In at the deep end!Someone said to me, ‘Just immerse yourself in the culture, be part of the experience, rather than an onlooker’. Well they were right, and I went in at the, ‘Deep End’.
Moving to a new town is always a challenge, but when you up root from everything you have ever known and move to another Country, the challenges become different.
Part of this is, accepting cultural differences and then there is learning the  language. But, then comes the getting to understand the people, their values, the things that they place importance upon.
With this in mind I gladly accepted an invitation from one of my Spanish neighbours to go and see, so I thought, band practice at ‘La Colla’, in La Villa, Ontinyent.
It was an exciting prospect as I understood they were getting ready to play their part in the biggest fiesta here, ‘Moors and Christians’. And with only a week to go, I guessed that they were all really up to speed and it should be very loud!
I walked happily with Inma, my neighbour, who is in her mid-thirties, through the town to ‘la Villa’, and then through the first Christian archway.
We came to a stop and I realised we were at our destination. It didn’t resemble a music school from the outside, just a neatly restored and very tall building, on the corner of a back street.
Large wooden doors loomed up at us in the evening sunshine and we waited alongside a slowly increasing group of women of all ages.
They stood around chatting merrily in a chorus of ‘Valenciano’, small carrier bags in hand, with instruments they had brought, I presumed?
It then occurred to me that I was the only English person there and I felt as though I was being allowed into the inner sanctum of some secret society.
At that moment, almost ceremoniously, the wooden doors opened and there stood the music professor, Paco.
Younger than I expected, dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt, he led us into the cool building, and up the steep stairs.
Still merrily chatting away we all piled into a large white room at the top of the building, which as it turned out was ‘Soundproofed’, which I thought was very practical indeed. The ceiling was almost ‘cathedral like’ and the floors wooden, with scuff marks from the shoes of many musicians and others who had been here before me.
There was an assortment of music stands, sheet music, drums, and other percussion instruments at the back of the room. We were ushered in and after some discussion, grouped into three rows.
Slowly, it dawned on me, I wasn’t there just to watch, I was going to be taking part!
Inma explained to me in her best attempts at ‘Castilliano’, that they were one person short and as I had watched the fiesta last year as newcomer to the town, this year, it was time to be involved.
I must have looked worried, because she began to reassuringly put her hand on my shoulder. She showed me the percussion instruments I would be playing. A Medera block (Wooden block) and the other an old fashioned version of a ‘Panderetta’ (tambourine) which was a wooden stick with small bells attached with the assistance of bright yellow ribbon, obviously hand made.
It was later that I found out, the instruments were made by Inma’s late father.
I also discovered, on the way home, that all these ‘ladies’, had been doing this, for years and I had to learn, what they already new by heart, in just three half hour sessions.
Each practice session was fun and although the instructions given were quite serious and completely in Spanish good humour ran amongst the troop of ‘La Colla’.
We were taught to play the marches with the aid of recordings from previous years, via computer digital sound. It was strange that this technology was being used in such an old building, but it worked well.
On one occasion, the other band members were there, adding authenticity to the proceedings with the big drums at the back of the room. I came away that night with a real sense of being part of something. It was wonderful in it’s own small way.
We were told to wear black trousers and white blouses and to meet at 5.45pm outside ‘Telepizza’ in Avinguda de L’Almaig.
Inma, called for me and we walked up the road to the rendezvous point in virtual silence.
Strange really, as I have worked in the public relations industry back in the UK and organised large and small events. But, I suppose, I had always been in the background making other people look good, rather than participating myself.
As the rest of the band arrived, we had a rehearsal in the carwash at Repsol garage, time for any last minute questions and a cool drink of water in the afternoon heat.
It did seem extraordinarily hot, as though it was cooking you from the pavement upwards. Then again, it could have been a few nerves, as I didn’t want to let any of my fellow percussionists down.
We eventually set off our long walk with the Christians parade ‘Estudiants’, at around 7.20pm. My feet were already tired from waiting around and nowhere to sit, apart form the dusty pavements, but the thought of my tired feet was overtaken by the fact, that no one had told me about this ‘march’ we were doing.
It seemed there was so much to concentrate on that I didn’t have time to really look around at all the people lining the street. By the time we reached the roundabout at the top of Daniel Gil, I was truly in the swing of things and had begun to enjoy the whole experience. The marching, wasn’t that difficult and keeping time with the ‘bells’ wasn’t too taxing, but it hurts your palm.
It was only as we began our descent down Daniel Gil, that Inma leant over and told me that we had to it all again later with the ‘Wooden Blocks’ for the entrance of the Moros Marinos at about midnight! The expression on my face must have spoken volumes.
The Christian parade sped by and before I knew it, I was back home resting by feet and taking a cool shower before round 2!  Bring it on, I thought.
We met at 11.20pm and walked back to the same place in D’Almaig. The rest of the band had been somewhere in town for refreshment and joined us in dribs and drabs.
I thought I would feel weary, but with darkness, came the amazing magic of the costumes, dancers, animals and music of the Moors. I knew this was going to be something I wouldn’t forget , the air was electric.
Finally, at 12.55am, we began our slow march behind the Moros Marinos. I could see Paco, leading us from the front and we were playing two very different marches on the blocks.  Cunningly, I had the aid of our music, carefully taped to the block on both sides, just in case I forgot where to tap, the sound of us all was tremendous.
As we turned the roundabout at the top of Daniel Gil, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and all the bright lights hit us. Half way down the hill, it was like daylight, where the television cameras were filming.
I don’t know how, but some friends and acquaintances had spied me and called out, I waved back, smiling, whilst hoping not to slip or show anyone up.
Coloured paper, flurried down around us from the tall buildings on either side like confetti and I felt as though I was in one of those Snow scene paperweights.
As we turned the last corner at Plaça de la Concepció, at 2.30am, our costumed moors stood at the roadside and applauded our efforts, until we came to a stop.
It was then, in that moment, that I felt part of this town. I had done it, and hadn’t made a mistake. Whoever it was that told me, to be part of it rather than an onlooker, was right!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank ‘La Colla’, Paco our music teacher, my neighbour Inma and all the ladies in the percussion section for allowing me to participate in this fantastic fiesta. Without you all, it would not be the ‘Best’ in the Vall D’Albaida!
By Helené Parker
Big Attitude PR
Tel: 661 757 433

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