Malta December 2019
- MALTA INTERNATIONAL CHRISTMAS CHOIR FESTIVAL
- DECEMBER 2019
Judith Taylor Mean
Co-Chair Wide Valley Singers
Thursday December 5
28 singers and 9 partners left Gloucester very early on a dark and dismal morning. Travelling by coach to Heathrow Airport we finally headed towards the island of Malta.
Arriving late afternoon in beautiful warm sunshine we headed for the Alexandra Hotel, St Juliens, on the east side of the island. This was our only free evening and it was good to meet up for dinner where there was a lot of chat and laughter. We all enjoyed each other’s company and relaxed during the rest of the evening.
Friday December 6
We woke up to bright warm sunshine and as we had the day to ourselves, some relaxed, some had a swim in the hotel pool and many of the group made their way to Sliema to do the open top bus north side tour of the island. Having the opportunity of hopping on and off enabled us to see various locations.
Most of us left the bus at the Silent City in Mdina where horse drawn carriages replace cars and old palaces stand in place of supermarkets. At night all tourists leave and Mdina is left to the quietness of its very few residents. This amazing part of Malta goes back to the Knights of St John when there were just 350 residents. Stopping for coffee enabled us to enjoy wonderful views of the vineyards and farmland. The main square had a gentle buzzy atmosphere. With the warm sunshine and this holiday type atmosphere it was easy to forget that we were in the month of December.
After an interesting and enjoyable day we completed the bus tour and eventually made our way back to the hotel. At 5 pm we met in the dining room yet again for dinner all the ladies attired in choir uniform.
We were ready to perform in our first concert at the magnificent St Mary Parish Church, Dingli. It was very wide, very big and very white with so much gold around the ceiling it was almost palatial. Singing with us in this first concert were five other choirs from Malta, Italy, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Spain. The singing was amazing, the acoustics superb, the different programmes very interesting as was the variation of choir uniforms. It was a super first evening and we were very well received. We were ready for more and went to bed with music in our ears.
Saturday December 7
Another beautiful sunny day and after breakfast we walked a short distance to a nearby hotel to meet the Malta television crew. Tim and Judy were interviewed outside and then the choir sang the chorus to O Holy Night and Rag Time.
Many of us went to Valletta – an amazing place with beautiful buildings, red telephone boxes, canons which fire every day, lots of restaurants and coffee shops, unusual shops and a stunning harbour. A walk around the gardens was interesting, quite high up so the views over the harbour and many boats was excellent, especially as the sun was still shining and the clear waters of the Med twinkling in the brightness.
Arriving back at the hotel for our 5 pm dinner everyone exchanged their views of the island and interesting tales of the day’s activities. The coach again was waiting for us to go to St Paul Collegiate Church in Rabat. As we began our walk to the church, we were guided along a medieval street that was adorned with a variety of Christmas lights.
It was an amazing sight, which made us all stop and absorb this film set type scene in front of us. At the top of the lane stood the imposing church glowing in its lights. It was as if we had stepped back in time, the narrowness of the street, the age of the buildings on each side and the exquisite Christmas lights made it a magical sight, the area steeped in history.
As we entered the church we could see it was smaller in size in its width, but was covered in rich coloured paintings including the ceiling and was as equally impressive as the previous night.
Through this church, one can access the popular St Paul’s Grotto. This is the place where according to tradition St Paul lived and preached during his three months stay in Malta in 60 AD.
We were joined by five different choirs from Malta, Spain, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Italy. The acoustics were excellent, the singing quite superb, and as we left the church we once again absorbed with pleasure at the sight of the very beautiful medieval scene around us.
It had been yet another happy day followed by a successful evening of singing where we had once again been made welcome and very well applauded.
Sunday Dec 8
Our last full day and still the sun shone for us. After breakfast some of us took it easy and relaxed, some went walking and some took the opportunity of a second open top bus tour, this time viewing the south of the island. At one of the hop off stops we left the bus at Marsaxlokk a small fishing village where there is a daily market. On Sundays there is freshly caught fish to purchase including huge king size prawns, and fish with names unheard of.
This is the only location on the island where you can still see colourful fishing boats. It is an artist’s dream at the pretty picturesque view, where the boats gently bob up and down on the blue waters of the Med, with others moored along the harbour.
Most Maltese boats have eyes painted on both sides of their bow. This is a symbol of protection and luck and believed to protect the fishermen from any harm whilst out at sea. Most of the boats have religious names such as Mother Theresa.
Families of fishermen can be seen mending their nets, and along the promenade the many fish restaurants display their wonderful menus and tasty dishes.
