Another Favorite Moment

This entire trip was a truly incredible experience, but if someone asked me about my favorite moment, I would have to say it was performing at L’Eglise de la Madeleine. When I first walked into the church, I was completely speechless- it was by far the most beautiful interior I had ever seen. Everything about the church was amazing. This included the modern art show that happened to be taking place while we were there. The art may have seemed a little out of place at first, but in my opinion it added to the enchantment of the place. I definitely did a double-take at a weeping statue and a flowing, transparent dress hanging from the ceiling.

While we were rehearsing, we all laughed at how the sound lingered five seconds after we had played the last note of the Saint-Saëns Bacchanal. We knew it would be a challenge to perform with such reverberating acoustics, but well worth the extra effort. And it certainly was. Fauré’s Pavane, in particular, was hauntingly beautiful.

A view of Poitiers from above

A view of Poitiers from above

This photo is a view of Poitiers when we first arrived. We were driven to the top of a tall, winding hill and then let out to see the city from above and take pictures. The streets were very quiet and empty – something I noticed right away about Poitiers. Very refreshing after three days in Paris!

The second photo is of the Sacre Coeur. This one is significant to me because upon seeing it for the first time, I suddenly felt as though I had truly arrived in Paris. I had gotten over jet lag at this point and was able to fully appreciate the beauty of the city- and the view from the entrance of the church looking out over Paris was stunning.

Sacre Coeur - Emma Kast

I’m so lucky to have had this opportunity to travel and perform in the most beautiful cities in Québec and France. I hope I’ll have many more chances to return to Europe and play music there!

Emma Kast, violin           (Photos: Emma Kast)

French Reviews

Here are a couple of links to articles/reviews of the VYO in France.

They were also quite favorably reviewed in the Poitiers Centre Press. The full article is only available for purchase on their website  ( but we have a copy of the article (thanks to Drake Mabry) in our office if anyone would like to see it. I should also add here that we’ve tried to purchase the article ourselves, but are unable to do this…for some reason.


Une Coccinelle a Poitiers:

La Nouvelle Republique:


Experience of a Lifetime

Skateboarding half-pipe in La Rochelle

Skateboarding half-pipe in La Rochelle

After a very long day in buses and on the airplane, I finally got home. I have to admit that I was extremely happy to see my warm and cozy bed waiting for me! But, I was also filled with sadness because I could not believe that our trip was already over. I thought to myself, as I was leaving the Elley-Long parking lot, “It seems like we were just here!” Looking through my photos reminded me otherwise. We had actually spent a week away from home in two of the most beautiful cities in the world, having an experience of a lifetime.

I’ve had many experiences in my life that I will never forget, but something about this trip was different, in ways that I did not think possible. The wonderful feeling that I felt when we played the Pavane by Fauré in L’Eglise de Madeleine, or the amazing taste of the morning’s fresh croissant as it dissolved in my mouth with every bite; these were indescribable!

Books for sale along the river in Quebec City

Books for sale along the river in Quebec City

Although we saw beautiful monuments – La Tour Eiffel and L’Arc de Triomphe – nothing could compare to the concert we played in L’Eglise de la Madeleine. This was my favorite performance of all the concerts we played. The church was large and open with a high ceiling and our sound reverberated in the room long after we had stopped playing. I loved the history of the venue – the fact that Fauré and Saint-Saëns both were the organists in this church and that we were playing their music there. While playing the Pavane, I could almost feel Monsieur Fauré in the room with us, listening us play his beautiful composition. The flute would echo through the room and it was like hearing his soul, bouncing off the walls and filling each and every one of us. Our last concert in Poitiers at Le Palace de Justice was as unbelievable. I imagined the King and Queen sitting behind us, flames flickering in the fireplaces, watching us perform. Nearing the end of the program, you could feel collectively that we didn’t want the concert to end.

This was the last concert (in Poitiers) for so many VYO members, including Troy Peters. After 11 years as a member of the VYOA,  not having Mr. Peters with us is like missing a body part. He has been a part of my musical life for so long, I can’t believe he won’t be now. I won’t easily forget playing the high, high A in West Side Story at the very end of the concert and the expression on Mr. Peters’ face as he ended the program  and our year together. This mix of accomplishment and sadness entirely filled me.Without even noticing, my own eyes welled up. Around me, my friends had the same kind of smiling, crying faces. We all played with so much passion and love for the music and each other, the result was astonishing. I think the audience knew something was up; they seemed also as proud of us.

