On Thursday 17 March, twenty Year 9 to 11 students along with Mrs Price, Mrs Vango, Miss Hobbs, Mrs Hill, and Mrs Willey (who used to be a French and German teacher at Hawley Place and is involved with Rushmoor Town Twinning group) met at Farnborough Main Station all packed up and ready to visit Meudon, of Rushmoor’s French twin town. In addition to our cases, we had two guitars, a bass, a cajón, six ukuleles, microphones and stands, an amplifier, shakers and a tambourine so carrying our luggage was our first challenge!
Meudon is several kilometres south west of Paris and this was the third time that Hawley Place students have been on a Music tour there. After a short delay, our train to Waterloo arrived and then we took the tube to St Pancras where we had a snack lunch before travelling to Paris Gard du Nord by Eurostar.
Once in Paris we were taken by taxi to our hotel in Meudon and had a short time to get ready to walk to a nearby Creperie for a meal with Isabelle, one of the French exchange teachers who had helped to organise our music tour. Later we walked back to the hotel with a short detour to see a lovely view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower from a bridge over the River Seine. Walking became very much a feature of the trip and we improved our fitness levels as well as our musical skills!
On Friday morning, instead of going to Hawley Place, we caught the bus to our partner school, Collège Rabelais. We met Bennet who is an ex-Farnborough Sixth Form student and is currently studying at the Music Conservatoire in Meudon and working in Paris. He had played in a concert with our school the last time that we visited Meudon in 2012 along with Farnborough Sixth Form jazz group and he had agreed to be the sound engineer for our concert in the school theatre. At 9.30am over a hundred students from the equivalent of Years 9 and 10 arrived to watch us. It was a nerve wracking experience to put on a concert in an unfamiliar place with a large audience of students at 9.30 in the morning but, as always, Hawley Place students rose to the occasion and did a fabulous job, performing confidently and professionally, and winning the hearts of their French peers.
After break time, we all returned to the theatre and Sissi, the English teacher at the collège, had prepared a group activity so all the students were in groups with French, English and also some Columbian students who were being hosted by the collège too. It was a great time of mixing and getting to know each other. We were then split into small groups to go to lessons with the French students and after that we met in the canteen for lunch.
After lunch and some hasty goodbyes, Suzanne, who used to be Head of English at the Lycée, met us and we caught a bus to the Rodin Museum. Auguste Rodin was a French sculptor who was born in 1840 in Paris and lived for much of his life in Meudon; he died there in 1917. The weather was beautiful and we looked at the sculptures and then had time to relax in the gardens and to draw and sketch if we wanted to.
From there, we walked to a retirement home where, after some refreshments and photos on the terrace overlooking Paris, we performed for the elderly residents. They were so appreciative that our programme was interspersed with some of the elderly folk coming to the front and kissing us or singing and dancing along with us; there were some very special moments.
When we left the retirement home we walked to the Observatory from which you can see another fabulous view of Paris! We then went on to a pizza restaurant for dinner and about twenty of the French students came join us so that each table was a mixed group of English and French. We walked back to the hotel, accompanied some of the way by our new French friends and we all slept well that night!
On Saturday morning we caught the bus to Boulogne Billancourt which is a neighbouring town just across the River Seine towards Paris. There we had time in groups to eat a fast food lunch and then to shop in the main street and the indoor shopping centre. We caught two buses back to Meudon to the Protestant Church where we put on an evening concert. Our audience, some of whom were English people who live in the area and some French who spoke good English, were a really enthusiastic audience. They joined in with our songs and at the end they were very complimentary, describing the performers as ‘professional’ and as ‘angels’! After the concert, we began to walk back to our hotel but, having taken a detour that we did not intend to take, we ended up catching a tram! At least this gave us a chance to try yet another form of public transport!
After another good night’s sleep, on Sunday morning we caught the RER train to the Palace of Versailles where we met Sylvie, another of the French exchange teachers. She was our tour guide and gave us information about Versailles. We looked around the gardens and then enjoyed coffee in the nearby Starbucks and McDonalds as the weather was not too warm!
We returned to Meudon by train and then took taxis back to Gare du Nord, the Eurostar back to St Pancras and tubes and train back to Farnborough, arriving there late evening. At Gare du Nord we spent over half an hour singing our songs around the grand piano which is by the Eurostar check in desks; we received many compliments from the hundreds of rugby fans who were checking in en route back to England! Our singing was definitely more tuneful than theirs but they were equally as loud as they celebrated their sporting victory!
The students’ impromptu singing really encapsulated the spirit of the music tour: everyone as a team, working together to achieve fabulous music whilst having fun, enjoying each other’s company and achieving something which they are passionate about.
We have already received many messages of thanks and congratulations to our students for their performances and we are grateful to our French friends for their warm welcome and hospitality. Comments from Hawley Place students include –
‘I enjoyed going to the school and making new friends, singing in the church, going to the pizza restaurant and arriving in France and seeing the Eiffel Tower.’ Georgia
‘It was good to watch all of the people join in with our songs.’ Emily
‘My favourite thing about the music tour was spending time with people in other years and with my friends.’ Maddy
‘My favourite things were singing together and meeting French people.’ Becky
‘The best for me was spending time with my music family; the hardest moment was our first performance.’ Emily
‘My favourite part of the music tour was bonding; every year group socialised and we are all so much closer. My least favourite part was trying to fit everything back in my suitcase!’ Jess
‘The thing I enjoyed the most was getting closer to and performing with the others. I thought that the hardest thing would be missing home but I realised that I was ‘home’ as these friends have become like a family to me.’ Thea
‘My favourite moments were walking and hanging out with different people in different years.’ Francesca
‘It was good to get to know the French students at the Pizzeria’. Emma
‘I enjoyed exploring Meudon and going to the school.’ Lottie
‘My best was getting to know some of the French students. The hardest thing for me was the first performance.’ Siena
‘My best was performing and meeting the French students. My fear was being away from home but Kiera and Amber helped me overcome it.’ Ella
I would like to thank all the students who were fabulous in every way throughout the music tour: Georgia, Emily, Siena, Emily, Maddy, Rebecca, Francesca, Chloe, Jess, Kiera, Lottie, Ella, Elsbeth, Charlotte, Amber, Becky, Amanda, Siân, Emma & Thea. Thanks also to parents and staff for all the support for this tour which I am sure we will all remember for a long time. Performing music helps us to connect with others and overcomes language and cultural barriers. There are many in Meudon, both young and old, for whom Hawley Place music touched and made a difference in their lives. For our students, the difference may be new friendships, more confidence and professionalism in performing or maybe just good memories of time spent in France; these will last long after the blisters and backaches have disappeared!
(Head of Music)