In July 2015, just after the end of school term, we took 41 young people, all members of the Camden Youth Orchestra or the Camden Concert Band, or both, to stay in Switzerland to give four performances to local audiences in Switzerland and Germany. Seven staff accompanied the trip to look after the young people and support their musical performance.


The first challenge on this trip was to find repertoire that would suit the tour orchestra. The Camden Youth Orchestra had presented a challenging programme at its Easter concert, but these works were not suitable for the touring orchestra, which did not include a number of the senior players and leaders, all of whom were off starting their new post-school lives in a variety of locations around the UK and the world. So, a new, smaller orchestra, with new, untried leaders faced the task of rehearsing an entirely new programme in only 8 hours of rehearsal. A lot of hard work ensued, and a certain amount of anxiety on the part of listening staff, as the orchestra struggled with the music …

Rehearsal at CFG
Camden Youth Orchestra (tour team) rehearsing at CSG before the tour


Assembling at Camden School for Girls on Wednesday 22nd, just a tad earlier than was really comfortable, we packed the coach (a long and tricky process with all the instruments, plus some truly gargantuan suitcases) and eventually set off for Dover. The crossing to Calais was uneventful and our onward journey to Switzerland unhindered. Visiting a Swiss service station for dinner was an educational experience – prices in Switzerland are really high!

Arriving at our hostel late on Wednesday night, everyone was dispatched to their rooms with strict instructions to make up their beds before getting into them. Not, as it turned out, a superfluous instruction, as we had an entire room full of young men who could not recognise a sheet when it was presented to them, and had no idea how to put one on a bed. A full and frank discussion with Frau Meier, our host, the next day, will have left lasting memories. At least one student, when asked what they had learned on the tour, said “I learned how to make a bed …”
Claudia and Judith set a pattern for the tour the next morning, up with the dawn light and already downstairs and taking advantage of the hostel wifi and hot drinks before anyone else was about.

Claudia and JudithThey were perfectly cheerful, but there was much moaning from the rest of the party about the heat and the bugs – clearly everyone thought that they alone had been affected and that their suffering should be shared. I wished I had shares in Deet and anti-histamines – vast quantities of both were being sloshed about.


A morning rehearsal in the Klosterkirche in Stein was followed by an afternoon picnicking, swimming and diving in the river.

Rehearsal at KlosterkircheCamden Youth Orchestra rehearsing at the Klosterkirche in Stein am Rhein

Our evening concert in Stein was given to a small, but select audience which included Herr and Frau Meier from our hostel, and the promoter of our final concert, as well as locals and tourists.

Friday morning saw us driving to Friedrichshafen, birthplace of the zeppelin, for a visit to the Zeppelin Museum. Within was information about the development of the zeppelins and a mock-up of part of the interior of the Hindenburg. Oddly, also an extensive display of contemporary art, so something for everyone here.

Concert at FriedrichshafenOur afternoon concert in the concert shell on the lake front was only marred by an equipment malfunction – Darcey’s oboe lost a spring and she could play half the notes in the scale, making most of the pieces unplayable. Fortunately, a lady in the audience, a musician herself, conducted Darcey and me to a music shop, from where we were dispatched by taxi to a recommended woodwind repairer. Fifteen minutes with the repairer, and Darcey’s oboe was in playing condition and we were still able to get back to our hostel for dinner.

Margot and Darcey

Our new friend Margot, introducing Darcey to the violin shop in Friedrichshafen, and rescuing our last two concerts from disaster

In the evening, we experimented with multicultural cuisine – toasting marshmallows over the fire in the hostel garden …

Toasting Marshmallows
Saturday was a busy day. We started with an early trip to Schaffhausen to visit the Rheinfall – an unforgettable (and somewhat dampening) experience.

Schaffhausen Rheinfall

Students at RheinfallThen we rushed to Langenargen, arriving, thanks to heavy local traffic, only minutes before our concert was due to start. Suddenly there was a gale blowing, and the whole group fought to get the concert set up. It was just as well that there wasn’t time to deliver the full programme, as our ‘harp’ (which looked distinctly like a keyboard with an electronic magic box attached) had sprung a spring of its own, and wasn’t working, so ‘Greensleeves’ was out of the question ….

201507CYO-10Concert Band playing beside the raging sea in Langenargen.

Our final concert of the day was at Stockach, where we were greeted by the Mayor, who was so taken with our performance that he invited us to an impromptu party in the town museum, where we were able to inspect the town’s collection of the works of local eighteenth century artist Anton Sohn – wonderfully detailed ceramic figures, including lots of musicians and instruments.

201507CYO-11We said goodbye to Stein am Rhein on Sunday morning, and a big hello to Europapark – a whole-day theme park experience thoroughly enjoyed by everyone – even those of us who preferred to sit with a cup of tea whilst others went on the big, scary rides …
Our final night was spent in Strasbourg, and we learned about the city by going on a boat tour which showed us both the charming old town, and the new area which houses the European Parliament. A light show projected onto the walls of the Cathedral, celebrating a thousand years of the history of Strasbourg completed our tour in spectacular fashion.

Support from the Philological Foundation

The six young people who were funded by the Philological Foundation represented a wide range of needs and abilities. Three of them are from single-parent families, where the father does not contribute to their maintenance or care. One, having gained a scholarship place at an independent day school, finds herself significantly financially disadvantaged in comparison with her peers. Three of them show significant degrees of social anxiety and at least one of these is receiving treatment for depression and anxiety.
They were all very grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in the tour, and some of their comments are reproduced here:

“I made a lot more friends on the tour and talked to people I wouldn’t usually talk to …”

“I particularly enjoyed finding out lots from the Zeppelin Museum. I also enjoyed going around the Rhine Falls and getting slightly wet …. I have made a few friends in this tour and it has helped raise my confidence a bit.”

“The things I learnt about myself are: I am good at diving, volleyball and being goalie in football; I can pull an all nighter; I can spend money wisely- and fun to be around with. The most interesting thing I learnt is that resin was used to create paint in the olden days. Overall, I had a great time; I loved the tour and I really look forward to the next one!! I cannot wait!!”

“Whilst playing, I understood why people enjoyed travelling and playing away from their home country. It is a great feeling to share your music and skills with new people. Every time I pick my violin up, I will remember all the good memories and my feelings when I played on this tour. The people I made friends with were people who I would never have approached before the tour or whom I have never had the chance to meet. And friends that I already had before the tour, I feel like I have a deeper friendship with them than before. I learnt that I love excitement and adventures”
“I think the experience of the tour has made me more independent and has inspired me to take part in more musical activities like this; performing alongside the orchestra and my friends abroad to help spread awareness of how music can benefit young people’s lives and help inspire other people.”

“The performance I enjoyed the most was at a church in Stein am Rhein. It felt professional and made me proud when showing the town’s community our abilities. Most importantly for me on the tour was the sense of independence I gained. Although we were of course accompanied by adults, I felt like most of the time we were responsible for ourselves which was very gratifying at the end. Personally, I was a little worried about staying in such close quarters with 5 other people in the hostel rooms in Switzerland as normally I enjoy my own company more than others. However, we all managed to get along very well, showing myself that if I know I have to, I can become comfortable with others in such a short space of time. It is this sort of thing which concerns me more when going away, usually being my primary reason to back out of such things as I am not used to doing it so often. Because of this experience I have gained with other people I would like to give thanks for going on the tour as it has given me some motivation for future endeavours.”

You are welcome to download a pdf copy of our report.