New Year’s Eve, Year 100. Leaving Taichung after lunch, we had a beautiful 2-hour drive to our first venue, which as promised was up in the mountains again, this time in the village of Guguan. All along the route were large advertisement flags about our event, hundreds of them flying from lamp posts and telegraph poles every few hundred yards. The flags showed various performers including us – we were beginning to feel quite important! There were also posters up everywhere with similar artwork. When we reached the village, people we didn’t know smiled at us and greeted us, presumably because they had seen us on the posters.
Last week in Lishan we had hit a serious problem. The low air temperature (around +4 degrees C) made the alphorn sound flatter than we had expected: by nearly a semitone. Too flat to counteract by blowing air through and it was really uncomfortably out of tune with the accordion throughout the performance. My wooden alphorn has very little potential for adjustment for tuning; the accordion none at all (other than as part of a £400 overhaul). I was deeply unhappy, though the audience and organisers didn’t appear to be bothered at all. So this time, I took my carbon alphorn because it is tunable, although it doesn’t look so authentic. All tuning issues were solvable, and we were much more comfortable with the musical results despite the even lower temperature. Martin found that the lower air pressure at high altitude reduced the capacity of the bellows – allowing fewer notes per squeeze.
This first performance of the evening was to culminate with a countdown to midnight and the arrival of the New Year. It was very exciting, with a firework display and various other acts, including some more indigenous peoples’ dancing, and this time a Red Indian group (no idea where they were really from) who looked and sounded stunning:
As soon as we’d finished our spot, at around 11.45pm, as the fireworks and the countdown were beginning, we were whisked off to our taxi to be driven three and a half hours to our second event of the night. As we drove past the audience who lined the track back up to the main road, we were thanked and greeted and felt like royalty! One could get used to this! (Note, must practice the royal wave.)
Taiwan’s Year 101 arrived as we left the village (eight hours before New Year in the UK). As we sporadically dozed in the car, we meandered in an apparently endless snake of cars up and up and up another mountain road, till we eventually arrived at our second destination, Alishan. Then the last section of the journey was to a higher place still, a 25-minute train ride further. Apparently this is one of the most beautiful mountain train routes in the world, but clearly we did not experience it at its best in the dark and extreme cold! We shared our carriage with the strings and brass quintet of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra, which were two of the other acts! Apparently this is an annual event, and they know to just bring their second-best instruments up the mountain because of the extreme conditions.
This event was a concert to celebrate First Light [of the New Year], and the music was already in progress as we arrived at 4am. It was to culminate with the appearance of the sun, expected at 7.05: at this moment they wanted the alphorn to be playing to welcome the first sun in the New Year. The first glimmers of daylight in the east were greeted with great excitement.
Then our turn began around 6.50 and we played a number of Swiss melodies, some gentle, some lively. We did not play the Taiwan national anthem again, nor this time was Jingle Bells needed. We did do something else rather special, though. Two reporters from the Taiwan Times had had a long chat with us when we got off the train. Among all sorts of other things they asked whether we had a wish for the New Year (we can’t imagine an English newspaper reporter asking that question, but this a culture rooted in spirit guidance and requesting and granting of wishes and prayers from a myriad of gods and external forces). So Frances said that we hoped that the world would be a more peaceful place in the next year. They liked that. So Frances asked our manager if it might be appropriate to play Amazing Grace as the sun appeared, as a mark of solemnity for the aspiration that the New Year will bring more peace into the world. They liked that very much, and the piece and reason for it was duly announced. The silence in the crowd of around 2,000 people as we played, and the applause afterwards, showed us that it was well appreciated. It felt very good. And is one of the very few ‘normal’ pieces that an alphorn can (nearly) play, so it generally goes down well.
It was a little cloudy at 7:05. Ten minutes later as we were packing up there was a great cheer as the sun came out for the first time. So ended our engagements in Taiwan. We slept quite a bit of the return ride to Taichung, but our twisty road did just dip south of the Tropic of Cancer and back, so that’s another tick in a box.
Back to the hotel, time to pack up and to snooze, time to warm up and to chill out, ready for an 8 o’clock departure in the morning. What an amazing trip.