In december thousands of eager students descend on Flanders Expo for the 30th edition of the Massacantus. An indispensable event for many student unions, an alienating scene for outsiders. What makes the cantus such a special event of student life?
Maxime De Huyvetter, an industrial engineering student in life sciences, can without a doubt be called a cantus connoisseur. He even lost count of how many he has attended.
"In the beginning, I kept a precise list in my codex: the name of the cantus, location, student association.... But I stopped counting at 100 and that was some time ago. Over the years, I have ended up everywhere: Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Leuven... I got to know a lot of different cantus styles that way."
For everyone who has never attended: what exactly is a cantus?
"For a cantus, you don't actually need much. You can basically do it with 10 students, but just as easily with 3000. The event is the same everywhere. There is the codex, a book of songs you will sing. There is something to drink. Often that's beer, but it could just as easily be something else. And there's a set of rules, a sort of scenario of the evening. Those rules are actually always and everywhere the same, but they can be played with."
What do you personally love about a cantus?
"The togetherness and atmosphere appeal to me a lot. Seventy percent of the songs in the codex are real party anthems, so that almost automatically makes for a great gathering. There is also room for humour. I have often participated in cantuses where I had tears of laughter."
"I also like the structure of the cantus. You know in advance how the evening will go. But it does depend from cantus to cantus how strictly the rules are applied. When I chair a cantus, I am not there to meticulously point out the rules to everyone. I am there to entertain, to give all students a fun evening. For example, I recently chaired the cantus of the International Konvent. Most there did not know the typical cantus songs. So, among other songs, we sang Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield. Everyone loved it, but that song is never going to make it into the regular codex. I hope so anyway."
What is the biggest misconception about the cantus?
"That booze is central. If you go to a cantus with that mindset, it's very unfortunate. Because getting drunk is not the main purpose. You don't even have to drink beer for me. I always have a glass of water on the table too."
You organised a cantus in the majestic Peristilium of our Ghent University Aula last month. What was the intention exactly?
"I wanted to show all UGent'ers, both students and staff, that cantuses are not always tied to a small hall in the Overpoort street, but can also take place in a fancy setting. That's why I chose the most beautiful location at Ghent University, the Aula."
"In addition, with this cantus I also wanted to thank the many student representatives and Ghent University staff for their efforts during the covid pandemic. Their contribution should not be underestimated. They have all worked hard over the past few years. This cantus thus brought connection between all associations and even between students and prominent figures of UGent. That's why I had also invited the rector."
A big contrast to the Massacantus taking place at Flanders Expo?
"They are two extremes. The Massacantus has become less and less of a strict cantus over the years. But I enjoy seeing both forms of cantus equally."
“I am a slightly older student, so I even attended the 20th edition and I was immediately sold. I distinctly remember when someone asked his girlfriend to marry him. When I think about how all that hall started cheering then, it even gives me goosebumps. That was phenomenal."
"The flag ceremony at the start of the Massacantus is also a top moment every year. The lights go out. Just the lights shining on the flags of all the student associations coming together to the stage. Last year, as president, I then got to speak afterwards. Indescribable."
Is there a decline in popularity of the cantus after the corona crisis?
"A cantus is made by the members of the student unions. If a generation falls away there, there may be a change. So Covid has not done much good. I tried to counter that last year by giving a lecture on cantuses every day at the beginning of the academic year: how a cantus is put together, what are the basic rules, my own experience..."
"But student life always remain. Two world wars have also passed, so it would be strange if it were suddenly over now."
Do you already know what your next cantus project will be?
"The model cantus in the Aula would have been a nice one to end with. But in 2024 there might be another project with the city of Ghent at a large venue. I would also like to organise a walking cantus along the many parks in Ghent one day. As long as it's fun and we can sing a song."
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"Student life is not just about drinking and partying"
Ut vivat, crescat et floreat: the student association SK Ghendt is 90 years old. The SK brings together 30 regional clubs, college clubs and pub clubs from Ghent and organises weekly activities for their members. The annual highlight? The commemoration of the occupation of the Gravensteen castle.
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These students prefer tea to beer
Ghent student life has a rich tradition. Among the more than 100 associations in our city, there are also some unique ones. Moeder Theepot, for instance, has been bringing student tea lovers together for 10 years.