Tour to Brussels: 12th-15th July 2012

Thursday 12th July

9am, Thursday 12th July: the party assembles at St Pancras Station full of excitement at the tour to come.  We consisted of eleven choristers, each bringing a parent with them, five choral scholars, two organ scholars and the chaplain.  One Eurostar journey later, we had been very efficiently transported to Brussels and we were soon checking into our hotel: the excellent Radisson Blu, located next to the European Union.  Time to explore the city centre!  A leisurely walk took us to the Grand Place, via the Royal Palace and the museum quarter.  The boys quickly took off on a tour around the city, enjoying the continental character of the cobbled streets and historic buildings.  We met for dinner at Chez Leon to exchange stories of where the afternoon had taken us and also to look forward to three days of intense music-making and enjoying the delights of Brussels.  It was also the first opportunity to meet our hosts in Brussels: former college and choir member Alison Bell who had arranged the tour and David Mitchell, precentor of Holy Trinity Church where we would be singing.

Friday 13th July

The Atomium

The day began with a visit to the Atomium.  This incredible structure was built in 1958 for the Great Exhibition and consists of a series of rooms connected by staircases and lift-shafts.  It now houses a selection of exhibitions: one tells the story of this remarkable building and of the exhibition that it originally housed.  The other, temporary, exhibitions took the theme of sustainability and consisted of a variety of interactive exhibits demonstrating the need for sustainable energy solutions in the years to come.  On our way to these exhibitions we all enjoyed a trip in a lift to a high vantage point at the top of the building, where we could see a bird’s-eye view of Brussels.

The afternoon took us back to the centre of Brussels and to the Holy Trinity Church (the Anglican church and pro-Cathedral in Brussels).  This was the venue for our first musical commitment, a concert of sacred music which took place that evening.  We spent the afternoon rehearsing, and it was an excellent chance for the choir to re-find their voice after a couple of weeks’ rest following the end of college term!  The organ scholars also had the opportunity to get to know the church’s organ, a charming chamber organ that accompanied the choral repertoire and also delivered some solos of its own.  Following dinner (the choristers discovering the virtues of ‘Quick’!) it was time for the performance.  The audience was large and appreciative and we all enjoyed the opportunity to perform in this excellent venue where we received such a warm welcome.  The programme consisted of music that we had enjoyed learning and singing during the academic year and it was now a great opportunity to perform them in the context of a concert.  The concert was followed by a reception generously hosted by the clergy and congregation of Holy Trinity Church, for which we were most grateful.

Saturday 14th July

The main organ of Brussels Cathedral
The main organ of Brussels Cathedral

Our performance venue today was the Catholic Cathedral: in the afternoon the full choir sang Choral Evensong before the choral scholars sang for the Parish Mass that followed.

We spent our morning rehearsing in the cathedral, enjoying singing in the huge space.  We were singing in the chancel of the cathedral, which – with the aid of chairs – we had turned into something resembling an Anglican Cathedral’s Quire.  Accompaniment came from the cathedral’s chamber organ (played masterfully by Mr Turner) and our location meant that while the service itself would be very intimate for those attending, the sound of the choir would also project around the entire building so that the many tourists would be able to hear us.

Following a lunchtime break, during which many boys and parents enjoyed exploring Brussels’ acclaimed musical instrument museum, the party returned to the Cathedral to sing Choral Evensong.  We offered music that was a staple part of our service repertoire in the college chapel (Stanford canticles and an anthem by Charles Wood) as we demonstrated the Anglican service of Choral Evensong within this Catholic building.  Readings, prayers and the cantoring of the responses came from adult members of the choir.  The service was greatly enjoyed by those who attended it and also by all those who heard snatches whilst looking around the cathedral.

Following this service, the boys and their parents departed to enjoy further leisure time in the city.  The choral and organ scholars remained to provide liturgical music for the Cathedral’s Parish Mass, a very well attended service.  It was a tremendous privilege to play a part in the cathedral’s regular pattern of services and experience their mass.

Sunday 15th July

The parents gather at Holy Trinity Church
The parents gather at Holy Trinity Church

Our final musical commitment was to sing for the Eucharist at Holy Trinity Church, where we were once again welcomed extremely warmly.  Unlike the Mass the previous day, this service was entirely in English and in a format that we were used to, so it was easy for the boys (and choral scholars!) to follow and join in with.  In addition to singing movements from Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices and two motets, we joined the congregation in singing hymns.  Once the service had concluded and we had met members of the congregation over a cup of coffee, it was time for our own final lunch, generously laid on by the church.

It was time to sadly bid farewell to Brussels and take the Eurostar back to Britain.  We left with many fond memories of excellent musical opportunities, great times of socialising for boys and adults alike, and the very generous welcome that we received from all those we encountered in Brussels.  Our thanks go to Alison Bell, a former member of Worcester Chapel Choir and an invaluable source of knowledge and contacts who welcomed us so warmly, and David Mitchell, who was such a helpful contact at Holy Trinity Church.  We must also extend our thanks to Jonathan Arnold (Chaplain) and Edward Turner (Senior Organ Scholar) who put in a tremendous amount of administrative work.

Nicholas Freestone