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20 December, 2018

Adventures on two wheels

Here’s Tom and Emma, wrapping up our Christmas US tour blog from Kansas City.

“Stepping off the plane at Kansas City airport, we had a free day stretching out in front of us. The Marriott Hotel in Downtown KC has been the standard accommodation for itinerant Stilists for all our trips here, so that was business as usual. But some things had changed: we might no longer have had our Texan minivans, but there was a new invention in town. A couple of us had decided that some exploration was in order, and had seen some electric scooters dotted round the place (and actually standing up, unlike your average London ‘ofo’ bike, which has been epically vandalised). Ben, Hannah, James and I set about trying to create our accounts and unlock these zippy little things. Once we were on our way they were absolutely dreamy! So much fun to whizz around on. We tested them out in a little square before taking them out onto the public highway of course.

“KC doesn’t exactly feel like a bustling metropolis. In fact, I can’t think of an urban environment that is so pleasant – lots of red brick and stone – and yet so sparsely populated. You’d be lucky to pass a pedestrian if you walked for five blocks in a straight line from our hotel. Cars were similarly few and far between. When we did encounter them, however, they didn’t seem particularly pleased to see us, despite us fastidiously obeying the instructional graphics that had played as a precursor to unlocking our ‘birds’ (the name of the app, and I guess the scooters, which emitted a pleasant bird song as we took off). One driver started videoing us at a set of traffic lights. I had assumed he was just interested in the new phenomenon that is pay-as-you-go electric scooters, but then he said out loud, somewhat nonchalantly, to us all: ‘just filming to catch the moment you all die’. Not quite the welcome that we’d received in other quarters.

“Anyhow, these scooters are a real marvel: getting around a city centre is super quick and relatively cheap, these ones charging a dollar flat rate plus 15c per minute, so we were able to take in the sights at a breezy 15mph. First stop was the Union Central Station, an impressive structure of 19th century industrial grandeur, made of marble and stone. It was filled with miniature train sets and the occasional wandering T-Rex: not sure I quite made the connection, but maybe I should have read a placard or two. Next was a lovely coffee spot about halfway to a mall. We only stopped there because Ben sagely identified how the air was thick with freshly roasting coffee. It was very nice to drink some proper ‘hipster’ coffee – I love American filter coffee, but not because of its quality, in spite of it. After I wasted some more space on the internet by posting the 1 billionth flat white to Instagram, I left team mall and headed back to the hotel.

“After some preparation and rehearsal for the following morning’s activities, we were headed out for the much anticipated meal at ‘The Majestic’, a popular steak and Jazz spot for the cognoscenti of KCMO. Jarth informed me that in times gone by, the ground floor where we ate would have been a respectable dining room, the basement a jazz club and the first floor (the floor above the ground floor) would have been a brothel. How times change. We were treated very well by Kathryn, our server. Wagyu beef and red wine was by and large the order of the day, and it was excellent. It’s a tough life. But arguably the greater pleasure came the next day when she was able to make our concert and was thrilled by the experience – 100% feel-good factor!

“But I get ahead of myself. The next morning had us in the Carver Dual Language School, giving a workshop-cum-performance to 300 school children. It was genuinely the loveliest thing to bring our music to these kids. Emma taught them the refrain to Gaudete and they took it on board at lightning speed. The performance – with verses sung by members of Stile – was epic and worthy of being turned into a lobbying video aimed straight at the heart of the political establishment…

“After the workshop, we headed back to the hotel with a few hours down time before the afternoon rehearsal. An early lunch party headed out towards the river for Burgers and sandwiches in a very pleasant restaurant called The Farmhouse. Not much more to be said on that, except that my steak sandwich was probably the second best bit of food of the tour, third being the previous evening: the best was yet to come!”

Emma takes up the story…

“After some much-needed napping for most of us, we made our way back to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which by this point felt rather like coming home! It’s lovely to return to familiar churches; more lovely still to return to such a warm and supportive acoustic. It was nice not to have to do too much rehearsal, this being the third time doing this programme on the tour, so it was just a case of minor tweaks and getting voices warmed up. The knowledgable audience appreciated our effort, and for our part it felt like we were really able to relax and enjoy the final concert of the tour.

“One of the best things about American hospitality is being invited to people’s houses after concerts (great if you’re nosey like me). Cynthia Siebert, the founder of Kansas City Friends of Chamber Music, generously hosted a party at her incredible home and we were even more generously plied with wine, beef stew, and some to-die-for European cheeses. Even better than the food and wine, is being able to meet local people and have time for a far more in-depth conversation than the standard post-concert chat.

“One of these, Alan McDermott, offered to take us to the Nelson Atkins museum, another gem in this great city; despite this being our fourth time in Kansas City, it still has new experiences to offer. Alan really knows his art, and was able to take us directly to the most exciting artworks; Carvaggio, Canaletto, Bruegel, Rembrandt, Turner, and many other masters were displayed alongside Eleanor’s favourite, El Greco, which called to mind the Spanish renaissance music we had performed on this trip. My particular favourite display was of Native American items including clothing made of exquisite detailed bead work, intricately woven baskets, and extraordinary feathered headdresses.

“From then it was a quick bite of lunch from the local organic supermarket, then off to the airport for our two-leg journey home. After our fourth trip to the US this year, we’re looking forward to some Christmas r&r (after the last bits of church singing) and then to returning in June next year.”