Making music on wine glasses in Quebec City

Making music on wine glasses in Quebec City

When people ask me how the trip was, I don’t know exactly how to respond. My head spins with all we experienced – So many new friends; not wanting to say goodbye to any of them; having the opportunity to play music, my greatest passion, in Québec and in France; knowing I will never forget anyone or any detail about the places we visited… Our music is still stuck in my head. And, I can still taste the wonderful pastries and desserts on my tongue.

I feel so incredibly lucky. I cannot thank everyone enough for this experience. Merci pour un très, très bon voyage!

Daphnée Vandal, violin   (Photos: Troy Peters, Blaise Gervais, viola)

Fans in France

Someone must have secretly videotaped the VYO’s performance in Paris. Caroline discovered them on YouTube…naturalement!

Enjoy these concert excerpts!

Vermont Youth Orchestra – Drake Mabry – Prelude And Tango:

Vermont Youth Orchestra – Troy Peters – Champlain’s Voyage:

Vermont Youth Orchestra – Leonard Bernstein – West Side Story

Vermont Youth Orchestra – Camille Saint-Saëns – Bacchanal from Sampson & Delilah, Op. 47

Le Retour

Palais de Justice, Poitiers

Palais de Justice, Poitiers


The VYO played their final concert in Poitiers yesterday. From all accounts I’ve been able to glean, it went remarkably well. Troy has also noted on his Facebook page that he was “incredibly proud” of the VYO.

Currently, the tour group is en route home to Vermont. We anticipate their arrival in Burlington later this evening, no doubt an exhausted but happy bunch, with many more tales to tell  about their voyage.


Out & About in Poitiers

The VYO is currently in Poitiers, their final stop on the tour.  Most likely, they are performing their final concert right about now at the Palais de Justice. This concert also marks Troy’s final concert with the VYO.

Here are some recent photos, courtesy of Maestro Peters.

Beaucoup de Soleil (Lots of Sun) in Fouras

Today we woke up bright and early to a gorgeous day in Rochefort. There were bright blue skies and beaucoup de soleil (a lot of sun)! After eating a wonderful breakfast in the hotel, we all piled onto the buses to spend a day in Fouras.

At Saint-Sauveur in La Rochelle

At Saint-Sauveur in La Rochelle

After being in Paris for a couple days, I actually enjoyed getting out of the huge city. Don’t get me wrong – Paris is unbelievable and I didn’t really want to leave. But, a break from the taxi horns and bustling crowds is also refreshing. Spending time by the water in a less populated town made for a very quiet and relaxing arrival and we had great fun walking up and down the streets.

First we took a guided tour of the city and then we had free time to shop. Finally, we played our concert later that night. The guided tour was fun and I learned a lot about the old city. I think it’s funny that Paris is the first city that pops into everyone’s mind whenever someone mentions France. With perhaps fewer famous monuments, Fouras was just as old and as beautiful as Paris.

Sitting by the river in Rochefort

Sitting by the river in Rochefort

After shopping in the old village in Fouras, we went to the beach to relax and play in the sun before the concert. A little awkward at first… because there were a lot of topless women… But hey, C’est bien la France! There was a very low tide, so the beach was more like a mud pit. Everyone had so much fun squishing their feet in the mud, some going all the way up to their knees. I smiled as I watched the little French kids rolling around and making mud castles, their bodies caked in the gooey stuff. I can’t even describe how wonderful it felt to lie in the hot sand and sun. Especially after being on the bus for an entire day yesterday, a bit of sun bathing was well-deserved and much needed!

Dodging raindrops

Dodging raindrops

Our concert was wonderful. We all played well and the audience seemed pleased with our performance. I have never performed in a concert so late –  9:00pm. It was exhausting, but still very fun. I cannot even believe that we only have one concert left before returning home. This trip has gone by so quickly. I’ve had so much fun and everything has been très magnifique!

I don’t ever want to go home.

Daphnée Vandal, violin    (Photos: Troy Peters & Caroline Whiddon)

A Few Things I Didn’t Expect…

Three out of four waiters in Paris cafes do NOT want Americans to attempt to speak French with them. They simply don’t have the time or patience to listen to us stumble to find the right words. They just say “English, please!” and that’s clearly the end of it. It’s a bit like New York city in that most of the waiters are in a hurry and don’t feel obliged to be overly polite to us. But, ohhh…… the food!  It’s so good that we don’t mind the occasional rude waiter.

