On the road with the choir kids

For over ten years now, I’ve been involved in a number of children’s choirs in the Brussels area. First there was Equinox, then Singing Molenbeek, and most recently, Flagey Academy. They are all, in their own way, social projects – meaning they primarily target children who do not come from the usual send-your-kids-to-a-classical-choir kind of background.

To watch those young people grow up, and for some of them develop into full-blown mature singers, has been quite the treat. This was by no means a purely altruistic endeavour: if anything, it helped me tune down much of the neurosis that somehow seems an inevitable part of the travelling pianist’s life.

A decade into this adventure, it seemed like a good time to do something very substantial, and very public.

The inception of Pilgrims wasn’t a concept. It was a person. Meet Anicet.

Anicet is Equinox’s oldest member – she joined at age six and is now 18.
Life has turned Anicet into a superlative gospel singer. That is: a 3+ octave range, perfect intonation, an instinctive sense of harmony, and exquisite groove. It’s quite something.

We wanted to give Anicet a central role in this project, and the aesthetics of black song seemed like a rich starting point.

So, I approached the renowned jazz pianist & composer Fabian Fiorini (also pictured), with the following pitch: to write a modern oratorio, for children’s choir, two soloists, and piano trio. London-based writer Donald Sturrock signed up for the libretto, and gave the pitch its definitive shape:

— Donald Sturrock

Taking the framework of the spiritual journey provided by the influential 17th-century parable, ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan, Pilgrims is a timeless, metaphorical journey through the adversities of migration.

Our pilgrims, here, speak through the voices of the Equinox and Singing Molenbeek children’s choirs. They encounter storms and dragons, along with the temptations of corruption, vanity and laziness. Some even get bogged down in the marshes of despair. Will they arrive at the Celestial City?

All over the world, migrants are making news. Forced to leave their homeland because of war, persecution, famine or natural disaster, refugees are risking everything in search of a brighter future.

Pilgrims tells the eternal story of a symbolic journey towards this promise of another life. It reminds us that, whatever the cause of their flight, the refugee’s journey is a kind of pilgrimage: a search for something better.

Amidst all the Mozart, all the Ravel, and all the usual buzzing of the classical pianist’s life, Pilgrims is probably the most meaningful side-step I’ve made till now. To bring together these kids, to give young musicians I admire a stage, to work with them around this singular and important subject, and to finally get to play with an actual drummer (!) is about as much as I could ask from this business.

It is a work in progress, and you will obviously be held in the loop on social media.

Pilgrims is co-commissioned by the Klarafestival and Festivals de Wallonie.

It will premiere on March 22nd, 2025 during the Klarafestival (Brussels) and will go on tour from April to July 2025.