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Chamber Choir Tour to Sorrento


The last week of the Easter holidays saw the Chamber Choir embark upon its first tour abroad. We spent five joyous days in Sorrento, soaking up Italian culture, Italian food, the sheer beauty of the surroundings and – happily – plenty of warmth and sunshine, too!

The first full day began with a stiff climb up the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Quite a hike, but – as one of the boys said – “totally worth it!”  

We goggled at the size of the crater (it’s 600m across) and shopped for obsidian and other volcanic rocks. Meanwhile, many a gaze was turned to the expansive blue vista across the Bay of Naples. We were blessed with a perfect day – not a cloud in sight. 

Funiculì Funiculà was written to celebrate the opening of the funicular railway to the summit (it was destroyed in the 1944 eruptions) and the opportunity seemed too good to miss, so we revelled in the first of many impromptu performances, at the summit! 

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Returning to sea-level, we had a delicious lunch under olive trees, before exploring the spectacularly well-preserved Roman town of Herculaneum.

We were fortunate to have two expert guides – both of whom were natural teachers. They, in turn, were hugely complimentary about the boys’ level of interest and demeanour.  

Herculaneum is not merely a tourist site, however – and we were all aware that we were touring a town that, until Vesuvius froze it in time, had been a home to many men, women and children. It was both fascinating, and – on a human level – humbling and rather moving. 

Returning to our hotel in Sorrento, after such a lovely first day, we found ourselves reminded that we were – in fact – on a Choir Tour, and resolved to put in a bit of rehearsal before supper. It was a balmy evening, and the pool deck seemed the natural place to convene. Before long, we had warmed up and gave an outdoor rendition of the Biebl Ave Maria that swiftly became the Tour’s theme song.  

As the radiance of the final C major chord died away, we were met with applause from all sides. Turning, we saw hotel patrons leaning out of windows, and people applauding from two or three apartment blocks away. Poignantly, we were reminded of a very different Spring in 2020, when Italy foretold the story of the pandemic to come. 2024, of course, was a happier time, and the boys were even clapped into supper by a German tour party who had enjoyed the performance from the fifth floor! 


Italian towns are abuzz at night, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable stroll through the largely pedestrianised centre of Sorrento before bedtime. 

There was time – too – to try the first of many delicious gelati. (But more of that was to come the next day!) 

Day 3 was our first concert day, but there was plenty of time to explore Sorrento before our late afternoon rehearsal. We took the (incredibly) scenic route into the centre of town before establishing a base for the most important part of the tour to date: the Great Gelateria Recce! Four teams were despatched to assess the top 12 gelaterias in Sorrento.  

Each team took its responsibilities very seriously indeed. Samples were chosen wisely, earnest presentations were made; each pro and con was carefully considered. Eventually a clear decision was reached: Raki was to be the winner!

 Safe in the knowledge that that evening’s gelato intake was secured, the choir made for the Marina Grande, where it was discovered that paddling – or even a dip – in the sea made for ideal concert preparation.

Punters were not to be disappointed later that evening, either, as the Chamber Choir’s first tour performance packed the church of San Francesco to the rafters. In true Italian form, the church doors were flung open, and literally hundreds of passers-by came to hear us. Our tour showpiece – the Biebl Ave Maria – was awarded a standing ovation mid-concert, and the boys were surprised and moved to see the effect their music-making had on such an appreciative audience. 

We were joined for a post-concert supper – at a local Ristorante – by Alex McG (Pilgrims’ 2018) who had flown out, with his sister, to support the Tour. Alex had sung in the Chamber Choir alongside some of the current cohort’s older siblings, and we were touched to see that he remembered his Pilgrims’ days so fondly. 

Given that the Bay of Naples is home to the pizza, it came as no surprise that these were extremely popular (and enormous!) But it was good to see so many boys indulging in local delicacies such as swordfish steak, spaghetti alle vongole, or a frittura of prawns and calamari. 

Raki’s gelati went down a treat, and boys and staff both declared that a truly splendid and memorable day had been had by all.

Day 4 saw us embark upon the ridiculously scenic (and vertiginous) Amalfi Coast drive to the village of Ravello, perched high on the cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Salerno. Having read that the ancient Duomo was on a hill, we were surprised to discover that the nave actually ascended a 1:10 incline! That, the astonishing acoustic, and the breathtaking and ancient Byzantine mosaics made for a truly memorable second concert

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Returning to Sorrento, we had – once again – the prospect of a fantastic supper with gelati to follow. 

We thanked the wonderfully hospitable restaurant team with yet another impromptu Ave Maria and very happily trod the long course of Via Cesareo in search of souvenirs before bedtime.

Sometimes, final days can be surprising. We had all packed our bags in advance, so as to make the most of the three hours we had to spend before our coach to the airport. Once again we took the scenic route into the centre of town, pausing for a long last look at the incredible views over the bay toward the looming menace of Vesuvius in the distance.  

Staff enjoyed a cappuccino, whilst boys found creative ways to spend their last Euros, or skipped stones across the gently lapping waters of the Marina Grande. 

A final impromptu street-side Ave Maria drew the attention of a vendor who was selling watercolour prints. Impulsively, she pressed a print of Sorrento into our hands. It just so happened to be the view from the terrace by the church where we had first performed.  

Safely transported encased in pizza boxes (how appropriate!) it is currently being framed and will take pride of place in the Chamber Choir’s rehearsal room.  

The Chamber Choir’s first tour abroad was all that we had hoped for – and so much more. Boys and staff alike enjoyed a uniquely special time in a beautiful part of the world. It was wonderful to see so many Pilgrims’ families fly out to lend their support: there was a terrific community feel, with friends and family seemingly on every street corner! 

Our thanks are due to Mr Butcher and Mr Reid for their support on the home front, and to Mr du Plessis, Mr Castle, Mr Duncan, Mrs Duncan, Mrs Beaumont and Mrs Brill for accompanying the choir on the ground in Italy.  

We are all eagerly awaiting news of the next tour, and hope that it will be every bit as memorable as Sorrento 2024! 

Russell Du Plessis
Director of Music



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