Singing week in a Ghent monastery, 2023

Update (25/09/22)

  • The monastery is booked!
  • We are also full, except for a couple of basses who have not yet confirmed:
    • 4 sopranos.
    • 4 altos.
    • 4 tenors.
    • 3 basses (+2 more interested).
  • Balance of payments will be due in the spring — I’ll be in touch.
  • If you’re travelling, book your travel now (or soon). Eurostar tickets are already available for daytime of 25 July 2023 and they are cheap as chips!

Here’s the plan: A small group of singing friends spends 5 days in a 17th-century Carmelite monastery, exploring interesting and unusual parts of (a) the historical Anglican repertoire, (b) the Flemish Renaissance repertoire, (c) the Belgian beer repertoire.

This isn’t a commercial trip. My idea is just to gather a group of like-minded singers who can share the modest costs and enjoy each other’s company. Recruitment is only by word of mouth, aiming for a balanced ensemble and compatible levels of interest and experience.

Dates

Evening of Tuesday 25 July, until lunchtime on Sunday 30 July 2023.

Venue

Simple bed and breakfast accommodation in the Carmelite monastery.

If you live nearby, or want to camp or something crazy, you’re welcome to skip the accommodation and join us after breakfast each morning.

Budget

For 5 nights’ accommodation:

  • Single room 440€ (deposit 50€ or £43.50)
  • Sharing a double or twin room 340€ (per person) (deposit 50€ or £37.25)
  • Without accommodation 60€

This is based 5 nights’ B&B at 76/56/46 for single/double occupancy, and then a share of rehearsal costs: total 4×199 for the room, 100 for music.

Like I said, it’s not commercial, so nobody is making any money out of this. It compares very favourably to hotels in central Ghent in high season, but of course you aren’t staying in a hotel.

Then you have to factor in travel, which you’ll arrange yourself. Eurostar is currently 64€ each way for our dates, but prices will go up in the spring. Flights from London or the north of England to Brussels or Schiphol are also possible. Don’t fly to Charleroi.

Pocket money: the cost of food and drink in Belgium works out about the same as the UK, and train fares within the country are very significantly cheaper.

Daily schedule

  • Mornings: Singing workshops in the monastery.
  • Lunch and afternoons: Free time to explore Ghent, take the train to other historic cities (Bruges 22 minutes, Antwerp 56 minutes), or just relax in the monastery gardens.
  • Evenings:
    • Sometimes contributing music to the monks’ worship.
    • Sometimes singing for the small Anglican congregation nearby, in the gorgeous beguinage.
    • Sometimes free time.

Music

I haven’t planned this in detail yet, but here are my basic ideas:

  • I’d like to explore lesser-known music, both Flemish and Anglican (yep, I am using both these words pretty vaguely for now!).
  • We will go back as far as medieval, dwell on the Renaissance, and let’s see how close we get to modern day.
  • I imagine it will all be unaccompanied.
  • The aim will be discover the music together, rather than to do public performances — though there will also be one or two low-key “performance moments”, as the Flems say.
  • Some (but not all) will be quite challenging; some (but not all) will be one to a part. I’m sure there will also be space for some better-known classics.
  • I will lead the workshops but perhaps also sing. Let’s see.
  • We may sing the older stuff from facsimiles of original manuscript and suchlike, just for fun.
  • Plenty of opportunity for self-organised music-making around the edges (sackbuts discouraged).

Sight-reading

How much sight-reading will be involved? Easy question, complicated answer.

Firstly, the aim is not to rehearse and then perform, but more to sing and work on the repertoire together for our own pleasure. Any small performances (eg for the monks) will be incidental. So there is no target standard of performance we need to reach, and hence we don’t all need to start at exactly the same point on day 1.

But the other way to look at it is that a lot of people there will be fairly good sight-singers, so if someone is lagging, they might feel a bit self-conscious. That is really an individual preference and it can be offset by preparation. Non-sight-readers can prepare to their hearts’ content, of course. But then they will not get quite the same pleasure of ‘discovery’ en ensemble. I also plan to work from original notation a bit, which could make private preparation challenging for some pieces.

So. If you are confident to sight-read, then great. If you would like to prepare thoroughly, then also great, but then you may sacrifice some of the joy of discovery. And if you want to turn up unprepared and can’t sight-read at all, then you will probably feel a bit self-conscious, but you still won’t torpedo anything.