7th - 15th August
Exhausting but truly uplifting is how I would describe the choir tour of France and Belgium in early August. The two glitches for me were the daily delays and not receiving full communion to give me strength for the week.
The camaraderie was warm and loving and some people had the patience of saints (impatience is my greatest fault but I am working on it!) Now we already know that our choir sound great in St. Peter’s Church but to hear them in the wonderful acoustics of the Cathedrals was “out of this world”. The choir sang their socks off (especially Trevor Davy’s red socks, which ‘quavered’ to the notes!)
We “groupies” or camp followers who accompanied them were treated to such virtuoso performances that I am still living on a high from the wondrous sounds which emanated from the organs “in the gods” and the choir stalls on the ground. Philip, Mike and Peter gave immaculate performances from on high, and I just don’t have the words to describe the feelings of joy we all felt after each service.
The Menin Gate service was especially poignant and Christopher’s solo from the organ loft in Ypres Cathedral brought tears to my eyes.
My sincere thanks to the choir and organists for music truly given to the praise of God and also to Andrew and all who helped to organise such a memorable tour.
On Saturday 7th August we all stood outside St. Peter’s Church from about 7.30 am, the coach was due to leave at around 7.45am. We waited and waited. Had the coach been booked? It eventually turned up and we departed an hour late! We were on our way - Chrissie had got up early just to wave us off. Mike, Peter and Philip went in Mike’s car, so they could check out Cambrai Cathedral for the services on Sunday.
Our ferry was due to sail at 2.30pm and we missed it, even though our wonderful coach driver, Alan, went down the A1 instead of the M1 because of road works. We sailed on the 3.15pm ferry, “The Pride of Calais”. The crossing was very calm, at one point we could see both England and France. No news at this point of Mike, Peter and Philip – last reported stuck on the M1!
We arrived at Calais and left the port for our hotel in Cambrai. We arrived at the hotel and Mike Peter and Philip were already there.(They used the tunnel). After a delicious evening meal and a few drinks, we went to bed.
On Sunday 8th August we left the hotel after breakfast and headed for Cambrai Cathedral where the choir were to sing mass. They sang the Palestrina – it sounded wonderful. After Mass we had free time in Cambrai before Choral Evensong. We had lunch and took in some of the wonderful sights of Cambrai. Then it was back to the Cathedral for Evensong after which refreshments were provided by our friendly and welcoming hosts.
All aboard the coach again, this time we were going to the Gite "la Ferme des Trois Tilleuls" which was to be our home for the next week. The Gite was wonderful and our host, Madame Mazy, was very warm and welcoming. We found our rooms which were very comfortable, after unpacking and freshening up it was time for our evening meal which was delicious. (Vegetarians are not very well catered for in France). The Gite was also a farm and most of the things we ate were produced on the farm. We could hear the chickens and geese and the cockerel seemed to crow all the time.
After a late night, we went to Parc Paradisio on Monday 9th August. This was a large park with 2500 exotic birds in large enclosures which you could walk through. There was also an aquarian centre with a large variety of fish, even sharks. The day was really hot. The children had a great time on the adventure playground. I use the term children lightly, as all ages had a go on something. Ask Sue about the rope bridge! On the way back to the Gite, we stopped at a supermarket for vital supplies of the liquid variety – water as well.
On Tuesday 10th, we went to the Vimy Ridge Memorial Site. The monument is enormous and is covered in the names of Canadian soldiers killed there in World War1. There were trenches, which you could walk round and try to understand the horrors of trench warfare. It was raining which made the conditions worse. We went on a guided tour of the network of tunnels under the trenches, which was fascinating. We learnt how the supplies and troops were taken to the front line.
We ate a packed lunch on the coach and made our way to Ypres. The choir sang Evensong in St. George’s Memorial Church and again they sounded wonderful. St. George’s Church was full of plaques to regiments of the British Army, including one for the Sherwood Foresters. After refreshments in the Church Hall (which has a bar), we walked to the Menin Gate for the Last Post ceremony. The gate is situated on the city wall and contains the names of 55,000 soldiers who have no known grave. The Last Post ceremony is performed every evening at 8pm and has been since the gate was built in 1927, apart from during World War 2. There were 3 buglers from the local fire service, one of whom had been doing this for 50 years. The choir sang 2 hymns, “O God Our Help In Ages Past” and “Abide With Me”, as well as the British and Belgian National Anthems. It was an honour to attend this service and it brought tears to our eyes. After the service, we walked to a local restaurant. The choir, still in cassocks, were “mobbed” by members of the public on the way to the restaurant. After another delicious meal and more liquid refreshment, we headed back to the Gite, arriving at about half past midnight.
