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  In 1951 the original boys’ choir (at the time, and for the next 58 years, called the ‘Sint-Martinuskoor’ or
‘St Martin’s Choir’) had only come into being 4 years earlier, when founder and conductor Siegfried Huygens led his singing band at a grandiose Peter Benoit memorial, a huge undertaking of historic moment with more than 800 musicians. Even though the choir was initially made up only of boys, soon tenors and bass singers were invited in order for the choir to be able to tackle the richer and more varied repertoire for mixed voices. Ten years later another major change occurred: the boys’ contingent was replaced by ladies. As the Benoit memorial had proved in ’51, the choir’s 10th anniversary concert at the Guildhall in Beveren confirmed further that it did not want to be a church or a parish choir exclusively, but instead wished to branch out into secular choral music as well.

Those to whom the next conductor in the (still brief) sequence has been known will remember that Willy Snellings had a very dynamic personality: superfast when driving his Porsche, but ever distinguished-looking in his bow tie. He even used to play the organ and conduct simultaneously! (According to the tradition limbs were ‘flailing in every direction’.) Apart from conductor he was also resident organ player at St Martin’s church and principal of the Beveren music academy. The introduction of the course for solo voices in this institution immediately ensured the injection of a shot of quality singers into the choir. The period Snellings was without a doubt one of growing talent and experience, which paid particular attention to a varied repertoire in which modern composers - Vic Nees, Hugo Distler, Maurice Ravel, Flor Peeters, Hendrik Andriessen, .... - featured more and more prominently.

Some highlights from this era are the organ and choir performances of Snellings’ own compositions, the installation of a second keyboard for the organ (partly financed by the choir members themselves, as well as through the profits of the 1967 anniversary concert), the recording of 2 LPs (1969 and 1974), a radio mass, a performance at the Battle of the Golden Spurs memorial, and a 6th place in the European Championships for Mixed Choirs.

In the spring of 1982 the choir’s talent scouts found a young and enthusiastic final year student at the Lemmens Institute of Music, who was prepared to succeed Willy Snellings as conductor. Godfried Van de Vyvere is currently in his 26th year of leading the choir, which sought and found a new direction under his guidance.

The Christmas concert of 1983 marked the beginning of a new repertoire consisting of works for choir, orchestra and soloists such as Bach’s cantates, Telemann’s cantates, Zelenka’s Magnificat, Duruflé’s Requiem. The choir also performed a Mozart concert containing the Coronation Mass. Other works have been Te Deum, the Sancta Maria mater Dei for the choir’s golden anniversary, Christmas-themed sequences from Händel’s Messiah and Bach’s chorals, Vivaldi’s Gloria and Magnificat, Mozart’s Requiem, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, works by Michael Haydn, anthems by Purcell and Händel’s Coronation Anthems.

Other achievements since then include participation in various choral competitions, with prizes won at Tongerlo, Valmeer, Raeren and Lommel; participation in the provincial rankings tournaments of Oost-Vlaanderen (held every 4 years), with the choir obtaining the ranking of ‘Excellence’ in 2001, 2005 and 2009; a place in the final of the 2002 ‘Choir of the Year’ competition, with performances broadcast on Flemish national television channel Canvas; the recording of a cd ‘Ecce mundi gaudia’ with works by Bach, Händel, Zelenka and various European Christmas carols; coffee concerts; reception of and co-operation with various guest choirs in St Martin’s church; cross-choir projects across the Waasland region; a choir newsletter; an annual choir fête; an annual study weekend; a fundraising team which supports the continued operation of all these varied activities; and an annual choir workshop ‘In heaven’ upon the occasion of the local town fête, the ‘Beverse Feesten’.

An important innovation of the last decades have been the performance tours abroad. It all started with a stint during a Sunday mass in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Fred Smet of the press headlined: ‘To sing is to break down walls’. The travelling together, the singing together in unique locations, the contact with other cultures and their choral traditions have hugely enriched the choir’s vision and character. The journeys have taken us to France, Poland, Hungary, Germany, England, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovenia and Portugal. We have been lucky enough to sing in venues as wonderful as Notre Dame of Paris, Rheims cathedral, Strasbourg and Lille cathedrals, St Thomas’ church in Leipzig, St Stephen’s basilica in Budapest, Lublin cathedral, St Peter’s basilica in Rome, various churches in Prague and Assisi and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos Belém in Lissabon. We have forged links and friendships that remain today, have taken folk songs from all these countries home with us, and in return have spread the fame of our Flemish choral music abroad like true ambassadors.

So as to involve choir members in the day to day operation of their choir, special occasions usually warrant the setting up of subcommittees. Acantus is a real beehive, with constant buzzing alongside of the singing! This vitality and the constant striving for quality keeps us young, and attracts young people as well, ensuring the future of the choir. After 60 radiant years we have now reached a total of 60 just as radiant singers!

The ‘Cultuurboom’ (Tree of Culture, prize from the Beveren Cultural Council) given to us in 1997 proves that they too appreciate the efforts and successes of Acantus. And despite the name change and the sometimes troubled state of today’s society, the choir remains faithful to its initial agenda of enlivening feast days at St Martin’s church with a liturgically inspired and heartfelt mix of song and organ.