Castlewood Singers Explore, Entertain in Portugal, SpainChris Frick
Travelers began checking in at Indianapolis International mid-morning in early June. Luggage in tow, it was a much-anticipated departure for a performance trip to Portugal and Spain that had a few postponements. As noon approached, the members of Castlewood Singers boarded the plane and were on their way to Portugal.
Castlewood Singers, is a semi-professional mixed ensemble based in the Indianapolis area. Their music incorporates a wide variety of choral styles, including classical, contemporary, sacred, spiritual and Broadway tunes.
Scott Bradford is the ensemble’s third director since they formed in 1984. He begins his eighth season as the Artistic Director and believes music touches and changes the lives of both listeners and performers. He also knows the importance of group travel. “Castlewood Singers and the Board value travel as a vehicle for sharing our music and engaging with audiences both at home and abroad. Traveling helps bring us together as an ensemble and provides memorable, musical opportunities that are lifetime experiences for us as performers,” he said. The current policy is to travel biannually rotating between domestic and international travel.
Flying through Atlanta with a transfer at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the group arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, checked into their housing and enjoyed a guided tour of Lisbon. After a welcome dinner, they turned in for a night of rest.
The next morning presented an early start with a drive to Jeronimos Monastery and Tower followed by some leisure time in Belem. The group then transferred to Basilica for a quick rehearsal and their first performance prior to mass at Basilica de Estrela. “Being a part of the mass in Lisbon was very special and touching and the clergy there were kind, greeted us warmly and were very helpful in coordinating our performance prior to the mass and during the liturgy,” said Bradford.
Castlewood has performed at venues throughout the greater Indianapolis area and the state of Indiana. The ensemble has shared the stage with the Zionsville Concert Band, Serenade Jazz, Creative Grounds Fine Arts Academy, ‘InUnity’-(Zion’s Joy), and the University of Indianapolis Choral Department. As performers, they focus on educational outreach. Highlights include organizing a workshop on Madrigal Dinners at Franklin College (IN), hosting Choral Festivals with Indy Parks and The Friends of Garfield Park, which brought local high school and middle school choirs together, sharing and performing music together at the MacAllister Amphitheater, and most recently supporting RISE Learning Center and The Marks Foundation.
Another early morning for breakfast, the group departed for a day at Boca do Inferno, Cascais. Boca do Inferno is a chasm located in the seaside cliffs close to the Portuguese city of Cascais. The seawater has access to the deep bottom of the chasm and vigorously strikes its rocky walls, making it a popular tourist attraction. The group also spent some time in Estoril, known for its luxurious hotels and beaches and a vibrant casino. That evening, they enjoyed a Fado Dinner Show in Lisbon. With its mournful melodies and intricate guitar, Fado is one of Portugal’s most enduring traditions, dating back to the 1820’s. Attending a Fado show in Lisbon is the best way to experience this soulful folk music.
The owner of Fado show invited the group to perform a piece for the patrons at the end of the evening bringing the day to a glorious and quite memorable crescendo.
In 1996, Castlewood Singers were invited to perform at the First Madrigal Festival at Carnegie Hall. A few short years later, the organization hosted a performing tour of the United Kingdom in 2000 and in 2003, were invited to perform two evenings at Christmas at the Biltmore in Asheville, N.C. To celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2004, Castlewood orchestrated an 11-day performing tour of Germany and Austria. For Castlewood’s 30th anniversary, they spent 10 days in Florence, Italy where they performed at the historic Santo Stefano al Ponte Vecchio Church as part of the First Annual Great American Choral Series. In 2018, a gospel concert series was performed in and around New Orleans.
The next day included an afternoon tour of the Royal Palace of Quelez. The formal gardens are adorned with pools and statues, pastel-colored rococo facades with many windows. Although inspired by Versailles, the smaller proportions of Queluz Palace make it more intimate. That evening allowed the members to enjoy dinner and the sights of Lisbon. Bradford said, “Visiting and experiencing the culture of a foreign country from its cuisine to the unique and historical part of the cities visited is high on the list for all travelers. Many of our travelers loved free time to shop, eat, sight-see and explore.”
“A balance of wonderful performance venues coupled with enough downtime was important when looking at the itinerary.”
– Scott Bradford, Artistic Director, Castlewood Singers
Breakfast at the hotel was followed by check out and boarding the motor coach for the trip to Madrid. The next day, members spent time sightseeing and toured the Prado Museum. The Prado Museum boasts one of the world’s greatest collections of classical paintings, with pieces from the Spanish, Flemish, Italian and German and Dutch schools, featuring artwork of famous painters such as Goya, El Greco, Velazquez and Rembrandt. That evening included a rehearsal and their performance at San Cayetano.
“The amazing cathedrals and basilicas were a huge part of what made this trip special. We were able to sing in beautiful, sacred sanctuaries and the receptions we received were nothing short of overwhelming,” said Bradford. “People heard our music from the streets and came in to listen. Some of our audiences had heard us sing at San Cayetano, Madrid and then brought their friends to our next concert at the Basilica San Francisco el Grande,” he said.
Another busy day ahead, the group traveled to the Monastery at San Lorenzo de El Escorial. After a guided tour of Segovia, they returned to Madrid for a farewell dinner and Flamenco show. Flamenco, in its strictest sense, is an art form based on the various folkloric music traditions of southern Spain, developed within the Gitano subculture of the region of Andalusia. The dinner and entertainment were both amazing. “We loved the itinerary and appreciated Chris Forsythe [MTC Senior Travel Designer] and our guide, Mirjam, who worked to make each day and city special,” Bradford said.
The final full day in Spain included a guided tour of Toledo followed by a rehearsal and performance at Basilica San Francisco. That evening, everyone had time to relax, repack and enjoy a leisure evening in Madrid. The next morning was check out and the flights back to the states.
With several performance opportunities, the choir was welcomed into each community. Bradford said, “Attendance for our concerts was humbling and the pews filled as the doors were opened. [The members enjoyed] the beauty and acoustical aspects of the venues and the heart-warming sincerity of our audiences. We were asked for photos, autographs and if we had a CD for sale,” he said.
Planning a choir trip and moving a group of performers internationally presents some challenges that were further affected by the pandemic. “The communication from MTC was outstanding. We had to postpone the trip and all details were prompt and efficiently handled as our travel roster changed,” said Bradford. He continued, “As a director, I felt as if my suggestions to the itinerary were listened to and once on the trip, the MTC representative, the European guide and the bus driver took charge of the details while considering our overall experience, our comfort, our safety, our needs, and thus, taking a lot off my shoulders as the director.”
Interested in a trip for your group to Spain and Portugal? Every itinerary is custom designed to fit the needs of your performers. Contact MTC today and leave the planning to us.