We received an invitation through Posaunenwerk Hannover to participate at the Expo 2000 World Exhibition in Hannover in July 2000. The engagement at the Expo would be for a week and prior thereto a tow-week tour of congregations could be arranged for. After some negotiation we agreed to accept that our touring group had to be limited to a maximum of 16 persons. The general executive appointed Albert Engel as conductor and me as the tour leader. Albert would also be responsible to draw up the musical programme. It was decided that players would not be required to audition for positions in the group, and players were generally invited to indicate whether they were interested in undertaking the tour. No great interest was shown but a basic group with some reserves could be chosen and after some changes the following group (top right photo) eventually undertook the tour: Lester Jonas, Tyrone Hitzeroth, Sherwyn Rossouw, Dean Africa, Bernard Fortuin, Geoffrey Joemath, Stuart Adams, Rozanne Jonas, Charles Boezak, Jerome Engel, Neil Engel, Marlon Louis, Grant Engel, Albert W Engel, George Forster, and Roné Morkel.
Preparation for the tour did not quite go according to plan, and the number of practices planned had to be reduced for various reasons including a lack of funds and non-availability of persons. The bulk of the allocated funds were spent on the first practice at Genadendal and this, to my mine represented an overspending. In the end the touring groups only had two weekend practices together plus 4 days at Mamre before our departure. As a result of a very busy work schedule, Albert was unable to make music available before hand and he in fact only finalized the musical programme during our time at Mamre. He explained to me at an early stage that the timing of the tour was very difficult for him, and that he could not give preparation for the tour the amount of attention he would have loved to. I must however give full credit to all the members of the group for all the hard work put in when we did get together. We worked long hours with no one working harder than Albert himself. Whilst we were in Mamre, Albert had to travel to Stellenbosch twice to play at the conservatoire and on other days he had to attend to other university work after 12 midnight. As preparation for the tour we played a concert in Mamre on Tuesday, 20 June and in Lansdowne on Thursday, 22 June 2000. By this time things were beginning to look good. We eventually left for the German summer via Windhoek, with Air Namibia, on 23 June. When we arrived in Frankfurt the following day it was raining and for the next three weeks we saw no sign of summer.
A lot of work had gone into the preparation of the tour and here I would like to thank Günter Marstatt and his team, the Church in Hannover, the organizers in the Christus Pavillion at the Expo and all our local members who put in a lot of effort to make this tour a reality.
The two-week concert tour was a very tough schedule, which also did not reflect the initial plans of the organizers. Günter Marstatt explained that a few congregations would not agree to host us for the number days requested, which meant that new host congregations had to be found. Each new congregation however meant an additional concert. In order to avoid having to play a concert on the day of our arrival in Germany we arranged to arrive a day earlier, and spent the day relaxing in Darmstadt where we had the first of many braais. We had agreed to have a good warm-up/practice every day on tour and this we did conscientiously throughout the tour until our last concert in Liedelsheim.
The first official day was the most hectic but prepared us well for what was to follow. We met at church at 8.30am for our warm-up and participated in the church services at Stiftskirchengemeinde, which started at 10.00am. Thereafter the whole group had lunch together with our host families before we rushed to the station to catch a train to Frankfurt at 12.26pm. At Frankfurt we had 12 minutes to switch trains before our next train departed for Hannover. At Hannover we were met by Günter Marstatt who handed us two 9-seater Mercedez Benz Sprinter busses. These busses were to be used by us for the next two weeks with Geoffrey Joemath, Bernard Fortuin, Charles Boezak and I as the driver and Albert as the chief navigator. We then left for Steinau near Cuxhaven and arrived there as the people were arriving for our concert. After the concert we had a braai and then traveled to Cuxhaven where we stayed for two nights. We eventually got to bed after 12 midnight. We were officially welcomed on the tour at a function in Ehlershausen on 29 June 2000 by the chairman of Posaunenwerk Hannover, Dieter Stuckenschmidt. The partnership agreement between our unions was also signed at this occasion. There we also met the son of Hans Jurgen-Lange, one of the pioneers of the contact between our unions.
Our concerts were all well received, some more enthusiastically than others. We received standing ovations in almost every concert, if not every concert. We were assured that this was not the norm in Germany. In Kirchtimke we were told that nothing like that had ever happened there before. We also received many good press reviews, with Albert in particular being singled out for praise. People also generally expected us to have CD’s available, and found it difficult to believe that we were just a group of amateur musicians put together for this tour. In all we played 14 concerts as follows:
25 June, 19.30 - Steinau
26 June, 19.30 - Altenwalde
27 June, 20.00 - Kirchtimke
28 June, 20.00 - Göttingen
30 June, 20.00 - Ehlershausen
01 July, 20.00 - Braunsweig
03 July, 20.00 - Zeist
04 July, 19.30 - Amsterdam
05 July, 19.00 - Bad Oeynhausen
06 July, 15.00 - Bad Oeynhausen, jointly with the Westfallen Senior brass Ensemble under Werner Benz
08 July, 19.00 - Meerbeck
09 July, 18.00 - Springe
11 July, 20.00 - Hannover, Herrenhausen
13 July, 20.00 - Hannover, Markuskirche
15 July, 19.30 - Liedolsheim
We also played in 4 church services at Darmstadt, Ehlershausen, Meerbeck and Liedolsheim, the latter two being joint performances with the local brass bands. The best concert in terms of audience response was undoubtedly at Braunschweig where we played in a relatively small overcrowded hall in a restaurant. The members of audience were not only standing at the back of the hall but they were also overflowing to the outside. All the while they were swinging and clapping to our music. That audience seemed ready to keep us on stage all night until we ended proceedings with the chorale "Neem nou altwee my hande". The effect of the chorale on these euphoric people simply had to be seen to be believed. We had people greeting us after the concert with tears in their eyes. Two other brass concerts involving six bands were going on in nearby venues at the same time, as it was the brass festival for the Region on that day. We had earlier been given the opportunity to play from the roof of the dome (church) during their afternoon programme. There we also met, Holger Gehrke, the chairman of the umbrella body of the brass band movements in Germany. After the high of the Braunschweig concert we predictably experienced a problem at our next concert in Zeist. Although we received another standing ovation, the players were disappointed by the nature of the audiences response during the concert. Albert in turn bemoaned the lack of enthusiasm displayed by the players during the concert. Notwithstanding our low spirits we once again received high praise from members of the audience including Ben van der Bosch and his son, a professional trumpeter. The congregations in Holland were the only Moravian congregations we visited on tour and they asked us to bring greetings to the church in South Africa. We were particularly enthusiastically received by the congregation in Amsterdam, which is of Surinam extract.
