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 part of the programme and the Society has visited Chantilly, Ghent, Bruges, Beauvais, Klagenfurt, Norfolk, the Lake District, Aix-en-Provence, Bristol, Rouen, Barcelona, Lille, Caen, Lucca, Bruges, Utrecht, Reims and in 2012, Ypres

Chantilly 2017

Written by Sally Paterson, with contributions from Steve Dow and Tony Woolfenden

Chantilly is famous as the home of horse-racing (so is a very suitable twinned town for Epsom), of cream (it features on local restaurant menus), and lace (it has its own museum there) - and for four days in July it was also the home, temporary, of Epsom Choral Society.

Day One was for travelling. For those making the journey by the coach it meant an early start from St Martin's Church, and a straightforward crossing on the Shuttle. The Baie de la Somme service area provided a good break in the journey, and for many a pleasant discovery with its modern building, its board walks on the marshes and its wide views over the reed-filled levels towards the sea. It also had an extremely good shop with local produce and gifts - some asked to make a stop there on the return journey to allow more time to browse.

The coach reached Chantilly at around five. Most of those making their own way there arrived at various times that afternoon and evening. Our base for the next few days was the Campanile Hotel, on the edge of the town, our rooms all motel-style with their doors opening directly out to the grounds or to a first floor walkway.

On that evening everyone was invited to a civic reception at the Espace Boutellier in the town - drinks, and a warm welcome by leading members of Chantilly's twinning organisation as well as by the town's Mayor-Elect. Sarah replied with a speech of thanks, some of it in French. Félicitations! After the reception choir members made their way to one of the many restaurants around the town where everyone had an enjoyable time in the balmy evening air.

Friday was a free day so many of the choir visited the Château and horse museum. The Château is in a lovely situation surrounded by a moat. For those who had not been before it was a very nice surprise. The history of the Château and the family was told really well - you felt you might meet them round a corner! Among the many highlights the room full of magnificent paintings stood out particularly. The room itself was painted with pictures of châteaux and palaces connected to the family, including Twickenham!

The horse museum was also a surprise being interesting even to a non horsey person. The Horse show in a magnificent show room was yet another surprise with horses doing all sorts of clever things, completely in French! In the evening was the group meal in a restaurant very close to the hotel, typically French and typically delicious.

Our first rehearsal was on Saturday in the Chapelle du Condé near the market and was "open" so members of the public could wander in and hear us attempting to hit the right notes. I think it went quite well because Julian didn't look too worried. After the short rehearsal we did a quick rendition of Finzi's My Spirit Sang to a bemused market and then it was lunch (and retail opportunities for some at the local stalls!).

The pre-concert rehearsal was in the beautiful church of Notre Dame where we were to perform that evening. Ben Lewis Smith battled manfully with the organ - and prevailed - and we did our best to keep in tune!

The concert itself was exceptionally well attended, and well received. Highlights included being joined by the local choir, the Ensemble Vocal du Ménestrel, for the Cantique de Jean Racine (we had been pronouncing all the words correctly it would seem!), a stunning performance by Julie in Hear my prayer - the dove’s wings soared magnific ently! - and a group of songs in English by the Ensemble Vocal under their conductor Agnès Dalarun, John Rutter and Leonard Cohen feelingly and expressively performed. And speeches of welcome as well.

After the concert the Ensemble Vocal kindly invited us to al fresco drinks and nibbles in the grounds of Le Menestral, which is the music school for the Chantilly area, a pleasant and relaxing way to round off the concert, in the cool of the evening after an exceptionally hot day.

On to Sunday. Another day, another rehearsal, another new experience for most of us. We sang at morning mass in Notre Dame, not only under the familiar direction of M Collings, but with a considerable amount of guidance from the Animatrice, who moved her right arm elegantly to indicate which direction the notes should be taking in the responses! I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well in the end, and the congregation gave us a standing ovation at the end of the service, with a kind speech of thanks by the priest.

All good things must come to an end, and for most of us, that came across the road from the church as we enjoyed our final drinks and croque monsieurs in France. Until the next time.

[Photographs by Clive Richardson, Steve Dow, Janny Morelle, Stephanie Newark, Helen Phillip, Sue and Tony Woolfenden]

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