2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. I am aware I have been luckier than many people because I have still been able to work. I am grateful to the Dutch churches who invited me to sing at their services, where, until recently, singing was still allowed, when in concerts it was forbidden. In particular, I would like to thank the Hooglandse Kerk and the Binnenstadsgemeente in Leiden and the Bethelkerk in Scheveningen for their continued support. I have also been able to provide videos for the many organisations that organised online events, thanks to the skill and kindness of Peter Breedijk.
The Wayfaring Stranger, for the commomeration of the Battle of Arras. Produced by Peter Breedijk.
The year started well with concerts in Limburg with the New Year’s concert of the reunion orchestra of the Limburgse Jagers (an infantry regiment of the Royal Netherlands Army). In February, I had the launch of the album ‘Fantasia’ with Simple Harmonic Motion. I sang to over a thousand people in Amiens Cathedral, France: the first ever rock concert in the beautiful gothic cathedral.
I had assumed I would be singing in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia, in March for a foundation working with street children: the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation. I had sung at their thirty-year anniversary gala in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, in November 2019. After the gala, I was approached by the team from Ulaan Bataar and we formed a plan which involved singing with the children. In early 2020, I began online lessons with a singer in Mongolia to learn a beautiful Mongolian lullaby.
Looking back, it is amazing that my biggest concern at the start of 2020 was Mongolian pronunciation!
The first lockdown began in March when I was in the Netherlands. I had just returned from a trip to Hungary and Romania, where I was lecturing at Sapientia University and performing with guitarist Robert Sinha. I arrived in Leiden to find there was a toilet-paper and crisps shortage in all the local supermarkets.
A week later, we were in the first lockdown. Gradually, all the bookings I had were cancelled, postponed, or turned into virtual events. 2020 had been super exciting: I had been invited to sing at an international military pilgrimage in Lourdes, France, for the Dutch team at the Invictus Games, and at events in France, Belgium, the U.K., Hungary, Mongolia, and Nepal. Pianist Han Louis Meijer and I had organised a series of concerts to promote our CD Echoes of War in several countries. Guitarist Robert Sinha and I had plans for recordings in Budapest and promoting our lecture and concert series in the U.S. In short, 2020 was a year in which I expected to be reading a lot of books in aircraft.
We were very sad to hear, early on in the lockdown, of the death of Bill Henderson. Bill worked closely with the West Yorkshire Police Band, and we had met several times in Ypres during the remembrance ceremonies in November. He had arranged several concerts for me in England with the band to raise money for the Prince of Wales Hospice. It was shocking and sad that Bill had been a victim of corona. Rest in peace.
In April, together with a group of friends, we live-streamed a mini St. Matthew Passion as a quartet with organ accompaniment by Willeke Smits. To our surprise, it was viewed by over seven thousand people. It seems that it was the only live St. Matthew Passion in the Netherlands, where there is a strong tradition of attending a Passion during Lent.
When I was approached by organisations in Wales and Northern Ireland to provide videos for online remembrance events, I decided to work together with the same group. We called ourselves the Justinus Ensemble since we make our recordings near the grave of Justinus van Nassau. To my delight, Brian Fieldhouse, a friend and a very talented musician, agreed to work with us.
There have been several recording projects with the Justinus Ensemble, including Brian’s arrangements of hymns for remembrance ceremonies, compositions by Brian and me, the Dutch premiere of Thomas Hewitt Jones‘s “Can you hear me?” and even a song for the World Rugby Memorial. We have plans to sing a Bach cantata later this year if the lockdown rules allow.
Here is “Can You Hear Me?” with Dutch subtitles, beautifully edited by Peter Breedijk.
In the summer, it was possible to travel again and I was delighted to sing for the Royal British Legion and the Somme Association in France for the commemoration of the Battle of the Somme. I had also sung for the commemoration of the Battle of Ypenburg in the Netherlands, and at the funeral of the oldest Dutch Second World War veteran, Paul Moerman.
I hope that you, the reader, stay safe and well. I’d like to end this retrospective with a video project with my former primary school, Nottingham Girls’ High School: a version of “We’ll meet again.”