It was over a year in the making, but Didcot Girls Schools’ European choir trip was an incredible success, and the reality exceeded their expectations.
It was January 2017 when Sean Dingley, director of Music at Didcot Girls School, first started making enquiries about running a choir tour to Europe in July 2018. To some, he says, it may seem like an extraordinary amount of time but as inclusivity is paramount to the school’s Music department philosophy, he wanted to give parents the time to be able to afford the trip abroad. And it worked. Having initially planned for 50 students to attend, by the time they left in July last year, over 138 pupils were signed up to go.
When the day to leave rolled around it was an early start with students needing to be at the school at 5.45am, ready for a 6.30am set-off but the trip got off to a good start according to staff who described hearing the girls’ rehearsal in Antwerp on the evening of their arrival as giving them goose bumps.
The following morning, after another early start, the school headed off to Bobbejaanland theme park in Lichtaart, Belgium. While some students, and staff, tried out the more adventurous attractions, others stuck to the more sedate options but it provided them all with a morning of fun. Speaking of their first full day Dingley said: “This was the first opportunity to see students act independently as they moved around the park and I was delighted to not only see that our students acted in their usual mature and sensible manner, but also demonstrated so many positive friendly qualities in talking to other students from different friendship and year groups.”
That afternoon, the school arrived at a bandstand in the middle of Ostend in Northern Belgium for their first concert of the trip. Despite many of the students never having even performed outside of their own school hall, the students stepped up and were rewarded with highly positive reactions from their audience.
One member of the public spoke to staff and described watching the performance as “like watching joy itself”, a piece of feedback that had a significant impact on the students with Dingley commenting that “it often takes a person without a vested interest to make young people really appreciate how wonderful they are.”
Day three began with a trip to Maastricht in Holland for a performance in the market square. With many people already in the area to attend a later concert by André Rieu, their own concert was particularly well attended and received praise equally as positive as their one from the day before. Later on that day, the school made their way to Drielandenpunt, where Germany, Holland and Belgium meet for a fun attempt at a maze. Despite failing to complete it, and ending up back at the entrance four times, it provided much excitement for the students.
Their final day was spent exploring Antwerp, before they began their journey home and it was on the coach back that Dingley had chance to properly assess the week. With only positive things to say, he reflected: “Students had made new friends, enjoyed new and unique experiences, and encountered cultures which they may never have done so far in their lives. For staff, as with many trips, it was an opportunity to learn more about our students’ personalities and to see them in a different context.
“For me, the success of a tour can be measured in my willingness to do another and, now that we are back, I cannot wait for the next. The sheer amount of joy and pride I felt at every moment during the trip is addictive.”
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