Mass Tango in Husum and the kindness of strangers

If people sing together, it’s good for them. If people enjoy the hospitality of strangers, it’s great for body, soul and mutual understanding. Imagine how doubly beneficial it was, therefore, to be welcomed into the home of a fellow singer during my choir’s recent visit to make music with our German counterparts, the Theodor Storms Chor.

It wasn’t without some trepidation that I signed up for the trip. It would be my first time away with Kidderminster Choral Society, and although I’d taken part in several successful French exchanges in both directions with my previous choir, this time I wouldn’t have the safety blanket of familiarity with the language. Give or take the odd please, thank you, do you speak English, and a few other random phrases, my husband and I have negligible German, so would we find ourselves relying on hand gestures and companionable silence?

Angela and Frank

I need not have worried. Despite our midnight arrival in Husum, the welcome from Angela and Frank was warm and friendly and we immediately felt relaxed in their beautiful home. They were not especially used to speaking English, so we really appreciated that they took such great trouble to chat with us, spending time to find the right words and expressions, ensuring that we all understood each other. They didn’t let it show, but at a guess it was exhausting! Besides a love of music, we found we had plenty in common, such as family values and an interest in travel, and as always it was fascinating to get some glimpses into cultural differences too.

Frank and Ian became firm drinking companions as they whiled away the time Angela and I spent at rehearsals. Speaking of which, did I mention that it was rather hot during our few days in Husum? Just right, perhaps, for tackling some steamy tango music, courtesy of Martín Palmeri’s Misa a Buenos Aires, but boy did we swelter as Christoph Jensen, the host choir’s Musical Director, put us through our paces after busy sightseeing days. The effort was well worth it though. In contrast to our few special rehearsals back in Kidderminster prior to the tour, it made all the difference for the twenty of us visitors to sing with the larger choir. There was plenty to work on in terms of the distinctive dance rhythms but at least we were on firmer linguistic territory, as choristers the world over know the Latin mass like the back of their hand.

Mozart rehearsal

Our audience would also be regaled with a contrasting version in the shape of Mozart’s Holy Trinity Mass in C, conducted by our own Musical Director, Geoff Weaver. Somehow rehearsals proceeded with varying degrees of understanding, depending on the language being used at any given time, based on the principle of music’s universality. One could sense a mutual respect and shared endeavour in a bid to achieve a fine result. Put simply, it was a joy to bring the music to life, in the company of friends old and new.

Bandoneon, piano and mezzo-soprano in rehearsal

The real wow factor as far as the modern Palmeri Mass was concerned lay in the accompaniment. Never before have I sung a piece that included a bandoneon – a type of concertina – as part of its orchestration. Stylishly and  expertly played by Judith Brandenburg, it added an indispensible South American flavour and complemented the bold writing for piano and strings.

With Angela during concert interval

It must have added a visual impact for the audience too, and from our vantage point in the choir I noticed the bandoneonista’s long blonde hair lifting gently from her back from time to time in the draught from the bellows. (Although mostly I watched the conductor, of course.)

The concert was deemed a success both musically and from the perspective of harmony between nations. We were touched by the kindness of strangers and we’re already looking forward to returning the hospitality…perhaps better learn a bit more German first.


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