Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sledding, Small Towns, and Celebrities

Singing at our concert in Clinton, in our magnificent
"traditional costume". Slim Dusty, eat your heart out.

Before I arrived in the U.S., I really didn’t have much of an idea of what I would be doing here. Sure, I had a lengthy job description telling me of the work conditions and expectations, but it didn’t really shed much light except for expect a lot of singing, travelling and staying with a lot of families. There wasn’t much more explained for our rehearsal period, either. Oh, you’ll be singing for a lot of schools, we were told, maybe some churches, staying with lots of host families. They’ll be nice. Great, I thought. I’m going to be a glorified children’s entertainer for the next six months. The Wiggles, decaf. So when we left the relative familiarity of our ‘homes’ in Dearborn for our first gig, in Clinton, a small town about an hour’s drive from Detroit, it was fair to say we were somewhat filled with trepidation. Thankfully, one week later and back in Dearborn, we can reflect on a wonderful week that, if replicated for the rest of our tour, will have us being dragged onto planes home kicking and screaming.

            Our host families for the week were all teachers at the schools where we were working, spread out across three communities close to each other: Clinton, Tecumseh and Adrian. These places personified small-town America – Water towers with the name scrawled across them in big red letters, generations of families living within streets of each other, and kids who go to the same school from K-12, just heading down the road when it comes time to progress to middle school, and then high school. In my experience, what small towns lack in size, they make up for in friendliness and welcoming, and these guys had both those qualities in spades. Everywhere we went, there was copious amounts of fantastic (and fatty) food, drinks and people who were ridiculously interested in our countries and cultures. A gathering of high school kids at one of our host’s houses very quickly descended into a game of “Who’s best at impersonating Paddy’s accent”, which, for whatever reason, ended up with an army of girls saying “G’day mate” in faux English accents. Our host teacher brought hot coffee to school for us in the morning (which started at 7.45am), and one day even baked us cinnamon buns, just because she could. We watched hockey, went skating, were taken to eat at bars, diners and pizza places, and were finally shown an activity that made the winter weather actually kind of awesome – sledding.

            Clinton High School has a really great football ground, lower than the rest of the land around it to make the viewing experience the best it can be. Problem is, between November and March, it’s completely covered in snow. So these savvy locals have come up with a second use for it – a sled run. Decked out in ski pants, jackets and, clever me, desert boots, we headed out on Friday afternoon to hurtle down a hill on pieces of plastic, and had about the best fun we’ve had since I arrived. Some of the sled could fit up to four people, so we went down single, double, quadruple, sitting, lying, backwards and frontwards. It was also an opportunity for the snow-dwellers to educate those of us from more temperate parts of the world on snow games. As a result, I had snow thrown behind my glasses, down my jumper, in my hair and even my socks, and was shoved down the hill unexpectedly more than once. I finished up freezing cold, soaking wet, and with a sore bottom, but absolutely buzzing. And, more importantly, my shoes survived.

            Our task for the week was to go every day to the schools, teach about our country, sing a bit, and prepare the school’s four choirs for a concert at the end of the week. It sounds a little arduous, but it was just wonderful. In the schools, we were like royalty. High school students went out of their way to chat with us and ask us questions. The middle school students fought over us on the basketball court and in the cafeteria (yes, I got to eat lunch in a school cafeteria this week. And yes, it was truly awful). The elementary school kids looked at us in complete awe. Our choirs were just a delight. The students were incredibly enthusiastic and willing to learn, they loved our music and really loved us too. So, by the time the concert came around, we were pretty pumped. By the end, we were ecstatic. The concert itself was put together entirely by us, and so it had the potential to be an absolute flop. It was the absolute opposite. The kids were brilliant, the audience wonderful, and I even got everyone in the room to stand up, sing, and to the actions to “Give Me a Home Among the Gum Trees”. This was all wonderful, and we were happy, but after we finished and headed out to the audience, the magnitude of what we had just done really hit. For nearly the next hour, we stood outside the auditorium, signing autographs, taking photos and answering questions. Between then and now, I’ve had no less then twenty of the kids I taught add me on Facebook, where I have since seen these kids talking about how sad they were to see us leave, quoting lines of “You’re the Voice” to their friends, and claiming us to be their best friends. It dawned on me that we have actually had an impact on these people, touched them, maybe even inspired them to bigger things. I know that they have definitely had an immense impact on us.

I left Clinton feeling such a sense of pride in what we had achieved, happiness at all the new bonds we formed, and sadness at what we were leaving behind. Because, even though for just one week, in just one small town, we were celebrities.

For a video of highlights of one of our concerts, visit Plus I'm hoping to upload a video of us singing You're the Voice with the High School students, but I have to wait for a faster internet connection. Far out I'm getting good at flogging myself.


  1. Thanks for such an awesome review of small town America. Need I say I'm relieved to know you have a better appreciation of "typical" American hospitality now? We were so glad to share with all of you a snippet of what our lives are like and wish SOUL were a reciprocal program where our host families could come spend a week in your countries!

  2. Have fun being a celebrity, you deserve it mate.