Singing week in a Ghent monastery, 2024

6–11 August 2024

A small group of friends meets in a working Carmelite monastery in Ghent to explore interesting music and drink interesting beer.

As the deeply conservative music of the Spanish Renaissance, with its subtle Mozarabic influences, gave way gradually to a curiously localised and often archaic Baroque, something quite different was happening in Spanish colonies in Latin America. There, traditional local rhythms and instruments fused with both sacred and secular European imports to create an entirely distinctive sound, often startlingly unchained from the severe orthodoxy of Spain and Portugal. In our course, we will trace the parallel evolution of these two tracks, from the earliest era of trans-Atlantic fertilisation right up to the present day. 

Update (09/04/24)

  • Provisional music list below!
  • This is not a final list. Some pieces may disappear and some may be added. I’ll let you know when a final list is available, with scores too.

medieval and Renaissance Spain

  • Mozarabic chant and Islamic influences
  • Palestrina: Pange lingua II
  • Victoria: Pange lingua more hispano
  • Morales: Agnus dei
  • Anonymous: E la don don
  • Guerrero: A un niño llorando al yelo
  • Guerrero: Qué ben año
  • Barsanti: Ne reminiscaris domine

Renaissance and Baroque Latin America

  • Anonymous: Hanacpachap cussicuinin
  • Torrejón y Velasco: A esta sol peregrino
  • García de Zéspedes: Convidando esta la noche
  • de Araujo: Los conflades de la estleya

The Spanish Netherlands

  • de La Hèle: Asperges me, domine
  • something else

The Sephardic exodus

  • something

Contemporary Latin America

  • Guastavino: Se equivocó la paloma
  • Estevez: Mata del anima sola
  • Escalada: Tangueando
  • Piazzolla / Swingle: Libertango

to show off to each other

  • Upper voices: Villa-Lobos: As costureiras
  • Lower voices: Di Marino: Tango trentino

Dates and schedule

The course runs from Tuesday 6 August to Sunday 11 August 2024.

Arrive anytime you like on the Tuesday, up to and including late evening. On Sunday, we finish at lunchtime so you can take afternoon trains/flights home.

Broadly speaking, we will sing every morning, finishing at lunchtime. This is our main, focused rehearsal time. Lunch and afternoons are free time. Some evenings will also be free, while others will involve more singing. Details to follow.

Availability and booking

Places are limited to 16 (8 upper voices, 8 lower voices). The course is open by invitation to last year’s participants, and invited friends of friends only. If you would like to invite someone, that’s great, but please check with Toby first.


The course is based at the Carmelite monastery in central Ghent. Our accommodation is in simple guest rooms in the monastery itself, and includes breakfast every day.

You can also arrange your own accommodation elsewhere in the city if you prefer. Or, if you live locally, you can stay at home and travel in every morning.


The course is run on a not-for-profit basis (nobody takes a fee), which makes it very competitively priced! You have three options:

  • Single monastery room B&B: 551,50€ or £483.50
  • Half of a double or twin monastery room B&B: 411,50€ or £361 (each)
  • Arrange your own accommodation: 69€ or £60.50

The prices above include a 1/16th share of the general costs (hire of the rehearsal facilities and printing of music).

A 10% deposit by 31 December 2023 secures your place. This deposit is not refundable in 2024. The balance is then due by 15 June 2024.


  • Arriving by Eurostar: Take the train from London to Brussels (2 hours). Tickets are already available and are good value when booked in advance. When you arrive at Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid, take a direct train to Gent-Sint-Pieters/Gand-St-Pierre (28 mins).
  • Arriving by air: Fly to Brussels airport (aka Brussels Zaventem) or to Schiphol in the Netherlands, then look for trains to Gent-Sint-Pieters/Gand-St-Pierre, probably changing in Brussels centre. Don’t fly to Charleroi.

When you arrive at the station in Ghent, take tram 1 from near the station towards Evergem. Pay on board with a contactless credit or debit card. You can ride for 15 minutes to Burgstraat and then walk for 1 minute to the monastery, or get off 3 stops earlier at Korenmarkt and take a leisurely 10-minute walk through the historic centre of Ghent.

These notes were written for the 2023 course. Most of them won’t change for 2024, but some more might be added!

Isn’t there way too much music?

Don’t panic: we will not spend equal time on everything. Some pieces will be the serious focus of our workshops, while others will be passing attractions.

Which part should I sing?

The idea of a standard SATB choir, with two female and two male parts, was only really established in the 18th century. Before that, music was written for all kinds of assortments of voices, depending on the composer’s preferences and the context of performance. That’s why we have stuff in three, four, five, six and seven parts.

To make matters more complicated, some of the music on our list would originally have been sung by men only (with or without counter-tenors), and some parts might have been intended for instruments. Some music was designed to be flexible, adding or removing parts depending on the available singers, while the pitch could also be adjusted to taste. So any attempt to map old music onto modern choirs inevitably involves some give and take.

In general, I’ve tried to choose keys that I hope will allow everyone to pick a line that at least mostly fits. So, if you want to practise in advance, I’d say that you are free to choose without worrying too much about what everyone else is doing. Which line you pick will probably vary from piece to piece, depending on the key, the range, and what you fancy singing. And if you find a piece where really none of the lines fits your voice, which may happen for any part, then sit it out and listen!

The overall group balance doesn’t worry me too much. I think we have enough flexible sight-readers in the group that those who want to learn a particular line in advance can do so, and the others can adapt to make it work. It’s not like we will be spending hours on any particular piece.

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.