Although York has been twinned with the city of Münster in Germany since 1957 their Male Voice Choirs York Philharmonic and Münsterscher Männergesangverein (now known as MarQant) did not come together until 1969. Since then a close friendship has developed. This is the story of a visit made by the Phil to Münster in September 2015
Over the years Münster has partnered with many other cities and on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the ending of World War II invited choirs from its partner cities to come together for a week-end (18-20 September 2015) of concerts under the title ‘Music builds Bridges - from a disgruntled Europe to a united Europe’. So 7 choirs from 6 cities; Poland (2), Russia, France, Norway, UK and Germany joined with their Münster choral partners to give a total of 14 choirs. There was a wide range of musical styles to enjoy from madrigals to hip hop; and the singers were of all ages from the under 10s to men in their mid 80s.
It was a busy week-end with street sings on Friday and Saturday, a full male voice concert with MarQant on Friday evening; the major commemorative concert with all choirs on the Saturday evening and singing at a church service on Sunday morning. We didn’t appreciate just how busy a time it would be until on the way home we added up the number of different songs we had sung - 41. As a choir we are comfortable giving impromptu sings on the streets [thankfully it didn’t rain] and we were looking forward to the concert with MarQant. We were not sure, however, as to the tone and style of the Saturday night combined concert. Was it to be just a celebration of different musical styles or was the commemorative significance to be included? We knew that as the first city to be twinned with Münster we would open the show. With a 12 minute allocation our director Berenice Lewis picked 4 pieces which were both entertaining and commemorative: The Impossible Dream, For the Fallen, He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother, and the upbeat spiritual I’m Gonna Walk. This was a good choice which was very well received.
We were looking forward to the Friday evening concert with MarQant as this would be the 16th time that our two choirs had shared a concert platform. The venue – the Friedenskapelle -had been chosen with care by our hosts. It had been built, post - war, as the garrison church for British troops but had fallen into disrepair when those troops left and was refurbished as a concert hall in 2003. Seating about 250 people it had intimate feel, good acoustics and an excellent piano. We were made to feel even more at home with the arrival of more than 30 members of the Lochems Mannenkoor who had specifically made the journey from Holland to join with us. This Lochem choir has links with both MarQant and the York Phil and visited York in April 2015.
The concert began and almost instantly became one of those memorable occasions when the emotional links between choir, music, and audience are so heightened as to give a performance of exceptional beauty and power. According to many long serving singers the Phil gave its best performance for many years, and it was a very proud choir, which left the stage that evening.
The remaining engagement was on Sunday morning when we had been invited to sing at a Mass in a large Roman Catholic Church. The liturgical music was to be given by an excellent youth choir and we were asked to provide 4 items including a piece at the close of the service to send the congregation on its way. For this last item we chose a different style of Church music and sang a glorious Welsh Hymn ‘Tydi a Roddaist’. As the service had ended we expected people to begin to move around to greet each other or to start to leave but no one moved. As the last chords of the final ‘Amen’ soared and faded the church erupted in applause – a spine tingling moment and a wonderful way to end our formal engagements.
A week-end such as this takes a lot of organising and both the city authorities and our friends in MarQant did an excellent job, the social aspects of the week-end were as successful as the music. Even the weather was ‘mostly’ kind. As singers we men stayed dry but during two rehearsals it did rain and some of our ladies did get wet. En route to a restaurant one group sought cover in a bus shelter. Pity the poor bus driver who on stopping found his shelter full of English women giving a hearty rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain’!
The city authorities remembered that, in the years following 1945, it was the work of creative artists reaching out to one another which had helped Germany reintegrate with the rest of Europe. This week-end, 70 years on, hoped to refresh those links and add to them a cross generational dimension. If the other visiting choirs had the same experience as us then the citizens of Münster can be assured that Music does indeed build Bridges!