School in Northampton. To my surprise, two drumlines (Liberty and Pathfinders drumlines) showed up to do some work together before sitting in on our runthroughs. After talking to the instructors, I ended up teaching both lines and designing portions of their drumline battle program, which was unbelievably fun.
We then took the show on the road, with early morning drives to the Leeds College of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, and Birmingham Conservatoire over the next three days. Each performance improved, and the group adjusted to having very little (if any) time to warm up, which was one of the biggest hurdles we faced over the course of tour.
With the first week wrapping up, we all took a day off before getting on the cruise ship. One group rented a car and drove to Stonehenge, and the rest of us took a train into London to explore the city. It was great to finally meet Dave Maric in person, and to see Ali Prater, the world’s most incredible designer (hint: she made all of the cool swirlies on this site), for the first time in 8 years. We went to high school together. Crazy.
You know what’s even crazier than that? Loading onto the UK’s biggest cruise ship to travel around playing percussion ensemble music. Not necessarily how I envisioned my first time in Europe, but hey, I’ll take it.
Helsinki, Finland (Sibelius Academy)
St. Petersburg, Russia (sightseeing)
Tallinn, Estonia (Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre)
Stockholm, Sweden (sightseeing)
Copenhagen, Denmark (Royal Danish Academy of Music)
Oslo, Norway (Norwegian Academy of Music)
Bruges, Belgium (sightseeing)
Yep, that was the schedule. 14 days on a ship—4 gigs, 3 cities to explore, and 7 days of relaxation.
Too much food was eaten. Lots of blackjack was played. We had four/five course dinners every night. Drinks were consumed. I learned how to properly eat with a knife. Pool was played (even though the balls would always just roll to one side of the table). Lots of disco dancing happened. We played table tennis. We even bought a basketball…that only lasted for one game. It was simply amazing.
I’ll list a bit about each city below, because I feel like this post is already too long.
Rainy, grey, but so friendly. All of the Finnish people I met were ridiculously kind, and I loved the feel of the city. The Sibelius Academy was one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever been in. The architecture was so modern, and it seemed like the inside of a spaceship. The venue was a black box theatre with the coolest vibe, and the audience was extremely receptive.
What. A. City. Because of visa issues, the only way into the city was to buy an official tour, and because we were there for two days, I purchased an evening performance and a tour the following day. The evening performance was honestly a bit strange; it was called the “Russian Folklore Evening,” but it felt very touristy and inauthentic. However, the following day’s tour touched on all of the historic parts of the city, and it was fantastic.
Not much to say here, because our day in Tallinn was very rushed. I wish we could have visited the Old Town and explored more, but this was very much an in-and-out kind of day with a tight performance schedule. This is definitely a place I’m going to revisit.
One of my fondest memories of the trip was walking around Gamla stan, the medieval city center of Stockholm. It was simply breathtaking, and all of the expensive food, beer, and souvenirs were worth it. If you haven’t been to Stockholm, go buy a plane ticket.
Bicycles. I’ve never seen so many bicycles. This was also another fast-paced day (like Tallinn), and carried additional weight for me because I presented my clinic, “What Can Marching Percussion Do For You?” here. There was a great audience, and I felt that the students were engaged the entire time. I also remember a particularly moving performance by Vanessa Porter of Le corps à corps by Georges Aperghis. She’s amazing. Go watch it.
I’ll say it again—yet another fast-paced, in-and-out day. Since this was the last performance of the tour, I felt a complete absence of nerves from everyone in the group. Aside from the upper register marimba bars flying off during Prokofiev, I felt that my strongest performances happened here at the Norwegian Academy, and I think many others would agree as well.
Stockholm was great, but Belgium outdid itself. We arrived in Zeebrugge, took a bus to Blankenberge, and then hopped on a train to Bruges. Once we arrived in Bruges, we walked a mile from the train station into the center of the city on cobblestone paths. The entire place looked like it was straight out of a medieval movie. Plus, the moules-frites and the beer were unbelievable.
After Belgium, we returned to Southampton, England, and said our goodbyes. Many of us rode a train back to Birmingham, and from there went our separate ways at the airport. I made it back to Newark, NJ, and after a series of cancellations, had to drive back to Ohio (only to pick up my car and drive to Rochester the very next day). The entire experience still awes me, and I cannot wait to cross paths with everyone again soon.
Thank you to Tim Palmer, Jason Huxtable, and Lynn Vartan for all of the administrative and educational legwork. Thank you to the members of the 2017 WPG: Samuel Chan, Hsin-Hsuan Wu, Vanessa Porter, Simon Klavžar, Hiromu Nagahama, Lindsey Eastham, Mark D’Ambrosio, Jonathan Rodriguez, Gloria Yehilevsky, Alex Howley, and Gonzalo Mier Rodriguez. And thank you to the group’s sponsors, particularly the Percussive Arts Society and P&O Britannia.