In 1996 the choir ventured abroad for the first time, to Epsom's twin-town Chantilly, near Paris. Since then, a long summer weekend 'tour' has become a regular part of the programme that our members look forward to each summer.

Delft 2015

Written by Gerri Wild

On a gloriously sunny Thursday morning an excited party of ECS singers plus partners gathered at St Martin's Church in eager anticipation of our summer tour to Delft. Our coach arrived on time and Zoltan, the same driver who had taken us to Boulogne last year, managed with much skill to reverse it into the car park. After a smooth pick up of more people in Ashtead we were on our way to the Channel Tunnel. Unfortunately, because of a strike on the French side, the M20 was closed for three junctions in Kent to allow lorries to stack so Zoltan had to take a diversion to the tunnel. Despite the delay, we arrived on time for our crossing to Calais.

We encountered a lot of traffic in Belgium and made slow progress arriving at the Hampshire Hotel, Delft, about 8.15 pm. We were meant to be having a drinks reception but this was postponed as we had arrived so late. However, undeterred, it didn't take ECS long to check into their hotel rooms and start looking for a good place for an evening meal.

Delft is a delightful small city more than 750 years old and owes its name to "delving" or digging the first canal. From the hotel we could see three huge churches, the Oude Kerk, Nieuwe Kerk and Maria van Jesse Kerk. The magnificent Old Church with a stunning organ contains several noteworthy graves including that of the painter Johannes Vermeer. The equally splendid New Church (over 600 years old in spite of its name) contains the mausoleum of Prince William of Orange, the burial vaults of the Dutch royal family and the grave of Hugo de Groot.

Breakfast on Friday morning was a bit frantic as it seems we all converged on the restaurant at the same time. There was a good choice of food on offer and a good selection of drinks (including Prosecco! which some people indulged in - hair of the dog perhaps?). Well fed and watered, we all made our way to Oude Kerk for a three hour rehearsal. It was a very warm day but the church was cool inside. We had several routes we could take to get to the church but all involved crossing delightful little bridges over narrow canals and interesting shops, cafes and market places.

Our guest conductor for the tour, Alex Chaplin, rose to the challenge of taking on a new choir at such short notice. He really put us through our paces with the warm up – arms up in the air, shaking our hands, rolling our heads, yawning, making a lot of weird and wonderful sounds and using our fingers and arms to make big circles like windmills (well we were in Holland!) and all saying “tip of the tongue and top of the teeth” on a rapid descending scale! Visitors looking around the church seemed quite amused at our antics. It was a real treat having the brilliant Ed Batting up in the organ loft to help keep us in tune. Alex’s energy is to be admired as, whilst the choir needed frequent "sits", he remained standing for the whole rehearsal. Once this was over we dispersed to find food yet again.

Two trips were organised for the afternoon – one to the Vermeer Centre and one to Delft Pottery, the latter having a huge selection of giftware at equally huge prices! But the tour was very interesting.

We were back in good time to change into our "black and white" and another leisurely stroll to Oude Kerk on a very hot and sultry evening for our two hour concert. It was so encouraging to see a sizeable audience – probably our best so far. Our singing got better as the concert progressed and Alex seemed pleased with our performance but said the second half was better and more energised than the first. The local Rotary Club sponsored the concert and had kindly organised tea and coffee in the interval. The audience was most appreciative and gave us a standing ovation. Ed also played two uplifting pieces which were well received. We were told later that the concert raised €1,355 towards restoration of the New Church.

On Saturday we had a bit more time to enjoy our breakfast before heading off to Oude Kerk once again for a walk-in concert/rehearsal for the Sunday Mass. We were told that we would be singing in the organ loft at Maria van Jesse Kerk, warned it would be a bit of a tight squeeze and that access to the loft was via a steep, narrow winding staircase, all of which caused some amusement. The rehearsal lasted an hour and we finished in good time to have something to eat and a browse around the market before a trip to The Hague.

On arrival in The Hague some went to the Mauritshuis, home to the best Dutch paintings of the Golden Age. Others popped into the Escher Museum housed in a former Royal Palace and a few just strolled around eating ice cream and drinking beer and wine! (John and I know how to live!)

Zoltan then picked us up and took us to The Panorama. Well, nothing had prepared us for this wonderful experience. The Panorama is a stunning circular painted seascape by Hendrik Willem Mesdag commissioned by the panorama society in The Hague. Mesdag was assisted by his wife, Sientje Mesdag van Houten and three painters from The Hague Art School. The painting took approximately four months to complete, measures 120 metres in circumference and is 14 metres high. It opened on 1 August 1881 and among the guests was Vincent van Gogh who complained that the canvas had but one fault – it was faultless!

Back in Delft we gathered in the hotel reception area for drinks before the group meal. Sarah thanked the many people who had organised the tour, not least Wendela. There were special thanks to Alex, Ed, Mike, Steve and an extra mention for Nigel Bobbit who has provided the wine and glasses for our concerts for many years. Sarah said the tour was going smoothly and nothing had gone wrong – yet!!

Then off to De Prinsenkelder near the old church for the group meal. The restaurant forms part of the Prinsenhof where William of Orange was murdered in 1584. Bullet holes can still be seen in the building which is now a museum. There was a pleasant garden which contained a sculpture designed by Marianne Burgers called Homage to Gaudi. The sculpture looked like a huge couch made out of Delft pottery and quite a few people posed on it for photographs.

Our last day commenced with the usual breakfast and short walk to Maria van Jesse Kerk for the Sunday service. Most of us managed the narrow, winding staircase up to the organ loft but there was a lift for those less able to use the staircase.

Alex guided us smoothly through the hour-long service and I personally thought we sang the best we ever had. Was that to do with the fact we were much closer together and closer to Ed? Watching Ed’s feet moving so deftly over the foot pedals of the organ was mesmerising and I hadn’t realised that he removes his shoes to play. At the end of the service he played Bach’s Prelude in E Flat and jolly rousing it was too.

Straight after the service we were back on the coach and homeward bound. No hitches this time and we arrived back in Epsom on schedule. So that was it for another year and for me, one of the most enjoyable tours to date.

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