I’ve just received an intriguing email from a supporter (and donor) concerning a place in Spain where he was planning to book a holiday in August. He’s now decided otherwise, on the basis of the following review on ‘Trip Advisor’, dated yesterday, 8 July:
Are we seeing the start of a consumer backlash against feminist manipulation in areas where consumers can choose where and how to spend their money? We can but hope. In case the review ‘disappears’, here it is, in full. The reviewer gave the property three stars out of a possible five stars:
“Beware of package holidays here!”
Reviewed 8 July 2013 NEW
Cortijo Barranco is set in the middle of rolling Spanish hills, with some gorgeous views from its lawns. It is spotlessly clean, has delightful staff, good facilities that include an equally spotless swimming pool (although the approach to the whole place is a bit unprepossessing and the food was obviously down to a price). BUT it is very isolated and, whilst that is fine for those who want real peace and quiet, it has a serious downside for the special interest group holidays held there regularly by Helicon Arts, which is the reason for my “average” rating. Under other circumstances, I would undoubtedly have scored it higher.
I spent a week in July 2013 on a Helicon Arts Jazz and Popular Choral Music Course holiday led by Helen Wills (known as ‘Heli’ – hence Helicon) and her former university chum Ciara Mc Cullough. The musical leader was Mary King, well into her her sixties now, and who has been a professional singer, but who rather boringly kept making her personal, Feminist, agenda all too personally clear.
On one occasion, she had a rant (as she put it herself) about some words in a song referring to a woman losing her identity to a man she loved, which she banned from being sung (hey, it’s just a song, and the composer intended what he said), and on another, apropos of absolutely nothing, she laid in to Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Happy Birthday Mr President”, doing the most stunning rendition of it, laced with equally stunning sarcasm and some pretty strong sexist comments.
Ms King always referred to women in the group as “Ladies” and the men (all of whom were seasoned professional people, incidentally) as, “The boys”, and it was clear from the outset “the boys”, who were outnumbered three to one by “the ladies” (who, without exception, were somewhat past being “of a certain age”, incidentally), were considered something of a makeweight in the proceedings.
Such was Ms King’s preoccupation with getting “the ladies'” lines just right, “the boys” just had to get on as best they could. Add to that her choice of music that essentially consisted of unison songs and rather banal rounds – including one that recounted the story of a guy who had been ditched by a girl who considered him beneath her station and “My husband’s got no courage in him” (no surprises there then and hardly Jazz or strictly Popular Chorus) – and maybe the full picture will become clear.
When I raised the pretty extreme Feminism issue with Ciara of Helicon, in an after dinner conversation during the week, the whole atmosphere of the holiday instantly changed. Most of the women guests went into a clique and ultimately the group dynamic went down the pan, which wasn’t comfortable at all in an isolated farm house in the hot, Spanish interior, to all intents and purposes cut off from the real world.
Cortijo Barranco is an unusual and quite lovely place. Go there with your spouse, or friends or family for peace and quiet, but it is too isolated to accommodate essentially amateur holiday outfits like Helicon that naively bring diverse groups of strangers together in what amounts to a house party, under diva-type leadership, and who don’t have the ability to manage uncomfortable issues in the interests of ALL their clients.
If you want a music activity holiday with a repertoire of interesting and challenging music; if you want to learn something new under an inclusive leader; particularly if you are a man (or even a woman who doesn’t care for the sort of thing I have described) and want to sing in a balanced group (in all meanings of that word!), you’d do better booking with a professional firm that has professional staff able to manage group dynamics better and who are able to keep their specialist providers in check (they are, after all, just employees ultimately paid for by the clients). Above all find a company that has the resources and marketing skills to ensure balanced numbers of men and women singers in the first place, like The Really Big Chorus people.
And it will almost certainly cost you a LOT less money. Helicon’s holidays are really extraordinarily expensive for what you get (typically about £1000 per week for mainly shared bedrooms and mediocre food – you are obviously paying for the accompanist and choral leadership), plus you have to get your own flights.