Jubilee Choral Evensong

This evening, the church of St. Mary’s Church, Rotterdam celebrated their 300th anniversary with a Jubilee Choral Evensong – an event which was the culmination of a weekend of celebrations, including a visit by the Queen. As the choir is low in numbers, I, and four other member of the choir in The Hague, joined forces with them for the service.

[I hadn’t realised just what a long history English speaking churches had in The Netherlands… more information on the history of St. Mary’s Church can be found here. The English church in The Hague, has an even longer history, stretching back to 1586…]


In what seems to becoming a pattern for choir-related travel (see “Of trains and harpsichords“), my journey to Rotterdam was nearly thwarted by an ammonia spillage at Rotterdam Central station, which caused the whole station to be shut down, and trains cancelled for most of the day. Fortunately, I arrived at Delft station just as things started moving again, and was able to catch the first train to Rotterdam, in time to meet my lift. Arriving at Rotterdam, I was met by a small amount of chaos, and a fire engine, but fortunately, no further trouble and we made it to the church in time for the start of rehearsal.

Despite the transportation problems which left a couple people stranded at home, the choir was 16-strong, including us visitors and could barely fit into the choir stalls. As a last minute substitute, I hadn’t been to the previous rehearsals, so I had to think on my feet a little. Still, most of the music was familiar, so there wasn’t too much sight-reading. After a bit of a shaky start as the choir settled in, we managed to run through most of the music in the hour before the service. As this was the choir’s first Choral Evensong, quite a few nerves were evident, but Sonja, the choirmistress did a great job of pulling everyone together.

After a quick break to robe up, drink a cup of tea, and brush up on a few notes, we lined up for the service. Processing in a strange church is always nervewracking – you never know what obstacles may lie ahead to trip you up! When you’re wearing a borrowed robe, and a member of the clergy is up ahead photographing you, it becomes even more daunting.

Although a few things went a little amiss with the order, the service itself went very well. For once, we were singing evensong in a packed church, something which is a rarity even in cathedrals, and certainly not familiar to us in The Hague (we had a turnout of 9 people for our service of Choral Evensong last Sunday night!).

When I joined the choir two years ago, I didn’t realise what a large community I would find myself in. Despite my fears that I would find myself part of a closed English community, I find myself now with many friends both from the Netherlands and other expatriates from around the world. This evening was a wonderful opportunity to sing with and meet up with my friends from other parts of the Netherlands.

Music List:

  • Bless O Lord, us thy servants – Harper
  • Preces and Responses – Hopper
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – Harwood in Ab
  • I will sing with the Spirit – Rutter
  • The strength of God – Harper

Of trains and harpsichords…

… you could say that two features defined this last weekend – singing and transport problems.

On Saturday, I sang in Amsterdam at the St Nicolaaskerk, with the Anglican Singers and a couple of my friends from the choir in The Hague. Travelling to Amsterdam is generally straight-forward – a single train ride from Delft, but even so, it’s not a place a visit very often. I decided, therefore to set off a little earlier than necessary and do a little shopping in preparation for my trip to Namibia. Unfortunately my plans were rather scuppered by rail-works on one route, and an accident on another. My simple train journey ended up taking nearly two hours, and involved 3 trains and a bus. Needless to say, I had to abandon the idea of my shopping trip.

Although a number of people turned up late for the rehearsal become of the transport difficulties, the service itself went very well. This was my first time singing at the St Nicolaaskerk, and it was a very enjoyable experience – both seeing the very impressive church, and meeting up again with my friends from the ECS.

(many choir members, especially those with music qualifications, have an academic hood for every occasion. I feel like I’m starting a similar trend with choir robes recently, having been seen in red, purple or blue, depending on the choir I’m singing with. Come to think of it, that’s a hood per robe!)

Music List, Choral Evensong, with Anglican Singers in Amsterdam:

  • Introit – Bless o Lord, us thy Servants (John Harper)
  • Preces and Responses – Jackson
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – Brewer in D
  • Anthem – Lord, thy Glory Fills the Skies (Darke)

Being the third of the month, Sunday was a busy day with the choir in The Hague, singing at both morning and evening services. It was also the Sunday before Prinsjesdag (the day on which the Queen addresses the Parliament in The Hague) which means that there is a practice procession from the palace to the parliament buildings. Last year I also fell foul of the procession, as my cycle route to the church takes me straight past the palace. Again, this year, the first thing I noticed was the whistle of a policeman, and the sudden appearance of a couple hundred horses, being ridden by men with swords! A real shame I didn’t have my camera handy, as the procession is quite impressive, including the mounted trumpeters, a marching band and a number of golden carriages. Pretty much everything and everybody, in fact, apart from the Queen herself.

But perhaps you’re asking, where does the harpsichord come into things? Well, to fit in with the music we were singing at evensong, Christina had brought her harpischord along (again, would have made a nice photo), and located it in the only space available – the middle of the choir stalls. So, not only road and rail blockages this weekend, but also “the wrong kind of harpsichord” in the middle of the choir stalls to add an extra dimension to the procession.

Music List, Choral Evensong, St John & St Philip, The Hague:

  • Preces and Responses – Davies
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – Daniel Purcell
  • Anthem – Thou Knowest Lord – Henry Purcell

I’d like to be able to report at this point that my travel annoyances of the weekend were over, but sadly, on the way home from church in the evening I braked too hard as I came flying down the bridge, and bust a brake cable on the bike… a week of tram riding follows…

Bowdon Choir at Durham Cathedral

My second choir trip this summer was to Durham Cathedral, with the choir of St Mary the Virgin, Bowdon – my English choir, whom I still visit when I’m back at home.