The market is very big and as well as selling fresh fish on a Sunday, there is an abundance of home grown produce such as olives, fruit and vegetables all on colourful display. Anything you require is available from bags shoes and clothes to a wide variety of Christmas items. A lot of trading is done by local families as well as tourists.
After a full day out in the sunshine we excitedly got ready for dinner and our last performance. This was going to be the highlight of our trip.
As we boarded the coach our driver took us to St Mary Basilica, Mosta. An awe inspiring building, huge with a dome known as the Mosta Dome which took 27 years to build between the 1830’s and 1860’s. It was designed by a French designer who resided in Mosta, George Grognet de Vasse. If you think of St Paul’s Cathedral London you will have a good idea of the vast area we were to sing in. On arrival we all looked at each other and said WOW.
On entering we immediately saw the television cameras in position ready to film the event for Malta TV and as we took our seats before singing we were still taking in this amazing unbelievable location.
All 20 choirs were in attendance singing a short programme of seven minutes each. One by one the choirs performed and we sat patiently awaiting our turn. Each choir, as they entered their singing positions had to walk the whole length of the aisle as the audience of 1,000 people applauded.
Over the previous 2 nights we had heard amazing voices of only some of the choirs, but this particular evening we were hearing and watching them all. Their music ranged from classical to traditional showcasing their own country’s culture. No other choir had a programme like the Wide Valley Singers, ours being very informal and with a Christmas theme.
We were last to sing and began with Nutcracker and in no time at all the audience starting clapping in time to the music. The serious atmosphere of the other choirs immediately lifted and they applauded well after the first song. The bright springy atmosphere of Nutcracker changed as we performed O Holy Night and as we sang our hearts out we heard our voices coming back to us due to the wonderful acoustics. The audience gave us their full attention as they listened to us and we were again applauded very well.
Finally, we began singing Merry Christmas Cha Cha Cha and the enthusiastic clapping resumed. The atmosphere was simply amazing, and the audience were with us 100% and smiling as we performed. We knew they were loving it. When we finished they stood, they cheered and the sound of the clapping was deafening, We had after all wished them all a Merry Christmas, a very fitting message to everyone from the Wide Valley Singe
Formal presentations followed and Tim and Judy handed our choir’s gift to the organisers, which was a picture of Gloucester Cathedral. In return we received a festival memento and a certificate for the Wide Valley Singers. Tim and Judy then shook hands with several ambassadors of various countries who all commented on our performance.
Our festive music was certainly a hit and as the audience left the Basilica we knew it would be our voices that would be ringing in their ears. A truly truly amazing night and one I know we will never forget.
The coach drove us through the dark streets of Malta already decorated with Christmas lights and when we reached the hotel we discovered the bar was closed so we ventured out again and filled the FUMO restaurant/bar where we partied until 2 am. The owners loved us being there and constantly asked us to keep singing, and we did. We were very warmly welcomed. Not sure how well anyone slept that night despite being tired we were all fired up with the magic of not only the evening but the whole festival and the wonderful time we had had on this amazing island.
Monday December 9
We met up for breakfast on our last day and chatted with members of the Bulgarian Choir, our biggest fans who gave Tim a gift saying we had been their favourite choir during the whole Festival. The laughter and fun continued, and we discovered a guest at the hotel was celebrating his birthday. We couldn’t miss this opportunity so together we sang Happy Birthday to Tony, from Malta. His wife said he was very moved and it was a wonderful start to his special day, and one he would always remember.
Malta must have known we were going home as the weather changed to windy and wet. A walk around St Julians was enjoyed by some despite the rain, and we finally met up again at FUMO for lunch.
We then walked back to the Alexandra Hotel and checked out and headed for the airport.
We said good bye to the beautiful island of Malta and headed for the airport, arriving back at Heathrow during the evening. Instead of our coach waiting to collect us we discovered it had broken down and we
had to wait another 2 hours for a second coach to arrive to bring us home to Gloucester. But we were lucky as were still in the airport, warm, dry and safe so we headed to Costa Coffee for hot drinks. We arrived back home at 12.30 am.
The conclusion of this amazing adventure is a positive one. The organisation was extremely professional, they made it very easy for us in every way. The hotel and its staff amazingly helpful too.
We must do it again at some time is the opinion of all. Everyone got on very well, everyone was very happy, and everyone sang their hearts out and made a beautiful sound which gave much happiness to a lot of people. In fact one of the organisers said that many of the choirs are serious and very disciplined, they do, after all spend a lot of their time performing and competing, but he said: “The Wide Valley Singers sing from the heart, they sing with joy.” He is so right.
The final evening was shown on Malta TV on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day and is also available on You Tube.
Everyone who travelled to Malta owe their thanks to Tim, our MD. It was a truly amazing experience and we thank you Tim for taking us on this wonderful musical adventure.