WMC – Wereld Muziek Concours

To make sure the third Wereld Muziek Concours would be a resounding success, the WMC Foundation decided to offer the inhabitants of Kerkrade a language course in French, English, and Italian. The initiative was reported in both the national and foreign media. The first language course was given on Monday evening, 4 November 1957. The opening was distinguished by the reading of a telegram from H.R.H. Prince Bernard, patron of the WMC, a telegram from René Höppener, State Secretary for Education, Arts and Sciences, and not least by the speech of Dr Houben, the Queen’s Commissioner in Limburg. The opening was enhanced by the music of the St. Pancras Concert Band, who carried a sign in front of them proclaiming: We’re going back to school (Kerkrade Municipal Archives)

The Wereld Muziek Concours was first held in August 1951, in Kerkrade. In 1949, the two Kerkrade concert bands (The St. Aemiliaan Concert Band and the St. Pancras 1949 Concert Band) invited the Frickley Colliery Band from England. This is how the idea of organizing an international music festival arise.

The founding bands

the St. Aemilian Concert Band, also known as the Bleijerheide Concert Band, was founded in 1901. The St. Pancras Concert Band from Groot Nulland was founded on 27 January 1918. In 2013, the band merged with the Kerkrade Royal Concert Band. This is the oldest concert band in Kerkrade and is therefore also called ‘De Auw’ (ye olde). It was founded on 6 May 1843 as the St. Caecilia 1843 Kerkrade Royal Concert Band.

A joint organizing committee was set up on 8 August 1950, and the first international competition was held a year later. Until 1959, this festival was called the ‘Internationaal Muziekconcours’ (International Music Competition), after which it was renamed the WMC (Wereld Muziek Concours – World Music Competition). From that moment on, the event was repeated every four years, as the number of participants and therefore the work required to organize the competition increased from year to year.

(Source: kerkradewiki.nl)

Nowadays, the competition is organized by the WMC Foundation. It has become an international wind music festival with competitions for wind orchestras, percussion ensembles, brass bands, marching bands, show bands, and conductors, where musicians and visitors from different countries meet up to make music together. The festival draws around 19,000 musicians and 200,000 visitors.

In Germany, miners’ bands had a long tradition with their uniforms and the march “Glück auf, der Steiger kommt”. The origin lies in the 17th century in Saxony. In January 1892, the first miners’ band in the Netherlands was founded in Kerkrade. It is said to have been founded by the then director of the Domaniale, August Wilhelm Otto Maria von Pelser Berensberg, who had been inspired by the tradition of miners’ bands on the German side. Many of the musicians came from the St Pancratius and St Caecilia harmonies. The uniforms and the musical instruments were paid for by the director of the Domaniale. So the musicians in their uniforms were something special at that time. As early as 1894, the miners’ band won a cash prize for the most original uniform at a music festival in Antwerp, in addition to a gold medal for musical achievement.

Although the main focus of the miners’ band’s performances was always in Kerkrade itself, the corps also made regular concert tours at home and abroad. These included honourable invitations, such as the procession on Amsterdam’s Dam Square for Queen Wilhelmina on the occasion of her silver jubilee as reigning queen in 1923 and her 40th jubilee as queen in 1938.

After the Second World War, the Bergkapelle also participated in the World Music Contest (WMC) every four years. Traditionally, the Bergkapelle played the national anthem at the opening and closing ceremonies, gave a musical reception to the dignitaries and gave a performance in the Kerkrade stadium.

With the closure of the mines between 1966 and 1974, the miners’ band also disappeared. The miners’ band did not even survive the closure of the Domaniale. In July 1967, more than two years before the last anthracite coal came to the surface from the Domaniale, the oldest miners’ corps in the Netherlands disbanded.

In 1972, the band of the Domaniale had once again performed in honour of Queen Juliana’s visit. (Herzogenrath – The living border town in pictures of days gone by/M. Bierganz – T. Kutsch)

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eyewitness report

eyewitnesses – Harry Thoren, Willi Beetz, Heinz Kebeck

The music friends Harry Thoren, Willi Beetz and Heinz Kebeck met in the 70s. Heinz Kebeck and Willi Beetz played in the Herzogenrather Kapelle Straß 1880 e. V. They were both 16 years old at the time. Different festivities took place on different days on the Herzogenrath and Kerkrad sides. So the carnival procession on the Herzogenrath side was on Tulip Sunday and the Kerkrad procession was on Rose Monday. Heinz and Willi thus had plenty of opportunity to hear the Kerkrad music orchestra. The conductor of the Dutch orchestra was a professional musician, so the repertoire of the band was more varied and there were more young people in the orchestra than in the German orchestra. They were so enthusiastic about it that they decided to join this orchestra too and met Harry there. The beginning of a friendship.

To get to the music rehearsals on the other side of the border, the young people used to jump over the chain-link fence. The regular border crossings were too far for the young people. Coming from Germany it was no problem, the Dutch customs officers turned a blind eye. When the rehearsals were over in the evening and they wanted to go home again around 9 p.m., the German customs officers stopped the young people shortly after they crossed the border. They thought they had made it home, but then the customs officers showed up and took Heinz and Willi to the customs office, either to Pannesheide or to the Aachener Straße border crossing. There their parents had to pick them up and “release” them for a fee of 10.00 DM.

Heinz Kebeck reports that his uncle, Heinrich Kebeck, was the conductor of the Strasbourg orchestra at the time. From 1938 – 1980 and thus also the conductor who had led the Strasbourg band on the Neustraße at its golden wedding anniversary in 1954. The Straßer Kapelle had also participated in the first WMC events in 1951 and again in 1954. They even won a first prize in the march.

For many years the WMC was very close to the people. The friends report that the participants from the other countries stayed with host families during the event, mainly with members of the Kerkrad orchestras. This brought a special atmosphere. Depending on which country the participants came from, they could only communicate in English, sometimes only with “hands and feet”. For example, musicians from Bulgaria told us that they had been told in advance that the facilities of their host families had been furnished with borrowed furniture so that they could make a good impression on the international musicians. The furnishings would only be Western propaganda; after the WMC, everything would have to be returned. The musicians from the then USSR were even accompanied by KGB staff as “chaperones”.

During choir rehearsals and performances, the music lovers also always had to keep an eye on the different summertime regulations. Because, what many people don’t know today, daylight saving time was introduced in Germany in 1980, but in the Netherlands three years earlier – in 1977. This was also an additional annoyance for the border workers.

Before that, summer time had already been introduced in the Netherlands between 1916 and 1944. In Germany, however, this was interrupted: 1916 – 1918 and from 1940 – 1944 and 1945 – 1949.

Another restriction was the Sunday driving ban. Even before the oil crisis in 1973, there were Sunday driving bans in the Netherlands. In the period from 25.11.1956 – 20.01.1957 and then in the oil crisis of the 1970s from 04.11.1973 – 06.01.1974. In Germany there was a driving ban on four Sundays during this period from 25.11. – 16.12.1973. So there were more driving bans in the Netherlands than in Germany. Whenever performances took place across the border on Sundays, this always had to be taken into account when transporting the musical instruments. These transports were strictly controlled by the customs officers anyway. Were there the same number of musical instruments on the way back as on the way there?