Always artistic: Flanders, the land of song
Flanders is like music to your ears. Our unique heritage still resonates with people after all this time, both literally and figuratively. Operas and concert buildings, cathedrals and contemporary art installations, and even underground passages. They each have their unique resonance, their own special sound.
This autumn, the World Choir Games are coming to Flanders. Antwerp, an international fashion capital, and the supremely beautiful city of Ghent, are the host cities for what is essentially the world’s biggest choir competition. Both cities boast several fabulous concert halls, that are tailored to all conceivable forms of choral singing.
In Antwerp, you will be blown away by the impeccable acoustics of the Queen Elisabeth Hall, the unique charm of De Roma, the stately architecture of the Flemish Opera and the sacred sound box that is St Paul’s Church. Although there are also some less obvious locations that are equally worth mentioning. De Ruien is the first example that comes to mind. This underground network of natural and excavated waterways offers a fascinating insight into Antwerp’s history. Many a visitor is tempted to hum a tune to test the sometimes subtle reverberation of these underground passages and experienced vocalists have even been known to burst into song on occasion. Definitely worth your time.
Europe’s premier railway cathedral is another unique location. Antwerp’s Central Station has been voted one of the most beautiful stations in the world on several occasions. A veritable architectural gem, the building’s beautiful vaulted ceilings, monumental clocks and majestic station hall have made many a traveller stop in their tracks. Explore the many nooks and crannies of this majestic building to find just the perfect acoustics to sing your favourite song.
The second host city of the World Choir Games also has plenty of assets to offer. Ghent was designated a UNESCO Creative City for Music in 2009. It owes this title, among other things, to a number of impressive local music heroes, such as the conductor Dirk Brossé, the magnificent Collegium Vocale ensemble, and a number of world-class concert halls such as the Flemish Opera and the Bijloke classical music centre.
Have we already mentioned Saint Bavo’s Cathedral? This centuries-old icon is home to the Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers, one of the greatest treasures in European art history. One of the panels of this monumental retable depicts singing angels. Anyone who experiences the cathedral’s grandeur will feel those angels humming away quietly in the background.
Antwerp and Ghent are rolling out the red carpet for the World Choir Games, but you’ll be happy to know there are plenty of other special, acoustic sweet spots elsewhere in Flanders. The former C-Mine mining site in Genk, for example. This modern, cultural hub is also home to an authentic mine shaft. Climb this sliver of history, which rises 60 metres above street level, to experience the unique atmosphere and sound of th pithead gear as you burst into song.
In Leuven you can visit the Large Beguinage. Centuries ago, this enclosed court was the home of emancipated laywomen who chose to live a pious life. Nowadays, it’s a place for contemplation and a tranquil oasis. Just the perfect setting for hushed singing, in the open air. You will experience that same sense of sacred serenity in Mechelen's Saint John's Church. This 15th-century Gothic church serves as a sanctuary for “Christ on the Cross”, a masterpiece by Peter Paul Rubens, the grand master of Flemish Baroque painting. A work of staggering genius in a beautiful sound box. Does this sound like music to your ears?
As you edge closer to Flanders’ coastline, you can test your vocal cords in the open air. Idyllic Bruges is actually one long sequence of iconic beauty spots. One of the many highlights you should visit is Minnewaterpark. Legend has it that you will recognise your true love on the bridge in the park. Can you think of a better place for a love serenade?
Finally, along the North Sea, several artistic and acoustic toys await. The Beaufort Arts Triennial has left its mark on the Flemish coastline in recent years. In the seaside resort of Bredene you can explore "Albedo", a labyrinthine structure in the dunes that encourages you to test your vocal skills and this compelling sound box.
Story created on 18 October, 2021