Time has gone past very quickly here in Iraq and all of a sudden the concert day is upon us. In anticipation of a lengthy search operation by the security militia that police the venue, the bus leaves the Hotel on the dot of 0845 and arrives at Saad Palace just as the venue is opening. Fortunately, the guards are quite lenient with the searching and let the orchestra straight into the venue to get set up.

I immediately get my disk recorder plugged in to the cables I had prepared the previous day and sanity check the orchestra mics. All is good. I am now in the hands of Paul the conductor and patiently wait for the first beat of the Maxwell Davies commission to start my balance. It is soon apparent that the mics are rigged a little too close to the orchestra so I venture upstairs and pull back on the fishing line that I have rigged to manage the three front of stage mic-ing points. The mics come back about 2m and this is enough to ensure a nicely blended strings sound. The rehearsal is uneventful and I use it to achieve a workable balance of the orchestra on the headphones. My mix point is stage right and I am right next to the percussion section. This does not make achieving a balance particularly easy, but it is not impossible. In the end we get a working balance and I lock off the controls.

Once the rehearsal is over I stay behind for a short while to check the balance in silence. After satisfying myself that we are good to go, I take a long walk down to Burger Queen where I meet up with the teaching staff and Cam who are by now finishing off lunch. On the way we pass some more new and mostly unfinished construction sites. Another odd thing about Burger Queen, besides the name, is that they only get Beefburgers in on alternate weeks. According to Greg, it’s always the week you end up going there when they don’t have beef. Greg wasn’t wrong – there are only two items of the menu available and both of them involve chicken.

After lunch we potter back to the hotel for a brief siesta before the concert.

At 5pm, “To the Bus” is called and we all climb aboard for the final trip to Saad Palace. All the players are togged up in their concert dress. Walid is dressed in a very dapper white waistcoat but maintains radio silence all the way to the concert venue. This is noticeably out of character for Walid who is normally the life and soul of the party – taking every possible moving opportunity to dance to the music of Aziz Weisy – the famous Kurdish dance musician. I make the assumption that although he is probably a little nervous about performing in front of Iraqi VIP’s, he is most likely saving it all up for the bus trip back to the hotel and the party after the concert.

Upon arriving everyone is made to pass through two metal detectors and some players are frisked – possibly for the hidden weapons that we forgot to bring in before the earlier rehearsal that are now secreted away in instrument cases that are already on stage. As if…

I too am searched and take pride in once again having to explain the purpose and operation of my nice shiny new Sound Devices 788. I don’t mind, really I don’t. Upon arriving I catch up with Amir who is the camera operator from Deutsche Weller who is assisting Bettina the DW reporter to cover the orchestra concert. I am to provide Amir with a stereo feed from my mixer via the front of house mixer being operated by Greg. We soon find out that the press box that we had hoped to use as a distribution point was a mono device. We quickly find two long cables and run them out of the desk to the media point below where all the media are gathered with their cameras. After some tone and some level checks, all is set up and we are ready to go.

The concert commences with some speeches from diplomats and dignitaries and without much ado the music begins. It is soon clear that the hard work and motivation of the orchestra players, tutors and management has paid off. The band played admirably and with the confidence of seasoned musicians. Hearing them play with such passion was quite an emotional experience, particularly when thinking about how these musicians have come together and the extreme level of dedication they have had to exhibit in order to make it this far.

After the concert a reception is held and the orchestra are fed well to sustain them for the long night of partying ahead which will no doubt start on the way back to the hotel under the leadership of Walid.

As the building is closed on Friday, I derig the hall immediately after the concert and just make the end of the reception during which I bid farewell to Greg and David who have looked after us admirably at Saad Palace and make my way back to the hotel with Cam and Dara, the medical student who has been working as a translator with the orchestra for the past two weeks.

Upon returning to the hotel, our day is not over until we have at least two backups of the data, so we set about wrangling the audio and video data into our hard discs before venturing across to the bar to join the teaching staff who are trying to complete their “wardrobe of beer cans” art sculpture.