The Remembrance Service in Antwerp is one that is held dear by the RBL Antwerp branch and the local community; the Ambassador was attending, and a group of WWII veterans were coming. As St Boniface in Antwerp is without a music director and organist (and so a choir is pretty well missing too), Graham Look was asked by Father Andrew if singers and a bugle player could be arranged. We sent an e-mail round, and a group of mainly ECS singers stepped up and sang at the service.
We had fewer singers than originally hoped as some had to drop out late on. It was still a decent choir, though the men’s voices were in the minority. Five sopranos and four alto’s can make a good sound. Some travelled quite a distance. Pam and Alan Carlisle came all the way from Luxembourg; they must have spent over five hours in the car on Sunday. Janet Hopper (The Hague) came as well, with husband Joe in the congregation. Sigrid de Wit drove in from Zeeland, Natasha Hadfield (who lives in Delft), travelled by rail, saw trains cancelled or delayed but managed to get there in time, keeping us in Antwerp informed of her progress. A few of the Antwerp regular choir members also joined.
Paul de Lusignan played the organ – or should I say battled with the instrument? It is encased in a dust excluding box (St Boniface is in the middle of extensive restoration work, and I mean extensive – http://www.boniface.be/). The box is efficient at keeping dust out; but this means that sound and light have some problem getting in to the organist, and visual contact with choir or conductor is almost nil. Thankfully Alan agreed to conduct. Even though with a small choir and basically just hymns it may not have been necessary in normal circumstances, under the current St Boniface settings it was essential. Alan really kept the choir together with the organ, no mean feat.
The service had been prepared by Father Andrew with just four hymns (including O valiant hearts and I vow to thee, my country, of course). We asked if an anthem could be added, which was granted. We chose the Peter Aston piece from the Choral Festival in Rotterdam this year, making it easier for those of us who had been to the Festival. As it is not a difficult piece it was picked up quickly by the others. After the reading out of the names of the fallen from Antwerp, from both World Wars, and the exhortation, Alan played the Last Post and the Reveille. He played it beautifully on a trumpet and the dry acoustics of the church enhanced the effect.
Although Patrick Hopper could in the end not come due to illness, he had made a four part arrangement of the Belgian national anthem, the Brabançonne, which I know for sure the altos were delighted with. Both national anthems went reasonably well (always the tricky bit at a Remembrance service, these once-a-year things).
Afterwards there was the usual RBL reception in the hall; quite a few uniforms. The choir was complimented by several members of the congregation, it makes you realise that the Remembrance Service means such a lot to some of the older members of the congregation. I’m sure that if you heard their stories, it would put a lot of our current gripes into perspective. And that making the effort to enhance the service (though unfortunately some pieces were better in rehearsal than in the service) was well worth it.