The one negative aspect of the early part of our tour, was our inability to bond with our hosts because of all our short stop-overs. This, together with all the traveling was very stressful. It is no surprise therefore that the best time we had was firstly with older people at Ehlershausen and then with younger people at Meerbeck. These were the only two places where we spent 3 nights there but we did not all live with families. We did however make a few good friends there who really gave us a wonderful time.
Expo 2000 Week
We stayed at the Lutherheim in Springe for the duration of our involvement at the Expo. After our concert on the first night in Springe we handed back our busses and from then on we traveled by train. We received a 25DM daily allowance per person for dinner, as we only received breakfast at the Lutherheim. We also received some extra money, which we used to hire taxis for the journey home from the Springe station late at night. On our first morning at the Expo we were given a new timetable for the week’s performances. We were basically given 2 half hour slots per day to perform in the courtyard of the Christian Pavilion. We were also required to play three pieces at the hourly meditation, which lasted about 10 minutes. Each meditation was conducted by two pastors, one in German and the other in English. The meditations were held inside the "church". We played at three meditations on Monday, 10 July and at two each for the rest of the week. Other groups, mostly German bands, were also in attendance on each day. A women’s group from the Sudan also performed on the Monday. The St. Nicolai Posaunenchor invited us to share a performance at a meditation with them on the Tuesday.
The Expo itself was a huge operation and we did not even attempt to visit Pavilions or stalls as a group. The magnitude of the operation and standards attained are really mind boggling. Members were basically left to do their own thing at the Expo. Most of us, if not all, did however visit the African Pavilion. One of the highlights was definitely a water and fireworks display, which involved a mad rush for the last train from the Expo West station on the first night we attempted to see it. The Expo was however the place where the cold weather probably affected us the most. It was not pleasant playing outside in the cold and we managed to move indoors twice. Everyone who heard us play was however very impressed with us even the pastors on duty passed on messages from members of the audiences who were moved by our playing during the meditations. Taking everything into account though, when one looks at the quality of the international lineup at the Expo, one realizes just how lucky we were to have been invited there. It was truly an experience in a lifetime. On our last night in Springe we arranged our own braai and invited some of our friends from surrounding towns. This turned out to be a real farewell function. We had quests from as far a field as Dettingen and Dortmund namely Helmut and Christa, Uwe and Claudia from Dettingen and Annelie Schmitt, the daughter of rev. Walter Schmitt. The leader of the brass band in Springe and his wife, a wonderful person who arranged lifts and helped to transport us to the station every morning were also present. At this "function" Günter handed us instruments, which an old widow had given to him to give to us after hearing us at our last concert in Hannover. These were a tambourine, a pocket cornet, a flugelhorn and a trumpet. These instruments had belonged to her husband who died some twenty years ago. In us she finally found a good home for her treasures. It was not always easy to say goodbye, and for some this party carried on until the early hours of the morning.
On reflection, the most overwhelming feeling one gets is of how blessed we are. When we entered the week of the Expo, we were tired and it seemed like months ago that we had been to Darmstadt. Then we starting receiving visits from old friends who traveled far to see us at the Expo and in Liedolsheim. We were also visited at the Expo and in Hannover by many people whom we had met for the first time during the earlier part of our tour. The Lord certainly did not hold back when we needed friends. We were also blessed with an abundance of talent and I thank God for the opportunity I had to lead a group of young persons who never once forgot their mission in foreign countries with many distractions. There can be no gainsaying that we were indeed on a mission, a mission which God was no silent spectator. We did not just make music. We had a message, and a relevant one at that. When we got to Braunschweig we discovered that the theme for the brass band festival was "Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr" exactly as the main theme of our concerts. People were also deeply interested in Albert’s stories about our South African music. An illustration of how topical we were is the fact that a morning newspaper in Stadthagen, the main town near to Meerbeck, actually had a big article on District Six, complete with a big photo of a troupe of Coons while we were there. I have to congratulate Albert on compiling a programme that was just right for this tour, but I know that on reflection, he knows that he has been guided by a higher hand. Only a person secure in that knowledge could risk playing a chorale for an audience stamping and shouting for more pulsating and rhythmic music. This move however never backfired on us and we were always able to reach into the hearts of the people. On behalf of the whole group I thank God for the wonderful opportunity we had to minister to people through our music and although one is truly humbled in such circumstances and can only echo our theme, I must concede that I am proud to have been associated this group which truly represented BBSA and the church well.