Woke up from my cat nap to the sound of Darryl filling us in about the geography of the Niagara region- how the escarpment keeps the temperatures hot and dry in the summer, how the region is fertile land that supports orchards and now vineyards, how the locks enable the ships to go between the great lakes.
We pulled into Trius winery, which is owned by Peller Estates- used to be Hillebrand winery. It is ASTOUNDING how many notable wineries are here- and so many we don’t know about because we can’t get them in BC. Wayne Gretsky’s winery was next door, and Dan Akroyd’s was the other side! Same story as our Okanagan: what used to be peach orchards are now wineries. Vines as far as your eyes can see. (It’s flatter here!)
Our Trius guide was a good sport about treating the kids like any other wine taster, so they quickly got the message that there is a real art and science to wine making. And luck, experience and instinct too! As A.R. said, “It’s like us in choir- if one person does something differently, the whole thing is changed.” The kids saw the grand barrel room- like a medieval gathering room; the pressing room; the sparkling wine making area (just don’t call it “Champagne”!). That was really interesting actually- the kids can fill you in about the science of it all. Fascinating stuff. We then went to the tasting room. Trius is a scenic winery with lovely buildings, an award-winning restaurant and areas for summer time concerts. In the tasting room, we adults got the giggles observing how our “kids” immediately turned into debonair and aristocratic types the second they got wine glasses in their hands! With some kind of peach lemonade in the glass, our guide Patrick talked them through how to hold the glass, how to swirl to “open up the flavour”; how to sniff; how to “inverse whistle” to taste… They will all be ready to impress when they turn 19. We sang in Italian, with our wine glasses in hand, for the staff there. Very fun.
Back on the bus and down the road to Fort George, an important arena during the war of 1812. Normally at this time of year, the place is not open for tours, but thanks to Shelley at Ellison Tours, she pulled strings to have it open for us and we must have got the BEST interpreter imaginable. Pete met us in full-on 1812 British Army uniform, with a vintage musket. He spoke faster than a mile a minute, and kept us spellbound for more than 2 hours of lecture about the war, peppered with humour, lots of facts and acting and antics. Even some pretty good fife playing too. If only all our Social Studies classes were this engaging… Pete just said “naw, it’s just ’cause I have a gun in my hand that they pay attention”. I don’t think so- he was a master presenter/ actor/ historian/ comedian. Anyway, we ate lunch in the soldiers barracks, found out about family life living in the barracks versus the life of an officer- we had some time in that building too too. Pete had us splitting a gut as he used his bayonet as a pointer and acted out various characters from the war of 1812. The grand finale for the afternoon was watching as Pete demonstrated the “rapid firing” of the musket. Your singer can explain the difference between a musket and a rifle… and why rifles developed.
We drove along the Niagara River, on a scenic road that followed the river bank/ gorge, with New York State across on the other side. The HOUSES along this route were like castles. And we quickly saw the home of Laura Secord as we drove by. My mom will want me to mention that she is in fact a relative of mine- some family tree can attest to that tidbit.
By then it was about 3:30pm, and we had an hour to spend in the Butterfly Conservatory. I have to admit, when we were planning this musical tour, and we were being booked to go here, I was skeptical- I figured it would be humid and tourist trappy. Instead, it was like an hour of pure awe and wonder- of that “wow” feeling we often need to channel when singing- as butterflies dive bombed us, sneakily landed on our backs and bums, and kept us marveling with wide eyes and grins. Before we could actually enter the butterfly area though, we had a short visit in an exhibit called “Venom”. Yes. Snakes. Big freaky snakes. I hate snakes. Long story… let’s just say I was quietly flipping out inside, and not able to go into the exhibit. Then along comes this guy Kevin, who is touring around with the exhibit as a snake expert from the Ottawa Zoo… and he has this “baby” 9 foot long BOA CONSTRICTOR (!!!!!) named “Moglie” wrapped around him. Deep breath. He drapes it all over this cabinet, and our kids flock around patting the snake and listening to Kevin talk about there not being any POISONOUS snakes… all about the difference between poisons and venom. Fascinating. Except this snake head is going all over the place and the thing won’t stop moving. And kids are happily patting it. Then comes the question I’ve been dreading: “Did you touch the snake? You have to pat it!” And I realized that all week, I’ve been not so gently encouraging kids to try new things, to step out of their comfort zones, to breathe through their fears and get past that feeling… and there I was being encouraged by one of them to touch this snake. What could I do? GAAAAAAAAAaaaaaa. I still can’t get the feeling of “snake” off my fingers, but I did it. I touched the snake. I can’t call it a “pat”. There was nothing loving about it- definitely a “touch”. It was kinda oily. By this time, Kevin had found out that we are a choir, and he said he’d LOVE to hear us sing to the snake. What the heck do you sing for a big fat shiny long SNAKE?! (ok, after a while, it’s face and head bobbing all around did begin to look cute to me.) I figured something nature-y for a snake song. So we sang Beauty of the Trees. I KID YOU NOT: Moglie the snake got very calm, stretched out long and lay its wee head down and was motionless for the duration of the song. It was woo woo freaky how Moglie instantly seemed to connect with the sound around him. And us to him- even I was singing- we all were- Guelph kids too- surrounded the snake and singing to him while he calmly listened. By the end of the experience, Kevin was amazed and goose bumpy- literally. He’s appearing on Breakfast TV in Toronto in the morning, and will be wearing one of our Shine buttons as a shout out to us.
Finally, we saw Niagara Falls- the US side- at dusk, and arrived at Ruby Tuesdays in downtown Niagara Falls touristville in time for a quick dinner. We’d already pre ordered so the food was good and fast. I looked around and just took it in: our kids were all sitting around and eating and chatting happily like mature and civilized people. I don’t know why I was surprised or amazed…. I shouldn’t be. But I did have this overwhelming feeling of “I’d be proud to take these kids any where in the world.” I need to tell you too, that every where we go, strangers ask about the group and comment on their manners and their deportment. Truly.
Back on the bus and a 40 minute ride to Brock University. Off the bus and into the theatre for the Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert! Whooooooo! A packed theatre, but it was a really small venue- maybe 300 seats? so it was a pretty intimate setting to see them. They’ve been a group for 53 years! And they all can still do those high kicks above their heads. Singers LOVED the group. And at the end of the night, we went up to meet them and get a few CDs signed… and posed for a photo with 3 members of the group (2 are Joseph Shambalala’s sons who sing lead in the group at times)… and they started singing Tshosholoza… we knew that a bit and fumbled along ’cause Youth Choir men sing it- and some GYS singers knew it. But then we started singing Amavolovolo and they immediately joined in! There were were, singing with LBM! People in the crowd had video going and were amazed that this group of KIDS was suddenly singing along and inspiring dancing from LBM. Music really does build bridges between strangers from all lands, and here tonight, we proved that to be true, once again.
What a perfect day.
I think singers are all asleep in their hotel rooms now- everything is quiet so I will hit the hay too. Tomorrow we tour Niagara Falls!!!! Oooh I forgot- we have a full hour formal concert in the morning first, THEN Niagara Falls.