• De Vries has set the tone for 35 years

    ‘Why would I stop?’

    Since he was a student, Rein de Vries has kept time for Bragi, the oldest student music group in Groningen. This year, he is celebrating his 35th year as director.

    It began 37 years ago when Rein was still a student himself in Groningen. He played several instruments and sang in one of Bragi’s choirs. When he listened to music, he found himself thinking of ways that he could make it sound better. So, he decided to study orchestral and choral direction at a musical conservatory. After singing in the choir for a couple of years, he became the director of the Bragi a cappella choir. Since then, it has been impossible to imagine the group without him.


    It’s cosy during the rehearsals for ‘Rein’s’ a cappella choir. In the Centre for Old Music and Dance where they practice, there’s the sense of being in someone’s living room, with conversation and laughter filling the space.

    The rehearsal kicks off with fifteen minutes of warm ups to prepare the singers’ vocal chords, and then the real work begins. Rein regularly breaks off the music to give comments and tips. Once all the pitches finally fall into place, Rein sounds relieved: ‘It’s nice to have that sorted out.’


    The focus of the choir is classical music. While Rein endeavours to offer a programme with as much variety as possible, he admits that he has a few favourites. ‘The motets by Bach and the Sept Chansons by Poulenc have been high points. But I always try to consider pieces that I have never done before.’

    Occasionally, the a cappella choir also performs popular hits, particularly during more informal happenings. The song Down to the River to Pray lends itself to a flash mob during the Night of Art and Science, for example. ‘The nice thing about the students with Bragi is that they all share a great passion for music. At the same time, they also really enjoy partying and there’s always room for fun stuff. You can do so much more than you could with a choir composed only of older people’, Rein says.

    The director records every concert the choir gives. Since his time as a conservatory student, Rein has done so. ‘If you sing in a choir, you wonder how your performance would sound if you were in the audience. I’m also always so busy with planning and leading during the rehearsals, but during a performance, you can’t think that way any more. I think I give more of myself during the concerts. That’s why it’s nice for the choir and for me to be able to watch the concert afterwards.’


    But how do other students look at a choir like that? Rein concedes that Bragi may have a bit of a nerdy reputation. Sebastiaan van Leunen and Janne Posthuma, both active members of the choir, recognize that image. ‘Even though more Dutch people are members of a choir than members of a football club, it still has a somewhat stuffy status’, says Sebastiaan. ‘Most people think it’s a little unusual. I also get asked quite often if ‘choir’ is spelled with a ‘c’ or a ‘k’’, Janne says. Rein says that many people admire the a cappella choir, though. ‘People think it’s really lovely, what we can do with just our voices.’

    They are indeed a choir with a ‘c’ rather than a ‘k’, and although they may have something of an uptight reputation, the members head out to the bar together every Wednesday night after their rehearsals. On those evenings, Rein briefly steps out of his role as a director and enjoys a beer with the singers. ‘Officially, I’m only really involved with what happens within the rehearsals, but I always really enjoy joining the choir at the bar afterward.’

    Will Rein stick with the choir to celebrate his 40th anniversary? He laughs at the question, but replies firmly: ‘Why would I stop? I’m still enjoying it too much.’