After our late night on Tuesday some of us managed to get up and be ready for an early morning walk. We left at 6am and walked to Madam Mazy's main farm, where work was well under way. Two and half-hours later we arrived back in time for breakfast, then it was time for a tour of the farm based at the gîte. We saw the workings of the farm and fed some of the animals. We saw the cockerel responsible for all the noise. (How can something that size make all that noise!). Madam Mazy showed us a small shed where the meat was cured (the smoke room). Upon the door opening David's comment was "You can come out now Liz".
The day was spent on or around the gîte as Alan had the day off. Most deservedly! In the evening we were treated to wonderful entertainment by choir members. Wilfred's impression of Philip in a sketch with Adele, Isabel, Allison and Joanne was really funny.
Thursday 12th August and back to the serious side of the tour. The choir performed an excellent concert in Laon Cathedral, prior to which we had lunch in a delightful restaurant opposite the Cathedral. On Friday we had a day in Bruges, Sue stayed behind to do a tour of the city by bus. Headphones were provided for a commentary, Alison, Joanne and Wilfred found it so interesting they all fell asleep! Bruges is a wonderful city to visit and there was too much to see in one day. Another delicious meal and more entertainment followed in the evening.
Saturday and it was back to Ypres, this time for mass at the Cathedral. We now had more time to explore this wonderful city and eat more Belgian chocolate. At mass the choir were again excellent. During the service we put our donation in the collection plate so we were surprised when a gentleman waved a box at us, he looked rather annoyed and pointed to a sign on the box saying "20 cents". We told him we had already put some money in the other plate. He went away looking none to pleased. After the service we discovered you were supposed to pay 20 cents for your chair!
That evening after our meal we said “thank you” to all the people who had made the tour possible. We had to be packed and ready for 8am the next morning, which we were although some of us hadn't got to bed till after 2am! But on Sunday morning the coach was loaded and we were ready to leave for mass at Ypres cathedral, this time we had our 20 cents ready. After mass, which again was wonderfully sung by the choir, we had refreshments provided by the cathedral.
We were on our way home. The ferry crossing was again calm although this time it was cloudy and misty. Back in Dover and straight through customs, we headed for Nottingham our estimated time of arrival was 9.30pm we got here at 9.40pm (Well done Alan!)
This was an excellent tour and we thoroughly enjoyed it all. The music was excellent (as always). We saw some wonderful sights in France and Belgium. Although Alison, Joanne and Isabel preferred the skateboards outside Cambrai Cathedral.
We would like to thank everyone involved for making this a memorable holiday for us.
What really happened...
As Head Chorister, I have been asked to give some inside information on what really went on in France!
Our tour to France and Belgium was a fantastic experience, especially for the younger members of the choir, such as myself. As well as having the opportunity to sing in buildings that really gave the choristers a chance to ‘show off’ their musicianship, we were also humbled by occasions such as our contribution to the service at the Menin Gate. However, there was much more to our week away than long rehearsals and serious performances!
The gite which was our home for the week was a charming family run business. It had few faults (except a certain broken lock, which meant that I got stuck in the shower on our first night) and Madame Mazy treated us all like friends. Many animals surrounded us, including very loud cockerels and a horse that thought he was on the set of ‘The Great Escape’…
On several evenings, we had to entertain ourselves, and for some of us, this entailed learning how to play cards. However we were rumbled, and the Rector was suitably horrified by our newly formed “den of iniquity”. He soon forgave us however, when he realised that it was not the choir funds but Monopoly money that we were gambling with!
On Wednesday evening, we held a talent night, and many people contributed. Isobel and I performed a version of the ‘Cats Duet’ by Rossini, and later took part in a short sketch, which told the story of our musical director and a certain French waitress…
During the final evening at the gite, all of the members of the committee and our wonderful organists were presented with a small gift to show the huge appreciation of the whole party. Thanks must go to Ian and Helen for this, who almost killed themselves trying to find suitable presents for everyone. Gifts were also given to Madame Mazy and Alan (our coach driver), without whom the trip wouldn’t have been possible.
The tour was an incredible experience for all of us, and there are many other stories that could be told! I would personally like to thank the committee for their organisation, and Philip, Peter and Mike for making it such a great musical success. I hope that there will be many other opportunities, like this one, for our choir in the future.
If you have a broadband connection you can view a series of photographs taken during the Cambrai tour, assembled by Peter Siepmann.
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Choral Mass & Evensong at Cambrai - 8th August 2004
Recorded at Cambrai cathedral, directed by Philip Collin
Concert at Laon cathedral - 12th August 2004
Recorded at Laon cathedral, directed by Philip Collin