How many events will take place in Brussels on or around March 29th to mark, mock or mourn Brexit? Here’s one performance filled with hope.
Despite the impending threat of Brexit, The International Chorale of Brussels plans to sing in harmony on March 30th, in a concert of folk songs from around the EU and beyond, as suggested by the members of their choir. Expect to hear songs in Flemish, French, English, Welsh, Italian, German, Bulgarian, Spanish, Finnish, as well as in Icelandic, Hebrew, Swedish….
We used this opportunity to talk with ICB’s director John Brown to learn more about the upcoming concert and find out what makes this Brussels choir special!
How did the idea for a folksong concert come about, and how were the songs chosen?
I thought it would be good to involve the choir members in creating a concert, and it made sense to take advantage of the fact that we’re an international choir. I invited people to suggest songs from their home country, and then I made a selection of those which I thought we could learn, and which provided an interesting mixture of styles. Of course people were very enthusiastic, and they suggested lots of songs, so in the end I had to make some difficult choices to ensure we could involve as many of the different countries and languages as possible.
How many nationalities are there in the choir?
There are at least 16 different nationalities represented in the choir, and many more languages. It’s wonderful so have such a rich cultural resource to pick from.
What are some of the themes of the folksongs?
Although we have songs from so many different cultures it’s clear that folksongs tend to cover similar themes: love, death, nature, humour, the same ideas come back over and over again in different ways. It seems to be very natural for all nationalities to sing about such themes, it must be a natural human reaction to such basic and important ideas.
What are the challenges and joys of learning so many pieces of music in so many different languages?
Many people in the choir speak several languages but we’re really pushing everyone to their limits in tackling some unusual and difficult languages. Luckily we of course have native speakers who can help with pronunciation, but it’s still difficult to have to learn songs when you don’t understand the words that you’re singing. I try to make sure everyone understands the theme of the song, which helps to decide the appropriate style. But strangely singing can help to get the rhythm of a language, and it’s interesting how the differences, such as hard or soft consonants, long and short vowels, affect how you sing.
Is the date of the concert — March 30th, the day after the UK is set to leave the EU — significant?
I try to pick concert dates to fit around public holidays, to ensure we have enough time to rehearse, and to give us a chance of getting a good audience. Coincidentally we will be singing a concert which emphasises our different nationalities and cultural heritages at a time of significant change within Europe. It is a coincidence, but for me it makes it all the more important to demonstrate the similarities between people from different backgrounds, and how we can work together to create something bigger than our individual voices.
What’s so special about singing together in a choir?
I get a real buzz from directing the choir, and I hope everyone feels the same excitement about singing together in a group. In a choir you feel supported by the people around you, so if you’re a little unsure about some of the music you know that you’re a part of a larger group. On the other hand, when the singers know the music well, the feeling of all pulling together to create a special and emotional event is thrilling.
Members of the choir include a former MEP, translators, interpreters, and all manner of EU folk, as well as others from around Europe and the globe.
This promises to be an uplifting concert that will also feature the Brussels-based folk group, Bothan. Concert details on the poster, below.
Do you love to sing? For information on how you can join the choir, and for concert details, check the ICB’s website.
Listen to recordings of some of the folk songs from the programme here: