The Boys’ Choir ‘De Lustige Heivinken’ was founded in Saint Jan’s school in the city of Waterschei (Belgium) in 1930 by Brother Majoor (Arnold Bijnens). In Saint Jan’s school most of the students were coal miners’ children.
Soon, the Boys’ Choir became very popular and performed all over the Province of Limburg and even on Radio K.V.R.O. of the National Radio Institute. Press cuttings of that period state that they charmed and thrilled their audiences with concerts that offered a lot of variety. Even during World War II, concerts were given in many places. In 1945, Brother Majoor was transferred to Bilzen and Brother Michel (Jozef Stuer) took over the baton. He focused mainly on performing at church services. Although a short period, it was an important period since it ensured the existence of the Boys’ Choir.
In 1950, Brother Arnold (Camiel Van Den Eeckhout) was transferred to Waterschei. Apart from teaching, he was the leader of ‘Chiro’ (a youth movement). He was the person in charge of the local horticultural club and, last but not least, he was to lead the Boys’ Choir ‘De Lustige Heivinken’. All these tasks, he performed with his whole heart!
For 27 years, he was a very motivated person, a competent and passionate teacher, a highly esteemed colleague and an exceptional conductor. Under his inspiring leadership, the Boys’ Choir ‘De Lustige Heivinken’ became a household name both in Belgium and abroad! On 25 September 1977, however, Brother Arnold suddenly died. Was this to be the end of the famous Boys’ Choir?
Fortunately, Jaak Jacobs, a former chorister of the Boys’ Choir, proposed to lead the choir together with Moniek Draelants and Gilbert Bongaerts who, for many years, had been Brother Arnold’s close assistants. For 9 years, they led the choir according to Brother Arnold’s vision and spirit. During this period, the Boys’ Choir produced and performed 2 musicals, recorded 3 LP’s, performed 3 concert tours all over Belgium and 3 holiday tours abroad.
The social, pedagogical and musical impact of the Boys’ Choir from 1930 until 1986 has been unprecedented in the mining area of Genk, in the Province of Limburg and in Belgium. Even internationally, the Boys’ Choir played an important role.
A few highlights of the Lasallian Boys’ Choir’s 56 years of history:
- over 1.000 concerts,
- rehearsals on an almost daily basis in order to practise the continuously evolving repertoire,
- on average, every 6 years a new uniform,
- 35 concert tours and holiday tours abroad, (Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Tsjechoslovakia, Poland, Great-Britain, Corsica, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Yugoslavia…)
- the Boys’ Choir won prices at highly acclaimed choir contests,
- the Boys’ Choir was invited by the King and the Queen to the Royal Palace,
- they were broadcasted on radio and television in Belgium and abroad,
- they released 13 LP’s and 9 singles,
- in 1969, the Boys’ Choir was awarded a gold disc,
- the Boys’ Choir received the UNESCO medal and the Schubert medal,
- in 1969, each chorister received a personalised “Pro Musica” medal, the first time ever in Belgium.
Approximately 950 boys from the Genk mining area once were members of the Boys’ Choir. The number of choristers varied between 35 and 120. Genk was a multicultural community. The Boys’ Choir consisted of over 15 different nationalities. The Boys’ Choir acted as a social system: as they rehearsed, performed and travelled together, the boys learned to live together in a multicultural environment. One thing all the boys had in common was that they were immersed in an environment of care, discipline, perseverance and empathy for each other. Although none of them had a musical education, in the national press they were compared to the Wiener Sängerknaben.
Apart from the excellent education provided by the Brothers of the Christian Schools the children benefited from the emphasis the Broeders put on the balanced development of each individual child: knowledge, skills and also ‘being’ by means of a religious and sporting spirit as well as cultural development. This often led to lifelong friendships, but especially … as coal miners’ children, they felt important, appreciated and happy.
Last September 2017, 40 years since the death of Brother Arnold a special event took place. (There is no longer a Brothers’ school here.) Thanks, particularly, to Mr. Gilbert Bongaerts his wife Moniek- Drealants and to Mr. Ward Vanhengel, a magnificent exhibition was held in the ” Casino Modern ” of Genk. Printed photos, music recording, videos, diplomas, awards, uniforms and many other objects of the history of the choir were exhibited. Many former students went to the Brothers’ cemetery in Bokrijk to pray and thank God for the life of the Brothers who educated them. Several ministers of the government of Flanders, the mayor of Genk and other authorities took part in very well organized academic sessions. They all expressed their admiration for the work of that Lasallian school in the education of the miners’ children who were able to sing like angels.
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