With just under two months to go until Easter, the local choir is practicing hard in many villages and towns to master the St Matthew Passion. Participation choir ‘t Gooi also practices for a performance in Bussum. But it’s not a standard chorus. Some of the members suffer from dementia and are accompanied by so-called mantle singers. And in the latter category, members are still being sought for a successful performance.
“We could use at least ten mantle singers, especially men,” says Erik Zwiers, founder of the choir. “This year we have been in existence for five years with the participation choirs. That is precisely thanks to the mantle singers. So it would be very nice if we had a full choir everywhere during the Matthäus Passion.”
The first participation choir was founded by Zwiers in 2018 in Haarlem. He then received requests to set up participation choirs in other places, such as Bussum, Delft and Veenendaal. He set up a foundation and provided financing through funds.
About a third of the choir consists of members who suffer from dementia. They have a singer next to them who does not suffer from dementia and who accompanies where necessary, the mantle singer. There are also a number of professional singers in the choirs.
Zwiers, who lives in Zandvoort, previously worked in journalism. He ended up as a writer at a publisher where the subject of completed life came up. Zwiers eventually wrote a book on the subject. A book about dementia followed later. “These are topics that many people have an opinion about, but not always a lot of knowledge. They are social problems that I have highlighted in 360 degrees in the books,” he explains.
“Music is a kind of magic potion”
For the book about dementia, Zwiers followed a number of people with this disease. During a visit, one of them spontaneously started singing the final piece of the St. Matthew Passion. He knew it from before and could easily reproduce it.
“Music is a kind of magic potion”, Zwiers believes. “Demented people often take a lot that doesn’t come back in return. While they can still do so much. They just need some support. Singing often goes very well. It creates cheerfulness, enthusiasm. It’s just healthy.”
The spontaneous singing of the man with dementia planted a seed in Zwiers. It was ultimately the prelude to the first participation choir. A concept has now been drawn up, professional conductors are being used and there is training for the mantle singers. Now they only have to report to the choir in Bussum.