The Gwalia Singers (Swansea)
The Gwalia Singers at Disneyland, Paris, 1st and 2nd March 2008
An e-mail was received from Frank Rhodes, in June 2007, enclosing a request from Disneyland, Paris, as they were looking for a Welsh male voice choir to sing at their St David’s Welsh Festival. They were showcasing this event at the Park for the 2nd year and something missing from the first year was a male voice choir, and what could be more ‘quintessentially Welsh’?
We immediately replied and were informed that we would know by the end of August if we had been selected. Sure enough, on 31st August, an e-mail was received informing us that we had been chosen to represent Wales at the festival. We were overwhelmed and later found out that a large number of choirs had replied from which 9 were short-listed.
The choir was very positive from the start and eventually, when leaving Swansea at midnight on Thursday 28th February, we had 43 choristers on board, together with the Musical Director and Accompanist. We travelled to London through the night and arrived at St. Pancras station to catch the 6.30am Eurostar to Paris. A representative from Disneyland was waiting for us on our arrival and we were taken there by bus arriving about 11.00am. Everyone was tired, but there was no time to settle as we were taken to the Disney Village for the first of many meals, before being taken back to the hotel for a few hours rest.
At 4.30pm we started off to the Park to do the first of two rehearsals. This took place at the Disney Festival Stage in ‘Fantasyland’, where we needed to rehearse with their sound men to ensure that everything was set up in case we should use this due to inclement weather. Following this we were fortunate to see ‘The Lion King’ show, which was being presented in the Park while we were there. The show looked fantastic and the young singers were brilliant.
By now it was about 9.00pm and we were taken to our meeting point for the outdoor performances which were to take place in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. There was the odd spot of rain and the wind had started to blow quite strongly. We marched in formation through the Park and arrived at the stage for a rehearsal. Regrettably the weather had taken a turn for the worse and the MD and Accompanist were having difficulty in keeping the music on their stands. The rain had also become heavier. We battled on long enough for the microphones to be set correctly and made our way out of the Park and back to the hotel. Many of the choristers went straight to bed to crash out after a long and tiring day with little or no sleep.
Saturday morning came too early, but we were taken to the Park at 10.15am in readiness for the first concert. A decision was made daily by the Show Director whether we sing indoors or outside, and unfortunately, although it was sunny, it was too windy, so we were to sing indoors for the day. We had a quick rehearsal, and the first concert (or Showtime!) took place at 12.00am. We sang 4 concerts throughout the day of about 25 minutes duration each. We were basically treated as staff for the weekend and used the staff canteen for our afternoon meals and at first were not allowed onto the Park. However, there was a long break between the third and fourth concerts of about 2 hours and eventually the organisers relented and allowed us out into the Park, although, not in ‘show costume’. There was obviously no time to queue for a ride but we did see a bit of the afternoon parade, (mainly the top half!) as it was so busy.
Our final concert was at 5.45pm and after this we were taken back to the hotel. We were given meal vouchers and caught a bus back to the Village to eat. We managed a short ‘afterglow’ later in the evening but this was cut short, as we had another tiring day on Sunday.
Once again the wind beat us on Sunday and we performed indoors. Another long day, another 4 concerts, but at least we were allowed out again for a couple of hours in the afternoon. The organisers were very impressed with our professionalism, discipline, and singing.
We had found an excellent restaurant on Saturday and the whole choir, apart from a few of the older members, descended there again on Sunday evening for a meal and a final afterglow. The choir had worked tremendously hard during the weekend and deserved to have a final ‘blow out’ which went on into the early hours.
Before our return on Monday afternoon we were treated to passes into the Park and many took advantage of the rides, especially as the queues were quite short. We left at 3pm and eventually arrived in Swansea at 12.00 midnight. A very rewarding, but tiring weekend.
Thanks must go to Martine, Kirsten and Carol, from Disneyland, who looked after us for the weekend, ensuring we were fed, taken to and from our hotel, and always ready to start our concerts on time.
Our thanks must go to Alan Clewett, choir secretary, who worked extremely hard to ensure everything went well. Our musical team of Nick Rogers, Rhian Liles, and Steve Wilson also deserve credit for ensuring our performances were of the highest quality. This, indeed, was a wonderful experience which will remain in our memories for a very long time.
Photographs from the weekend can be viewed at the gallery.