The French Connection
Scroll down the page to read accounts of our 2012
In 1983, we invited the Chorale des Amis de l'Ecole
Normale from Niort,
Wellingborough's twin town in France, to Wellingborough for a joint
performance of Bach's Magnificat. This was an ambitious project, with each
choir rehearsing individually and coming together for just one rehearsal
with the orchestra the day before the concert.
The event was a great success and it was followed by a visit by the
Orpheus Choir to Niort in 1985. On this occasion we were also joined by
the Bach Choir of Coburg, Niort's twin town in Germany, for a performance
of Handel's Messiah.
The French choir was later re-named the Chorale André Léculeur after its
founder and the exchange visits continued for nearly thirty years. Members
stayed with each other’s families during the visits and strong friendships
were forged between all three choirs. Sadly, our last visit to Niort was
in 2012 as the French choir has since folded.
However, in 2015 we made initial contact with a small German choir in
Wittlich, Wellingborough’s twin town, called Querbeet, and they will be
joining us for a concert in Wellingborough in June 2017.
Orpheus on Tour to Niort in 2012
An account by Chris Catlow
First timers in Niort
My husband Jim and I had both been looking forward to our visit to Niort,
particularly as we had to cancel at the last minute, four years ago, due
to a family bereavement.
Travelling on Eurostar and the TGV was to be an exciting part of the trip
for us, so we boarded the train eagerly at Wellingborough, along with
other members of the choir, ready for our journey down to London. Living
in Northampton, we were unfamiliar with this rail route, and were suitably
impressed with St Pancras station, with all its boutique shops, feeling
that it was a good first impression for any foreigners coming to Britain.
Despite the Bank Holiday/Jubilee crowds, we passed through check-in fairly
swiftly, despite the “medieval” system for indicating boarding (ie a man
holding up an A4 sheet with the train time on it!).
After finding our carriage we settled back to enjoy the journey to Lille,
where there was time for a snack at the café on the station before we
caught our TGV connection to Poitiers. The TGV runs so smoothly compared
to our trains and we were very surprised at how quickly it is possible to
access the continent. We decided we might try a weekend away sometime.
At Poitiers we caught a connection to Niort. Our carriage was right at the
other end of the platform, and there were quite a few people attempting to
get on board, plus lots of people getting off. In the confusion, the train
doors closed and one of our members was left behind on the platform!
Fortunately, he was guided to a door further down the train, which was
still open, so all was well.
On arrival in Niort we were met by our French hosts and taken on to our
various homes and hotels where we were staying. We had chosen to stay in a
hotel, due to my ‘ O’ level standard French being a bit rusty and the fact
that the only words of French that Jim knew was how to ask for an ash
tray! As he gave up smoking fifteen years ago, this wasn’t going to be of
Our hotel was superb, a big three-storey, old French house, tastefully
converted and furnished, with lovely gardens and an outside swimming pool.
We were greeted by Christine and Patrice, whose English was excellent, and
shown to our room.
In the evening we went to a rehearsal at the Pavillion des Colloques,
which was when we first realised that we needed to adjust to the French
way of life and timing! Thirty minutes after the rehearsal was due to
start, and after much deliberation about where we were to stand on the
stage, the rehearsal began. This went well and afterwards we returned to
our hotel and to our very welcome bed.
After breakfast the next day, it was off to another rehearsal, at the
Orangery in La Mothe Saint-Héray, a beautiful restored building, which was
part of a seventeenth century castle.
acoustics were very good in the building, and again the rehearsal went
well. After that, we were treated to a superb picnic lunch by our hosts at
the local Town Hall. We ate baguettes, French cheeses and various French
delicacies, one of which was a delicious local cake, “tourteau fromagé”, which is a traditional sponge
cake with a dark brown crust, made from goats cheese. The French were
quick to assure us that it was not burnt and that was the way it should
In the afternoon, we had chosen to visit a protestant museum at nearby
Beaussais, which we found extremely interesting, whilst others chose to
walk around the Orangery and its buildings. Then we had another run
through with the orchestra before the actual concert in the evening, which
went well and was well attended.
After the concert we were invited to a reception at the Town Hall, with
lots more lovely French food, speeches from both sides, and where various
gifts were exchanged. Then back to our hotel for a well deserved rest!
On the Monday we were free until we had the official reception at Niort
Town Hall. Then some of our party went back to their hosts for lunch,
whilst others chose to have a meal at a local restaurant, which was very
enjoyable, especially as we were able to sit outside.
Some members had opted for a walking tour of Niort, but we decided to just
walk around at our own pace before the run through at St André church.
This is a huge 11th century church which dominates the Niort skyline.
We had quite a shock when the rehearsal began as there was an “echo”
ringing round the church when we sang, which made it very difficult to
hear what David was saying, and to hear each other sing! However, at the
actual performance we had a large audience which seemed to compensate
somewhat, and things were a little easier.
When we eventually sank into bed that night we were exhausted after a very
full, but enjoyable three days!
The next day, all that remained was to make our way to the station, bid
farewell to our hosts and newly made friends, and return home. We had time
in Lille for a visit to the local Carrefour and shopping centre to pick up
some souvenirs, before arriving back at Wellingborough in the early
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and would both like to thank all of those
involved in arranging it, Cath in particular, and sincerely hope that this
won’t be the last time!
And another account: by
The Final Trip to Niort?
Guess what? We all arrived at Wellingborough Station in plenty of time to
catch the 07.04 am train to St Pancras!
This was my second trip to Niort with the Choir. Last time my husband,
Roger, came with me and we stayed in the Hotel des Moulins, on the banks
of the River Sèvre: this time I went on my own and stayed with Mimi
(Camille) Deschamps. I enjoyed both visits but this time I was able to
join in more of the choir members’ social activities. Mimi was très
agréable and looked after me very well. She lives in a little hamlet
outside Niort called Mursay and the River Sèvre runs across the bottom of
her garden – very quiet and peaceful.
The train journey down to Niort went without a hitch, although we thought
we’d lost Bob on one occasion and one of the Davids on another, but we
found them both. The trains were on time, our hosts met us at Niort and we
nearly all arrived at the Pavillion des Colloques, Noron, in time for the
first rehearsal. Only Martyn was missing – quelle horreur – what had
happened to him? He’d driven all the way from England with a streaming
cold and didn’t want to give his germs to everyone, so stayed away until
The Orangery, where we sang on Sunday, had a very low ceiling, so our
forte singing was too loud and had to be toned down. The performance went
well and we sang the final movement, The Magnificat, again as an encore.
After that, we were treated to a delicious supper at La Mairie (The Town
Hall), provided by the ladies of the French choir.
On Monday morning, we met at La Mairie in Niort for a Reception hosted by
the Lady Mayor after which we were free until 5.30 pm, when our
run-through for the Niort performance was due to start at the church of St
André. The acoustic here was completely different – very high ceilings –
and the sound reverberated for 5 or 6 seconds. How many times were we
given the instruction “Regardez Le Chef (watch the Conductor) and do not
listen to the sound”? However, the performance was good and, again, we
sang the Magnificat a second time as an encore.
Once more, everyone was at the station at the appointed time on Tuesday
morning to start our journey home. Again, the trains were all on time, we
had time to nip over to Carrefour at Lille for the necessary retail
therapy, and we finally arrived back in Wellingborough just after 5.45 pm.
Definitely a trip worth taking!
The Trophy presented to Madame Louise Biscara to commemorate 29 years
of choir twinning activity.
Photos of the 2012 visit to Niort below...