News - February 8, 2018

Bach, beer and top B

Linda van der Nat

She loves Bach and drinking beer. But Rieke Oosterhuis knows they don’t always go together very well. After a night out in the pub, her voice cannot always reach the high notes.

Rieke Oosterhuis has been singing all her life. This year she was selected for the Dutch Student Chamber Choir.

text Linda van der Nat  photos Sven Menschel

Sometimes her boyfriend asks her to shut up for a while. He needs a bit of peace and quiet. ‘I sing so much that I don’t always even realize I’m doing it,’ says Rieke Oosterhuis. She laughs: ‘I can imagine it can be quite irritating for other people. But even he sings more now that he did when we first met. And he can sing in tune.’

The student of International Development Studies has been singing all her life. As a child in the church choir, then in the National Children’s Choir, and recently as a soloist. This year she is one of the talented singers in the Dutch Student Chamber Choir (NSK). This choir has been going since 1974 and is formed every year by the best singers among Dutch students. Of the nearly 80 students who auditioned this year, 38 were selected.

Oosterhuis is one of the four highest sopranos. That means a lot of difficult high notes. ‘With top B, I often think, oh no, here it comes again. But if your voice is properly warmed up and you have enough breath, it goes OK in the end.’

Piano and guitar
In her student room in Wageningen town centre, she has a piano and a guitar. She plays the cello as well, but it is a bit too delicate to keep in her room. Her parents and brother are musical too. Nevertheless, Oosterhuis decided against the conservatoire. ‘That life is terribly hard. I would be afraid that my passion for singing would disappear if it wasn’t a hobby any more. And besides, I love studying and research.’

So Oosterhuis took the plunge into student life. It turned out to be difficult to combine it with singing. The second-year student belongs to the student society D.L.V. Nji Sri, and sometimes stays ‘far too long’ in the bar. ‘That has an immediate effect on your singing, because the next day you are not on top form, mentally or physically.’

If you sing modern music badly, it sounds as though you’ve dropped a lot of china

Oosterhuis deliberately doesn’t sing easy Top 40 songs. She likes a challenge. ‘Pop songs are geared to popularity and not to originality. I love Bach, but most of all I like modern pieces. If you don’t sing those right, it sounds as though you’ve dropped all the china in your grandmother’s cupboard.’ She knows chamber choirs have a dusty image. ‘But the NSK is full of fresh energy. We work very hard, but during a rehearsal weekend we also like to go down the pub together after a day of rehearsing.’

Oosterhuis will be performing with the NSK from 13 February. The choir will be in the Arboretum church in Wageningen on 1 March, and will perform in the Forum at the opening of the WUR centenary celebrations on 8 March. The group has been rehearsing hard since December. ‘We can practise one tiny piece for a whole day. If it sounds good at the end of the day, we get a real kick out of it. That makes me very happy.’

Rieke Oosterhuis is not the only Wageningen student in the NSK. Others who sing in the choir are BSc student of Environmental Sciences Frank Cornelisse, MSc student of Biology Laurens de Mooij, and MSc student of Plant Sciences Clara Polzer.