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Singing up a storm in the Cook Islands

I'M NOT a church-goer.

Not that you need to know that, but thought I'd pass on it because it's relevant.

The only times I attend church now are for funerals - more and more frequently as I and my friends age.

So it was with surprise that I was invited to attend a church service when I was in the Cook Islands recently.

Strange, I thought, but I was too polite to decline the invitation, and happy to go to church for a reason other than someone dying.

And so it was that I found myself outside the Cook Islands Christian Church in Rarotonga on a Sunday morning, looking at the modest white building with arched windows surrounded by a green lawn with a few swaying palms (gotta have swaying palms in the Cook Islands).

The ladies gathered outside the church, wearing big floral frocks we used to call mu mus (you'll remember them if you are of a certain age).

They looked so fresh and happy and so islandy with their straw hats decorated in bright flowers - some plastic, some fresh.

It was worth attending the church just to see the dedication of these women in their Sunday hats. It was obvious there was quite a bit of hat competition going on.

Well, nothing could have prepared me for the singing inside the church.

Although it was all in the native tongue and I understood not a word, it was the glorious rich harmonies that captured my heart (I want to say captured my soul but you might think I'm being too fancy).

The women led the singing and, at the appropriate time, the men joined in to harmonise.

Their rich melodic voices filling every bit of space in the small white church.

On and on it went ... song after glorious song - each one worthy of a presentation in a grand world theatre.

It was one of the best experiences I've had in all my travels - all the better for the unexpectedness of it (had I done some research before I went to the Cook Islands, I would have known that in every church in the islands on every Sunday morning, this joyful and exquisite singing is the norm. Just about everyone in the Cook Islands has a fabulous voice. But I don't like to research. I enjoy being surprised).

Another singing/travel memory came to be by chance in the south of France on the mighty Pont du Gard: a massive aqueduct built by the Romans more than 2000 years ago to carry water from Uzes to Nimes.

There is only a small section left of its original 50km but the Pont du Gard is magnificent - a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I visit it every year, but this time there was some sort of military parade going on.

About 100 soldiers did drills on the lawn by the Pont du Gard and a small crowd gathered to watch, none of us knowing what it was all about.

Then the soldiers started marching across the aqueduct and singing.

Again, the melodic voices of the men rang out as they marched and sang and it was all so wonderful I couldn't quite believe I was there.

That, my friends, is my singing story. Perhaps I should be off to join a choir.

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