We’re continuing the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with WÖR, a band of five musicians from Belgium whose curiosity and passion lead them to research old Flemish music and present it in vibrant contemporary arrangements. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!
With finely textured arrangements, WÖR injects new energy into 18th-century melodies from the Flanders region of Belgium. Their sound has elements of folk, early music, and jazz, and shines an inventive spotlight on the tunes preserved in old Flemish manuscripts. The band members include Fabio Di Meo (baritone saxophone), Jeroen Goegebuer (fiddle), Bert Ruymbeek (accordion), Jonas Scheys (guitar), and Pieterjan Van Kerckhoven (bagpipes, baroque musette, saxophone).
WÖR’s path to performing in the Homegrown series began all the way back in 2016 when Jennifer Cutting and I saw them perform in Kansas City at the Folk Alliance International conference. We spoke to them about appearing in the Homegrown series, but it wasn’t possible at that time. Since then, we have tried to bring them here several times, but factors outside our control (including the global pandemic that began in 2019) have always intervened. We’re very glad to have their video performance in the “Homegrown at Home” series, and hope someday to present them live as well.
WÖR has toured in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, and was nominated for ‘best live band’ at the Flemish Folk Awards, 2021. They have released three albums; the second, Sssht, won the German award ‘Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik,’ and the latest, About Towers, made it into the European World Music Charts. Much of their current repertoire comes from About Towers, which is built around Belgian manuscripts from the vast carillon repertoire from the Low Countries. In the late Middle Ages, the carillon (a set of tuned bronze bells suspended in a large tower) used to function like a radio station, playing the hits of the day to everyone in the surrounding area.
By now, I’ll bet you’re ready to see the concert. Watch it in the player below!
[Transcript of Concert]
In the interview, we talked about Belgian folk culture, the relationship between Flemish and Dutch, and some of the sources of WÖR’s music. We also talked about their instruments, including the particular accordion Bert uses, their iconic Flemish bagpipes (known to the world from Breughel’s paintings), and the saxophone, which as they reminded me is a Belgian invention! We talked about the carillon repertoire as a source of tunes, and the importance of the carillon to the culture of the Low Countries. Finally, we talked about their approach to arranging music and other aspects of their career as a band. It was a fun conversation for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too…find it in the player below!
After the premiere, you’ll be able to find both these videos with more bibliographic information at this link on the Library of Congress website. You’ll also find them on the Library of Congress YouTube Channel.
If you enjoyed the concert and interview, check out the Collection Connections below. You’ll find links to archival collections, guides, and other materials related to folklife of the Low Countries, as well as to carillons!
Field Collections Online
You can find Flemish folklife in the following AFC online collections and presentations:
The Wisconsin Folksong Collection, which consists of AFC collection materials shared with the University of Wisconsin, is online at the University of Wisconsin website. It contains traditional music and song from Belgian Americans. You can find these materials in two groupings:
The Library of Congress provides access to the Open Access book Carillons and Carillon Music in Old Gdansk by Danuta Popinigis. Although Gdansk is of course in Poland, it was an early adopter of the carillon from the Low Countries; the city had a majority German-speaking population and extensive trade relations with what are now the Benelux countries from the 16th through the 18th centuries, when most of its carillons were created. The first Gdansk carillons were crafted by Dutch bellmakers in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
The Library of Congress also has this fascinating 1919 brochure proposing that carillons be built in the capital cities of the Allied nations after World War I, specifically to make up for the destruction of Belgian carillons during the war. The text begins:
Silent are the church towers of Flanders and Artois, the belfries of Donai and Bruges. They have been robbed of their treasures, those bells that for hundreds of years have pealed forth the hopes and aspirations of the surrounding countryside. These bells have suffered desecration, their noble metal recast for purposes of war and their erstwhile melodious tongues constrained to speak the raucous tones of battle in behalf of barbarian hosts. But now that it is within our power let us give them back to civilization. From the metal of captured enemy cannon let there be cast the most wonderful carillon of bells of which the world’s best makers are capable, and let these be duplicated in sufficient numbers that the capital city of each of the great allied nations may be provided with a set of these “peace bells.” The architects of all the world would vie with one another to see that in each of these cities should arise a magnificent bell tower to house this carillon, a splendid example of fitting architecture, worthy of the theme commemorated.
The proposed peace carillon with magnificent architecture never came to fruition, but a carillon was given to the United States by the Netherlands after World War II to thank us for our efforts in liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation, and for subsequent economic aid. In 2021, the carillon was given three new bells, which elevates its status to “Grand Carillon.” You can read about (and hear) that carillon at this link from our colleagues at the National Park Service.
Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For several years, we’ve been presenting the concerts here on the blog with related interviews and links, in the series Homegrown Plus. (Find the whole series here!) For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.