2015 A tour of France and Spain
2012 A tour of the Netherlands, Belgium and France
2011 A tour of the Okanagan
2009 A tour of the Netherlands, Austria and Italy
South from Austria lies Italy and our next destination must be a highlight for any European trip: Venice. The island city remains a uniquely powerful symbol of Renaissance culture and magnificence. The canals and the local boat-buses (vaporetti) provide transportation to the jewel of the Adriatic and the rich array of museums and churches are a reminder to all of the power and enduring culture of northern Italy. After a day and a half of sightseeing we buckled down to work and performed in the Venetian suburb of Mira. From Venice we traveled southwest to Volterra in Tuscany where we were enchanted by the spell of the local Etruscan Museum, and were able to visit Florence, Sienna, and other sites. Our concert in Volterra was a resounding success, and we enjoyed seeing posters around town advertising our presence.
Finally, we arrived in Rome, and while some made a beeline to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, all were astonished to find that our hotel was in an enormous building half of which contained an active monastery! With a day of sightseeing available, we scattered to the seven hills and met to perform in central Rome at the San Bartolomeo and Alessandro Church. The final evening at dinner was spent in a wonderful impromptu review by members of the company including creative readings, haikus recounting an uproarious characterization of our daily progress, and the general singing by the company of our favourites from our now memorized repertoire. It was a warm and bittersweet evening as we all felt the end of tour was upon us. But happily, we were invited to the quarters of two of our choristers who, for no good reason at all, had a sumptuous room that was large enough to encompass the entire group! General singing and farewells to departing colleagues in the exceptional space brought closure to the final day on tour.
2007 A tour of the Netherlands and Germany
2005 A tour of the Netherlands
Thirty-five choir members and several accompanying spouses made the journey. Each day we climbed on our bus, complete with Canadian flag in the back, and travelled to our destination from our base at the Kontakt der Kontinenten. The KdK is an international conference centre in Soesterberg, a village about an hour east of Amsterdam near Amersfoort (an 11th-century walled city that was strategic during the war–and many wars before).
During the tour, we sang in eight venues across the Netherlands, from 12th-century churches to an outdoor fair and an impromptu appearance at an anniversary party, going as far north as Friesland. We were warmly welcomed wherever we went. We heard stories from veterans and survivors of the war, recounting their gratitude to Canada for its part in liberating a country that had been under occupation for five years and whose citizens had endured much hardship.
The theme for our tour was peace and reconciliation, and the musical repertoire reflected this, including a haunting version of In Flanders Fields, arranged by Vancouver composer Stephen Chatman, In Remembrance by Toronto composer Eleanor Daley, and The Greatest Gift of All, an upbeat version of 1 Corinthians 13 by Vancouver’s Rupert Lang.
Led by our soprano soloists Andi and Evelyn, we began each concert by processing up the centre aisle, singing Down in the River to Pray, an Alison Krauss piece made famous in the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou. At the end, we walked back down the aisles and sang an Old Irish Blessing to the audience. Every time it was a very emotional experience, both for us as singers and for our appreciative audience. All those standing ovations were so wonderful!
Between concerts we were also fortunate to be able to visit some beautiful places, including the lush and lovely Keukenhof Gardens not far from Amsterdam, and a cheese factory and windmill tour at Zaanse Schans, where a local shopkeeper showed us his 400-year old home decorated with Delft tiles.
On our way to our first concert, in a 12th-century church in Rolde, we stopped at Giethoorn, also known as Netherlands’ Venice of the North. On another journey, we spent several hours at a huge wild park called Hoge Veluwe, home to wildlife, a castle, an underground museum–and an impressive collection of Van Gogh paintings. It was big enough to get lost, and some of us did. But we left in time to perform that evening with a men’s choir in the Wallburg Church in Zutphen. It was freezing cold, but the 10-second reverberation was incredible.
We were very fortunate to have an afternoon in Delft, home of the painter Vermeer, most famous for the Girl with the Pearl Earring. None of Vermeer’s paintings are in Delft, but it is a town steeped in history. We climbed the 300 steps to the top of the “new” church (dating from the 15th century) and had a panoramic view of the region, with Rotterdam and The Hague in the distance, and then toured the Royal Delft tile factory, a great place to shop for gifts!
On another day off from singing, we boarded the bus for a day in Amsterdam. Many tour members enjoyed the Rijksmuseum, canal tours and checking out the red light district. A few of us opted for a 45-minute train trip to Den Haag (The Hague) for a whirlwind tour of the Mauritshuis museum, a beautiful building which houses four Vermeers (including the luminous View of Delft and the Girl with the Pearl Earring and) and an impressive collection of Rembrandts.
A few personal highlights from our performances:
- Walking from the KdK to the church in Soesterberg and performing with a local ensemble, A Chorus Line, followed by a fabulous reception back at the KdK
- Travelling to Oldeberkoop, where we were treated to lunch and a tour of the town before singing at the local fair, then a delicious supper before our full evening performance in the beautiful church–and a reception afterward. I even got to shop for china at a garage sale!
- Having Wybe Kooijmans, one of the Netherands’ foremost organists, accompany us on Ralph Vaughan Williams’ O How Amiable are thy Dwellings at Laren.
- Singing at a service in the Protestant Church in Terwolde on Pentecost. The hymns were familiar, but in Dutch.
Our final concert was in Wijk bei Duurstede on the Rhine, where we toured the windmill and 13th-century fortress before performing at the church with the vocal ensemble Face to Face, and then headed back for a wonderful wrap-up party at the KDK, complete with hilarious skits–and music!
Everywhere we went, we were presented with gifts to remember our visit. But the greatest gift for me was the experience itself of singing in magnificent settings to warm audiences–to commemorate such a significant historical event for Canadians and Dutch people alike.
Written by Rosemary Gretton