Wellingborough Orpheus Choir

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Wellingborough's twin town in FranceTwinning

Scroll down the page to read accounts of our 2012 trip...

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 we performed our first concert together 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 any benefit!

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. The 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 look!

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 evening.

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 Diana Smith

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 Sunday.

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...





The Wellingborough Orpheus Choir always welcomes new members
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