With the burgomaster of Helmond
With the burgomaster of Helmond – Queen’s Day 2013

English Morris Dancing in Helmond

When the St Jozef choir boys’ voices were breaking, Theo Driessen, in 1935, introduced Morris Dancing as a way to keep them together. The music and rhythm of the dance suited their development. Morris Dancing grew and spread throughout Helmond and the surroundings. Even in the dark days of World War II, when everything English was forbidden, Morris Dancing continued to flourish in Helmond.

Contacts with England

Soon after the war there was some contact with Morris Dancing in England but it was soon lost. In 1975, two years before Theo Driessen’s death, contact was re-established. Shortly afterwards, Helmond Morris Men became members of the Morris Ring. This occured in Thaxted in 1976 and since that time there has been regular contact between the Helmond and the Thaxted Morris dancers.

Theo Driessen

Born on 29 September 1901, died on 7 November 1977, Theo Driessen was probably Helmond’s best known schoolmaster. He founded the St Jozef Choir and was the man to whom all music teaching in the Netherlands is indebted. But he was also the man whose work led to the emancipation of catholic working class youth.

Theo Driessen was the son of an Asten farmer. From 1924 until his retirement in 1967 he was a schoolmaster in Helmond. Before going into teaching, he studied at the Beekvliet Seminary but had to leave for health reasons. It was there that he became enamoured of Gregorian music and especially the composers Josquin des Prés and Palestrina. This led to his invention of the ‘Ward-method’ in 1928. This is a simple, systematic, rapid and effective means of teaching music to children based on Gregorian music.

Theo Driessen introduced this method at the St Jozef School and founded the St Jozef Choir in 1929. The choir was so successful that it effectively became a demonstration choir for the Ward-method. Demonstrations and public classes were given as far away as Bern. In Paris, the choir appeared for Enesco.

Morris Repertoire

In the early years the repertoire consisted mainly of the dances from the village of Headington with a few from Bampton. After the first contact with England in 1975, the repertoire was expanded to include Fieldtown, Lichfield Brackley and Bledington. To bring the wheel full circle, in recent years, the Headington dances have been polished up to a high standard of performance.

Medal of Honour
City of Helmond Medal of Honour, 1 May 2010