Durham is a city which I have passed through a couple times, including for university interviews, but never really spent much time in. The city itself is small and welcoming, and we were lucky to be staying at one of the colleges (St Chad’s), which is located directly behind the cathedral. After the steep uphill walk we had in Bristol, I really enjoyed the convenience of being able to just nip up to the cathedral, especially when loaded with robes and music.

It was great fun being back with my friends from the old choir, singing both old favourites from my 11 years in the choir, as well as exercising my sight-reading skills on the newer pieces. All in all, we were over 40 people on the weekend, which caused some logistical problems in choir stalls designed for 24 people.

The only frustration for me at Durham is that, unlike most British cathedrals, photography is not allowed. The cathedral is an incredibly awe-inspiring building, with huge great pillars, and my fingers were really itching to get my camera out! Fortunately, we were able to take photos in a couple of areas, including the cloisters and the chapter house, where we robed up and which featured in the Harry Potter films as the transfiguration classroom.

European Cathedral Singers in Bristol

August is traditionally “choir camp” month, as choirs are given the opportunity to fill in for the many cathedral choirs during the summer vacation.

I spent the last week with the European Cathedral Singers (ECS), singing the services at Bristol Cathedral from Monday to Friday, and at the parish church of St Mary Redcliffe on the weekend. This is the only the second trip I’ve made with the ECS, and the first time I’ve joined for the full week.

As last year, it was both enjoyable but exhausting, as we sang 8 services in 7 days, with a lot of new (and in some cases, challenging) music. With the exception of one day off, we spent the best part of each day rehearsing, before singing evensong at 5.15. On Sunday we sang a total of 3 services, which kept us busy from 8.45am until 7.30pm.

Compared to some of the cathedrals in which I’ve sung, Bristol Cathedral is fairly small, and as such, less overrun with tourists and more welcoming than many.

One the other hand, St Mary Redcliffe is, on the scale of parish churches, really rather grand, but no less friendly for that. During the break in services I wandered in with my camera and was made very welcome by the sidemen on duty, who even made me a cup of tea!

One bonus of choir trips is the chance to visit parts of England that I would probably never venture to otherwise. This was my first visit to Bristol, and I had the feeling that there was plenty more to be seen, if I’d only had the time and energy!

Of course, since we were staying in Clifton, we couldn’t miss seeing the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Lit up at night, it was really quite a sight, although some of us were more impressed by it than others!

We were also lucky that our visit coincided with the attraction of the annual Balloon Festival, which was also based in Clifton. The balloons went up twice a day – at 6am and 6pm. Unfortunately, the one morning I managed to get up in time to go out and take photographs, the weather was changing and there were very few balloons and a lot of clouds.

Choral Festival

Every year the RSCM (Royal School of Church Music) in North West Europe organizes a Choral Festival for its associated choirs, which are based in The Netherlands, Belgium or Luxembourg. This year, it was the turn of my choir, from the church of St. John and St. Philip in the The Hague, to organize the festival, and I was a member of the festival committee, along with my two friends Fiona and Emmy.

The choral festival takes the form of a day’s rehearsal, culminating in a themed service at the end of the day. This year, the service was a Choral Evensong, in which all the music was linked to the RSCM, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary. We held the festival at the HH Petrus Paulus kerk, a Catholic church on the Vliet canal in Leidschendam, with Nigel Groome as our musical director for the day, and Christina Edelen playing the organ.

Organizing the festival involved a lot of work, including booking the church, choosing the hymns and psalms for the service and creating a lunch for 80+ people on the day of the festival. Fortunately, we had a great deal of support from the choir in providing the lunches, though I still found myself baking flapjacks and preparing salads in the middle of the night!

And of course, I shouldn’t forget the great pleasure of loading 90 chairs into a trailer, only to have to unload them and repeat the experience the following day, thanks to some rather inconsiderate people who insisted on having them, and then rather smugly told us they hadn’t bothered to use them after all.

After all the hard work, the festival itself was a great success, and appeared to be enjoyed by all the participants. We had representatives from the affiliated choirs of The Hague, Haarlem, Utrecht, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Brussels and Luxembourg, as well as some special visitors from Dusseldorf and Swindon.

As you can see, we made a very colourful procession from the church halls, through the the main shopping street of Leidschendam, past the Hoogvliet supermarket and the local pub and into the church, with each choir wearing its own robes.

The music we sang at the service:

  • Introit – Out of the stillness – Shepherd
  • Responses – Neary
  • Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – Nicholson
  • Anthem – Lord, thou hast been our refuge – Vaughn Williams
  • Extroit – Irish Blessing – Chilcott

Choral Evensong at the Bavokerk, Haarlem

Most people, after an overnight flight from the US back to Europe, would acknowledge defeat and head to bed for a few hours (or days…). Ever a sucker for punishment, however, I headed up to Haarlem in the afternoon to joined the choir of the English church in Haarlem for a special service of Choral Evensong at the Sint Bavokerk. The combination of jet lag, and a traditional Anglican 1662 with readings and prayers in Dutch, was somewhat surreal.

The Music List:

  • Introit – Bless o Lord, us Thy Servants – Harper
  • Preces & Responses – Nardone
  • Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis – Harwood in Ab
  • Anthem – Give us the wings of faith – Bullock
  • Extroit – Irish Blessing