On the day that many people stayed holed up behind closed doors due to the fact Storm Ciara was making her presence felt outside, myself and the rest of the ‘Gluren gang’ took to the streets for a musical tour of Haarlem. What awaited us were inspiring performances in equally inspiring locations.

The day was Sunday 9 February and, literally, the streets of Haarlem were empty; except, that is, for the brave voyagers who were determined – much like some of the troubadours who had travelled from afar to entertain us – to get out and discover the delights of Gluren bij de Buren. This living room festival has grown into a national event, turning over 1000 living rooms into mini stages in 23 participating cities.

I wasn’t alone, I had Ciara in tow, and I had a mission to get to know some of my fellow Haarlem citizens by taking the unique invitation to step into their homes and grab the chance to watch artists, masters and musicians perform during the event that politely asks you to ‘peek at your neighbours’.

Musical tour
Gluren bij de Buren

Before I left the house that morning, I had done my homework and my itinerary was planned out. For me, this was a ‘musical tour’ as all my selections had a musical element, though there was also cabaret and comedy, storytelling and poetry on the agenda. This annual event is always a jam-packed spectacle that it would be impossible to cover it in its totality, so I opted for a pre-planned route. Of course, a ‘see what you get’ stroll through the streets is also an option because outside every location that is on the programme, there is a poster in the window as an invitation to step inside. I made sure not to be over ambitious and opted to cover a tiny proportion of what the festival was offering in the south-east corner of the city. I had eight performances picked out, all within a 10-minute walk of each other (no cycling for me in this weather!).

Capoeira School Semente (host: Lisette; location: her home)

My first stop was the one and only where I knew one of the performers and this, if I’m honest, was my impetus to head out into the storm (and I’m so glad I did). It was also the only time during the day that I got to take part in the show and have a go at playing an instrument – the pandeiro (a type of tambourine) – but let’s take step back a minute here. ‘What exactly is Capoeira?’ I hear you ask. At its core, it is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, music and singing – and it is also a culture, a philosophy.

We were welcomed by the host and Contremaster Lisette, all squeezed at one end of the living room while (hopefully) giving the performers enough space to do their thing at the other. This whole event, for me, was about watching with awesome fascination as they all multi-tasked – with a core group singing (in Portuguese) while simultaneously playing the berimbau (long stick instrument) and caxixi (shaker) as other members of the troupe engaged each other and demonstrated amazing acrobatic skills. All this while the team from Haarlem105 TV channel were recording them! (see more photos here)

Gluren bij de Buren

Capoiera School Semente (© Danijel Đorđević)

Sarah Burger (Rugs & Ramblers store)

Gluren bij de Buren

Sarah Burger

After such an energetic experience, I was all fired up to continue on my journey. Back on the street, I met my first group of fellow travellers having trouble finding their next Gluren pick – it was somewhere on the same street, but I couldn’t stick around to help as my next appointment awaited, just around the corner. The events were staged at regular intervals throughout the day, which all kicked off at 12:00 and finished around 16:30. My next spot was somewhere I had previously walked past and not even noticed. It was a tiny and super gezellig rug store into which we piled (no pun intended) to take our spots.

The performer, singer Sarah Burger, personally welcomed us and our hosts offered tea and coffee as we settled in to listen. Oh, and not forgetting our four-legged friend (cute dog, didn’t catch his name) who came to say hello and who also tried to settle down but kept getting a fright each time the audience burst into a round of applause. And there was applause aplenty following each of Sarah’s liedjes (I knew this tour would help with my language skills, that was a word for song that I didn’t know beforehand). Sarah had been living overseas recently (South America among other places) and she sang in both Dutch and Spanish, while switching between playing the acoustic guitar and ukulele (there was a funny story about the ukulele that I can’t quite recall; I think it had accompanied her on her travels and it had been through the wars, though it’s sounding pretty sweet still). Pretty blown away to hear before she finished that this was only Sarah’s second ever gig in the Netherlands! (hear a song here)

Sara Kristin (host: Janet van den Berg; location: AteliervdB)

Gluren bij de Buren

AteliervdB

Before long, it was time for me to get blown away outside again. I meandered through the streets looking for the next venue, that turned out to be a super inspiring location (the atelier of graphic designer Janet) – a sort of cosy oasis, with plants everywhere and it even had its own printing press.

This time, I was treated to the delights of another chanteuse; which isn’t quite correct as our next performer wasn’t French, but German. Songstress Sara Kristin moved to the Netherlands to study, and she entertained the crowded studio during her between-song banter in exquisite Dutch. So, I not only was impressed by her beautiful singing (in English) and her deft ability on the keys, but also her talent with the taal. (listen to a tune here)

Gluren bij de Buren

Sara Kristin

Kaaijk&Koor (host: family Stroink)

Amazingly, at this point, the rain hadn’t even started – just the wind was a-howling. Heading into Spaarnwouderbuurt, it was a bit of a take-your-life-into-your-hands moment as I tried to get across the river Spaarne – hanging on to the side of the bridge and then making a run for it, in the hope of finding a less blustery spot, was the only way to cope with it.

Gluren bij de BurenThough, it was at this moment that I experienced my first casualty due to the weather. On the door of the location of the next stop on my agenda was a note saying the storm had been the cause of a cancellation. Yes, I was disappointed I wouldn’t get to see the handpan performance – though, not to worry, I knew my next spot was just up the same street, if only I could find the right entrance. Another sign on another door – ‘go around the back’ – but in which direction? (There were houses on either side.) I eventually found a handy Gluren poster; not on a window or door this time, but on a wall with an arrow pointing the way.

