For one week during the Easter Holidays, the sixty-two members of Kilkenny Youth Orchestra and I, along with our two conductors, travelled out to Italy to perform four concerts around Florence. Every four years, K.Y.O. organises a foreign trip to perform, to bond as an orchestra and take in a new culture. Most of the members go on one foreign trip in their time in the Youth Orchestra, and Florence was our trip. K.Y.O has developed links with a Florentine orchestra called Orchestra Giovanile di Firenze and an exchange was arranged with the Florentine orchestra, who came over to stay with us last year. This time it was our turn to visit with them.
We played four concerts during our stay in Florence; one in Cortona, a town about two hours from Florence (or in our case four hours, after getting lost!). Two concerts in two different halls in a small town in Florence, called Scandicci, which is the location of the music school where many of the Italian orchestras members attend. The second concert in Scandicci was a celebration of the Italian’s independence from the Germans, so we had many people who had been enlisted in the war, as well as the mayor of Scandicci come to hear us play and celebrate the day with them. And the fourth concert was in a Salesian Church in Via Gioberti, in Florence city. Our final concert was a joint one with the Italian orchestra, and a children’s choir. We had a sweltering rehearsal in the music school beforehand, having great fun trying to get both orchestras squeezed into a small room in the Italian heat, but it was well worth it to have both orchestras performing together. In the concert, the first half was the Italian orchestras repertoire, the second half was our repertoire, and then both orchestras playing together accompanying the children’s choir. It certainly was an excellent experience to be conducted by a different conductor.For me, and for many of the members of the orchestra, the main highlight of the trip was staying with an Italian family. Half of the orchestra stayed with host families, and half stayed in the hostel, but everyone got a taste for the real Italian life. On Easter Sunday, the members in the hostel were invited out to the Italian families to join in the celebrations. I was lucky enough to stay with an Italian family for the week, and become part of their family. Our hosts would take us into Florence and show us the ‘real’ Florence, as well as more importantly, the best shops! They knew the best ice-cream shops, which were full of Italians, without a single tourist to be seen. We tasted the Italian food that families eat on an everyday basis, as well as the two five-course meals on Easter Sunday. But most importantly, we got to know our families, and see the dynamics of a real Italian family. In my family, the parents and children spoke English, ranging from very little to almost fluent. However the grandparents didn’t speak a single word of English, but somehow it didn’t matter. They chatted away to us in Italian and we chatted away to them in English, and we could understand each other (with a little help from sign language!). The hostel used was Youth Hostel Firenze 2000 which was very comfortable and convenient. It was within walking distance along the river Arno to the old city of Florence .It had lovely patisseries nearby which were visited each day for breakfast. The Easter Bunny even found time to visit!!!!We also spent a lot of time in Florence city, exploring the culture and sightseeing when we were not busy rehearsing for concerts, went on walking tours of Florence, visited the Villa Constanza Vecchio, where the famous Medici family lived, and visited the beautiful church of Santa Croce. We wandered the old cobbled town of Cortona, before our concert, a beautiful walled town on the top of a hill. The countryside was surprisingly luscious and green; it seemed throughout the city, any spare inch of ground had something planted in it.
This trip was vital to the orchestra, for bonding and making friends within the orchestra. I certainly became closer to the other members I hadn’t really spoken to before. We also became great friends with the Italians, on our last evening in Florence, we had a going away party with Italians and Irish dancing together, traditional Irish and Scottish dancing which everyone had been taught on our first evening there. There were many sad ‘Ciaos’ as we left the next morning, leaving our new Italian friends and families. But the trip really was invaluable to the orchestra. We were only two days back and a reunion was being organised for everyone, even after spending a week together. It was an amazing trip, showing us a new culture, new food, new music and most importantly, new friends.Jennifer Allan