Voices of Birralee’s Western Front Centenary Choir has arrived in Belgium, as part of a seven day journey which will take 16 choristers throughout Belgium and French Flanders, with the final performance at the Dawn Service to commemorate the Battle of Polygon Wood on 26 September.
This trip will mark Voices of Birralee’s fifth overseas tour as part of the organisation’s five year commitment to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the first time a VOB choir has discovered the impact of WW1 on Belgium.
With choristers taking different routes to arrive in Belgium, including via London, Amsterdam, Paris and more, most arrived in Brugge, the capital of West Flanders, having not visited the beautiful city prior.
While the tour officially began on Wednesday, a group of choristers, APs (Accompanying People), Conductor Paul Holley and Tour Manager/Mum Rochelle Manderson met for a drink on the eve, celebrating the middle ages charm of the city at an underground medieval pub, Le Trappiste Brugge.
The next day, officially Day One, many choristers explored the stunning Brugge sights, enjoying the classically preserved houses, churches, canals and windmills, with stops at the decadent chocolate and Christmas shops lining cobble-stoned streets. It’s refreshing to know that the inner city is UNESCO protected meaning the structures will be preserved forever.
For lunch, many choristers checked out The Markt of Bruges and were spoilt for choice with rows of exquisitely presented mouthwatering produce, flavoured nougat, massive cheese wheels, baked goods, delis and florist stalls.
The choir met for its first rehearsal of the tour at the 11th century Protestantse Kerk Brugge. We were told this church had been shared by Anglican and Protestant parishioners for around 35 years.
The space had incredible reverberation, with some of the unaccompanied pieces soaring. Here the choristers rehearse Danny Boy.
It had been noted in the Church’s newsletter that Voices of Birralee was visiting so a few parishioners, local passers-by and tourists stopped for a spontaneous mini-concert.
The small audience included local guides Carine and Dirk. Carine had recently completed a presentation on the church, but it was a coincidence they’d stopped by. Dirk spoke to the choir about his late mother’s love for the song Ave Maria along with him and his wife, Carine’s connection with Danny Boy and how much they appreciated our music.
A special thank you to Pastor Frans van der Sar and Adrien Deceuninck for allowing our choir to rehearse in their beautiful church and for the hospitality they showed us with afternoon tea.
As Brugge is described as the Venice of the North, after rehearsals the group took part in a canal boat tour to discover more about the city’s history. Of course, there was an impromptu sing among checking out the local wildlife and trying to remember the collective noun for a group of swans…(it’s ‘bevy’, ‘bank’ or ‘herd’ by the way).
Later, some of the group took part in a night time walking tour through the streets of Brugge to listen to legends and ghost stories. The final stop was at a windmill, one of many which were a part of the city’s original walls.
The tour guide, Simon, found out we were on a choir trip, so with some egging on from Rochelle, we sang Waltzing Matilda. You can’t see us in the below clip, but you can hear us!
Overall, the choristers had a wonderful introduction to Belgium, through Brugge and today (Thursday) will head to their next stop, Ypres to perform at The Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate.
The day will include exploring WW1 battlefields and delving into WW2 history, with a stop at Dunkirk.
Thanks for reading! We can’t wait to share the news of what we discover next.
#BelVOB2017 #Wewillrememberthem #lestweforget