I had arrived at my destination to see the choral ensemble Kaaijk&Koor. I do love a good choir. It’s funny because as I sat there, I realised it is only (mostly) around Christmas time that you can be sure to hear a choir singing at some stage. Once, I did have a great serendipitous discovery of a Dutch sea shanty choir performing in Frankendael park in Amsterdam; I’ve always wanted to witness that again and, though there were no sea shantys being sung during the Gluren, I was enthralled to encounter 16 voices in unison singing madrigals (secular vocal music compositions of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras) in English and Italian, and perhaps a few other languages, I’m not sure. All I know is that I was so entranced as the polyphonic sounds washed over me. (more info on the choir here)

Gluren bij de Buren

Kaijk&Koor

PB & the Jags (host: Bernice and Nelis)

Next, I was off to travel down narrow alleyways to my next appointment, not before bumping into a couple of lost Gluren-goers (‘head down that narrow alley and you might find what you’re looking for’ I told them in my best Dutch) and having another windy encounter as I crossed back over the water, while avoiding falling roof tiles.Gluren bij de Buren

Then, cue the moment: it was my turn to get lost on this leg of the journey and – wouldn’t you know it – there was no one around to assist; at least my phone still had power and the blue dot led the way (I was seeking out some blues to be fair, so very appropriate in a way). This day really was an episode in endurance, but at the same time it was a total bonding experience with fellow event explorers. Once you found your next venue, you were just so excited to be inside and be safely away from the elements, you wanted to hug everyone! At least, that was definitely the vibe at the next place, which was party central. Packed to the rafters, I couldn’t even get into the room where PB & the Jags were entertaining the crowd in the living room of our hosts. As I mingled with the folks in the hallway and listened to the Delta blues sounds floating out to us, I was offered drinks and the use of the facilities. The welcome and hospitality was second to none in this – and all – the venues, and I would have loved to stick around but I checked the time and realised I was late for my next appointment.

Gluren bij de Buren

Cat in the Corner (host: Reyer and Edith Ploeg; location: event space Jansstraat 33) 

Weather update: The rain had finally decided to join the wind; on the almost deserted Grote Markt, the proprietors of the restaurants were battening down the outside furniture, and the few intrepid pedestrians were keeping an eye out for flying flags that had become detached from their poles. But big up to those cyclists who were still battling on. I was so busy watching out for all this, I had walked past my next venue before doubling-back on myself after spotting what looked like a cosy concert. I noticed a harp through the window and realised, yes, this is where I’m heading. The performance had already begun and, luckily, I managed to sneak in and take a seat without too much commotion.

I was here to see Cat in the Corner, a folk group with sweet vocals and a myriad of instruments. These included the aforementioned harp, plus accordion, fiddle, bodhran, guitar and – the most intriguing of all – a wind-up musical contraption that I would only find out after the concert was an instrument originating from France called a hurdy gurdy (draailier) (akin to a barrel organ, which plays a droning sound when a handle is turned). The folk group thoroughly entertained us with tunes from Celtic, Swedish and Breton tunes. (see some of the show here)

Gluren bij de Buren

Cat in the Corner

This was the only moment during the day where I had the pleasure of experiencing an encore (which was another beautiful rendition of Follow the Heron), which I was very pleased about; it could have gone on for another 30 minutes or 3 hours and I’d have been happy. Gluren bij de BurenThis was also the only time I stuck around afterwards, interacting briefly with the musicians and then discovering more about the venue – a welcoming space that holds regular events. Another reason I took this tour was to find out more about the city where I have lived for a few months now, and I did just that.

Grey (host: Hof 20)
Soon it would be time to end the tour, before the storm hit with its full force. On my way home, I stopped off at one final destination which was another a wonderful discovery. Hof 20 is a place, it turns out, that I could visit for a spot of meditation or yoga in the future. Though, today I was here for a gig by Grey, which was something of a blast from the past.

Listening to the six musicians perform popular tracks from the last few decades was a great way to end my tour. And seeing the lead vocalist’s daughter join the band on stage was the icing on the cake – she was a shining star on a cover of Tears for Fears’ track Mad World. But it was the cover of Villagers’ track Home that really hit a chord with me – and especially the lyrics: ‘I don’t want to take this trip alone’ – because, actually, it really felt like I hadn’t been alone on this trip; I was part of a community, part of the city.

Gluren bij de Buren

Grey

It really felt like I hadn’t been alone on this trip; I was part of a community, part of the city

Roll on next year

So that was it for this year’s Gluren. My first musical tour of Haarlem was over (this being my third tour of this type during my time in the Netherlands; the others: Wijsjes Uit Het Oosten in Amsterdam and Urban Explorers in Dordrecht).

Gluren bij de BurenIt hit me as I was sat in Hof 20 about how well-oiled this whole machine was – kudos to the organisers. I have no idea how the venue sizes could be so well thought out; they had all been full throughout the day, with standing room only in some, but everyone who wanted to get in could be accommodated. And what attentive audiences! Apart from the couple of instances where I stumbled in a little late, all attendees were in place in plenty time before the performance began. The scheduling is perfect in that, after one show ends, people have just enough time to hop between venues before the next one kicks off (no dawdling, mind).

Though, of course, the biggest thanks and a whole heap of gratitude goes to the performers (I hope all you got home safely) and, last but not least, to the hosts: bedankt voor de gastvrijheid!

Good to know:

This entire event is free, with no reservations necessary. Though, if you’re feeling generous, be sure to raid your piggybank beforehand and pop any change in the collection jars you’ll find at each location – just one way we can pay something back at each of the venues for the warm welcome and hospitality. It is also possible to still offer both donations and feedback via the Gluren bij de Buren website here.

Tip for the summer: take a stroll in the gardens this July for Struinen in de Tuinen!

Carmel McNamara