Unless you are an avid runner or biker, it’s simply not a good idea to walk down the steps from the second tier of the Eiffel Tower to the ground. Sure, it seems like a great idea at the time, but your calves will hate you for it. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 39 years old, you’ll feel pain every time you walk down steps for the next three days. Also, the avid runners and bikers in the tour group will mock you for not having stronger leg muscles.

Sunflowers! sunflowers1On our drive from Paris to the coastal town of Fouras, we were amazed to see fields of sunflowers on both sides of the highway. I’ve never seen more than a few large sunflower plants growing together in one place, so seeing a field of them with their gorgeous yellow blooms is breathtaking. Our courier, Marianne, explained that they are grown for the seeds to make sunflower oil. For nearly 3 hours, we kept coming across these beautiful fields of flowers.

La Rochelle reminds me of Charleston, SC.  My sister lives in Charleston so I visit there often, and I thought of Charleston as we drove over the wetlands into La Rochelle. Apparently it’s a popular place for bird-watching, and as a beach town with centuries of history it has some similar qualities to downtown Charleston (even though Charleston’s history is a blink in time in comparison).

Caroline Whiddon, VYOA Executive Director     (Photo: Caroline Whiddon)

All About the Concerts

At our first concert in Québec only about 50 people were in attendance. It was slightly disappointing at first, but this little audience was so into the music and so very vocal about telling us this; it was totally worth it to play for the reward: tons of enthusiastic clapping and vocal appreciation.

Loading busses after the concert at La Madeleine

Loading busses after the concert at La Madeleine

The audience at our second concert in Paris was much larger – about 300 people. Our tour guide said that this was incredible for la Madeleine in the summer. Paris has so many concerts offered every night, sometimes attendance can be low. And, it is summer…full of holidays – July 14th is Bastille Day – one of the most widely celebrated French holidays, much like our Independence Day.

This audience was softer in volume than the Québec audience. At first, I was worried that they were just being polite and didn’t enjoy our music very much. But, as I watched members of the audience, I realized that just the opposite was happening – they were really into our music!

Some people sat totally still with their eyes closed while others held their hands over their chests; all listening intently. Afterwards, audience members kept thanking us and telling us how much they loved and appreciated the concert. In fact, some told us that they thought we were a professional orchestra because of the caliber of our playing.

This concert was meaningful to me for two reasons. Two of our living composers (Troy Peters & Drake Mabry) were in the church with us today. AND, two of the composers whose works we performed on the program were actually organists at La Madeleine during the 1800’s (Camille Saint-Saëns from 1858-1877 and Gabriel Fauré from 1896-1905). Although I thoroughly enjoyed playing both the Bacchanal (Saint- Saëns) and the Pavane (Fauré), it was truly amazing to be playing these works at exact the same church were these men worked and played.

The whole time we were playing these songs, I imagined Monsieurs Saint-Saëns and Fauré sitting near the organ at the back of the church, listening in…. For the first time, I wondered if we were playing the pieces exactly the way these composers had intended for them to be played. I wondered if they heard their music performed in this very church 200 years ago and if they smiled, like I smiled as the last chord playfully bounced off the stone walls for several seconds before dying away.

Johanna Taylor, violin     (Photo: Troy Peters)

At la Madeleine


Apologies for the lapse in posts from the orchestra. An interesting – and unexpected – challenge has arisen in the past several days: The text post attachments that I’m receiving from the students and Caroline in France are un-openable on my end! I’ve been sending these posts to our Operations Assistant, who for some odd reason, has been able to open these posts and re-send them to me in a format that I can use. Hence, the delay in communications from the orchestra. My apologies.

I have several texts to upload that were sent during the latter part of this past weekend. I hope to have everything uploaded during the course of today.

VYO in performance at La Madeleine

VYO in performance at La Madeleine

Again, my apologies.

Here are a few shots, taken pre-and post-concert at L’Eglise de la Madeleine. 


(Photos: Rachel Howard, violin &  Linda McSweeney, tour chaperone)

VYO at La Madeleine

VYO at La Madeleine