Britain insists on its choral opt-out

Europe

"WE'RE not really opting out. It's just that we're better than they are," said one bearded baritone, as lines of Pringle sweaters and bobbed heads took up their seats.

It was, of course, a very British refrain. "Bah bah bah bah de bah," sang the Brits of the Brussels Choral Society, as they warmed up for their regular Thursday rehearsal - in their own language, in their own choir and on their very own terms.

Only the British of Brussels like to sing on their own. Other Europeans join the Choir of the European Union, which was also rehearsing on Thursday - in French.

On their laps were neat little music folders, bearing neat little European emblems. "Loo loo loo loo de loo," went their scales. "You are the voice of Brussels. The voice of unity," enthused the ebullient Belgian conductor, Dirk de Moor, as his songsters opened their lungs in the greater European cause.

A rare British EU chorister sat at the back in a pin-stripe suit. "I'm in Europe. I chose to sing in the European choir," he explained.

"We have Belgians, Germans, Danes, French," said Mr Dirk de Moor. "We have Spanish, Portuguese and a Pole. But we only have two British. Why don't we have more? I don't know. We would love to have more British. They are marvellous singers - among the best. We just wish they would come along. But then Britain is an island, and they like to sing on their island here too."

The Brussels Choral Society insists that it too is "international". It has 58 British members - but the rest are from all over the world.

"We sing every major work. The European choir is just not up to it," said one singer who did not wish to be named. And, he added, "their last conductor was deaf."

There is no chance that the Brits will ever opt in to the EU choir, say the singers.

"We just work harder. We have greater discipline and an entirely different tradition," said the conductor, Tom Cunningham, from Scotland, who works as an official in the European Commission.

Newcomers to the EU choir must agree to promote the ideals of the Community. And they must obey the directives governing the activities of the choir. "No transparency", says the EU choir dress code for women. "No flowery underwear and no visible lace."

The singers must be prepared to travel to all member states. ("We haven't been invited to Britain - but we hope to go there one day," said Mr de Moor.)

They must also perform at EU ceremonies and functions. And, of course, their programme must always include the European anthem, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy".

"All of this," say the British singers, "spoils the fun."

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