Category Archives: choir tour

Vezelay works its magic.

Vezelay is a very special place for many people. The little town on the top of the hill and the 11th century Basilica have been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries, and Vezelay is now recognised as a world heritage site. The views of the countryside from the hilltop are breathtaking.

Patrick Larley, our Music Director, and his wife Gill love Vezelay so much that they have visited here 27 years in a row. The Basilica is full of music: the spiritual community of monks and nuns sing services here every day, and many prestigious choirs visit here. Would we be able to attract the same audience as these professional singers, especially as our concert time was 9pm? There had been other concerts at 4pm and 5pm, and the day visitors had long gone.

No matter! Part of the joy of choir tours is singing in wonderful places, and we would treasure this experience, even if the audience was small. We knew that it would include Tom, a former member of BFCS who moved away from Birmingham about 13 years ago. Tom has adopted the lovely idea of booking European weekend breaks around our tours,and has attended our concerts in Slovenia, Estonia, Slovakia, Dublin, and now Vezelay.

We also knew that some other special visitors were taking a 3 hour drive from the South of Burgundy to be with us. These were the family of Sylvie Dattas, one of our second sopranos.

Sylvie is French, but has lived in England for many years. At each of our tour concerts, Sylvie has introduced the Kyrie and Mass written by her late father, Jean Dattas, in 1951 while he was organist at Notre Dame in Paris. Patrick Larley has transcribed the music from the original manuscripts, and our performances of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei on this tour are the first time this beautiful music has been heard in concert.

Before the concert, many BFCS singers wearing tour poloshirts were handing out leaflets in the town, and we had seen many posters in shop windows.

It all paid off, as at 9pm the Basilica was filled with 300+ people! We heard of people who had come to our concert in Sens, and had driven for 90 mins to hear us again in Vezelay. With such a wonderful audience, how could we fail to sing our very best? We included the Benedictus in the Schubert Mass this time, which has a beautiful part for soprano soloist  (Sarah-Ann Cromwell) supported by tenor (Mitch Holland) and bass (Patrick Larley). Kevin Gill also did a dazzling rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Here is a video recording of ‘God be in my Head’ by Marilyn Kent:

We had prepared a very special encore for this special place: a setting of the Lord’s Prayer  (Notre Pere) that Patrick had originally heard sung by the monastic community here at Vezelay. Many people found this very moving.

However, that was not enough for this audience! They slow hand clapped until we sang again – the full Hallelujah Chorus! Roger Millot, our French tour coordinator, appeared with a bouquet for Sarah-Ann and individual roses for the sopranos and altos in the front row. Still they clapped, so we made a quick decision to sing Chilcott’s version of the Londonderry Air. Some wanted a fourth encore! Many people came up to thank us – I was told by one French gentleman that we made him feel the music in his heart.

It was the most wonderful experience. As we left the Basilica it looked beautiful in the warm light. People have been singing here for 1100 years, and we can now add ourselves to that number. 

Songs in Sens

Saturday in St Julien du Sault was such a wonderful experience that our only fear was that the rest of the tour would be an anticlimax. Not so!

All BFCS tours have something unusual that singers talk about for years. For this tour, it will be the time we sang the Hallelujah Chorus in the square outside Sens Cathedral! This started with one singer, followed by everyone else joining in from all over the square, and coming together in an informal crowd. The sound bounced off the walls of the cathedral, enabling us to hear all the parts and sing with conviction! The customers in the restaurants couldn’t fail to know that our concert was coming!

The Cathedral was huge, so we were fully reconciled to the fact that we would probably only have a small audience. Imagine our amazement when we came out to find it was full! We estimated that there were at least 300 there. The warmth and enthusiasm of the audience inspired us to give our very best performance! 

Special memories of the day in Sens:

  • Two little children starting to dance when we reached the swirly part of Parry’s ‘My soul there is a country’.
  • A young lady walking the entire length of the church to the front row, as there were no other spare seats.
  • Kevin Gill’s performance on the huge organ, filling the cathedral with sound. 
  • Sarah-Ann Cromwell’s performance – managing to blend comedy with serious singing  (experience gained in the London Quartet, no doubt! )
  • The man in the front seat who lept to his feet to applaud every time we finished a piece (and sometimes before!)
  • The coach drivers getting trapped  in the tiny streets and having to go the wrong way down a one way street to get out! 

We have a day off from singing on Monday, then concerts in Vezelay Tuesday and Auxerre Wednesday. More blogs to follow.

Wonderful reception in St Julien du Sault.

Singing at the St Julien du Sault Festival had been one of the aims of our tour, ever since we had made contact with Les Fontenottes, the choir in the town.

The village seemed very small and quiet, but we were amazed at the size of the beautiful church of St Pierre!

It was wonderful to see that large church full for our concert! We sang a range of sacred music, French music, and arrangements of folk songs from home. 

Sarah Ann Cromwell dazzled with Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and Alleluja, and Patrick Larley improvised on the rare renaissance organ in the church. Kevin Gill was versatile as ever, playing organ/piano, or conducting as required.

Members of the audience instantly rose to their feet as we finished, and soon they were slow handclapping for more! (French audiences don’t say ‘Encore’!). They were rewarded with the full blast of the Hallelujah Chorus!

From the moment we arrived, to the wonderful reception at the Fontenotte School after the concert, we were treated to wonderful French hospitality and friendship.

We presented a cheque to the Special School, from money raised at the ‘Taste of Vienna’ concert in Birmingham.

Travelling and arriving 

Friday was a long day of travelling. The coach journey from Birmingham to Dover  started in style with a Bucks Fizz breakfast provided by our tour committee!

We reached Dover in plenty of time and were pleased to be able to stretch our legs on the ferry and watch the white cliffs of Dover as we left. The journey was just long enough to get some lunch before we were arrived in Calais.

As our coach left the port, we saw reminders of conflicts past and present: the barbed wire topped fences along the road and the associated ‘Calais Jungle’ shanty town, then road signs pointing to towns and villages involved in the World Wars.

After many hours on the coach, we eventually arrived at our hotel near Auxerre, and many tired singers made their way to bed.

Up bright and early on Saturday morning for breakfast and a rehearsal for the concert in St Julien du Sault tonight. It’s all go!

Final preparations for departure tomorrow!

The last tour rehearsal took place last night, so all that’s left is the packing. We set off for Burgundy early tomorrow morning, and will be travelling all day. Then, it’s straight down to business, with a concert on Saturday evening! 

Here are the details of our concerts and programme, for those who would like to follow the tour in detail:

Choir tour: preparing the music for first class concerts on tour. 

We depart for our Burgundy choir tour on Friday! We hope that you will enjoy following our tour blog.

The most important part of the tour is the singing, so today we met at Moorpool Hall, Harborne for a 6 hour rehearsal.

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We performed  Schubert’s Mass in G and Mozart’s Ave Verum recently, but some other pieces from the past needed brushing up.

The tour music includes many choir favourites: Finzi’s My Spirit sang all day, MacMillan’s O Radiant Dawn, and John Blow’s Salvator Mundi, to name just three. A tour to France has to include some French works, so we are singing Cantique de Jean Racine by Faure and Messe ‘Cum Jubilo’ by Jean Dattas, former organist at Notre Dame in Paris and father of one of our second sopranos, Sylvie. We’ll tell you about the other music as the tour progresses!

Singers enjoying the sunshine during a break in rehearsal.