Monday 21 October 2013

Somerset Ambassadors of Song Sing Out Across the Danube

A few years back, natural voice practitioner Yvette Staelens founded the Voice of the People Choir at the Bridgwater Arts Centre to help people find the singing voice that she believes everyone has inside them. For almost as long, we have taken these musical ambassadors to the four corners of Europe to meet other singers and prove that songs, smiles and a cheery disposition are universal.

This year we did Hungary. 

Flying out to Budapest from Gatwick the 48 strong group from all over Somerset landed into lovely sunny autumnal weather. Which was just as well as it had been bucketing down icy rain only the day before. Met off the plane by globetrotting nutjob Cllr Smedley, they stayed the first night at the Hotel Benczur in the leafy streets around the 19th Century Andrassy Avenue, next to the  evocative Hosok Ter (Heroes Square). 
Anytime,Any Place Anywhere


Under Andrassy runs the European mainlands first underground railway. Petite, yellowing and inches from the surface it should take 10 minutes to get to the centre of town. Not tonight though as there had been an accident and replacement busses were suddenly waiting for us at the Octagon (formerly Mussolini Square, due to Hungarys war time alliance - but tonight no trains ran on time...).

Several Hungarian supporters of the Bridgwater-Sarvar link were waiting in the centre for us. Well, in the Hard Rock cafe as we were so late, but they dashed out to show us around the waterfront area of downtown Pest with the stunning views looking towards Uptown Buda.
Juggling 'something'


The next day the sun shone brighter and we took a tour of the main sights of the city. Starting on Buda's castle hill the group burst into song around the Fishermans Bastion and St Matyas Church, then again down the Siklo Funicular to Clark Adam Square. More singing. This time not especially entertaining the crowds who mistook them for the queue to the Funicular and waited patiently in line next to them. Lesley entertained everyone with some juggling. Nobody, not even the horticulturalists knew what exactly she was juggling, but hundreds had fallen from the trees nearby. 

Crossing the Chain Bridge we wound up at St Stevens basilica, then split up for lunch. Then arranged to meet at the Parliament Square to set off out of town. 

 Bocsánatot kérek

A couple of councillors
Sarvar is some 3 hours from Budapest, and everyone was happy to jump into it;s famous Spa and Wellness centre where they were offered a range of treatments including putting hot stones on their backs and various flavoured fruit massages.

That evening we went to the Nadasdy Restaurant where we were welcomed by local Councillor Zsolt Nemeth and his famous palinka (that's an apple brandy) (which  'for purposes of recognition' has pictures of him on the bottles). He gave Yvette one. The portions were stupendous. But lest this descends into a Carry On script, I refer of course to the meals.Phwoar lumme etc.

On the saturday we went to the nearby town of Celdomolk and were greeted by the Deputy Mayor who spoke of the wine growing tradition and invited us to the nearby volcano. Which was  extinct. Or 'probably' extinct. A big EU subsidy had built a massive building that taught you everything you wanted to know about volcanic eruptions. And then it was 'Carry on Up the Community Centre' for the highlight of the weekend -the concert!

 Hogy hívják?

Tommy Tucker speaks (Hungarian) to the world
The Lizst Ferenc Choir were a professional bunch of singers, uniformed and using sheet music. Voice of the People complimented them perfectly. And then did their set. 

The performance was not only terrific, it was incredibly moving in places. Apart from Yvettes enthusiasm for the power and inate talent of people wherever and whoever they are, you suddenly had to wake up and think 'bloody, hell this is a group of  ordinary people from Somerset singing to the world with voices they never knew they had and not holding their own but bringing the house down.' And that's an achievement for everybody involved.

Neptune blesses a passing choir ion Vienna
Both choirs took the stage together in an unrehearsed , spontaneous and quite lengthy, rendition of the Spanish Adios Amigos. Then they had some wine. Then they went off to the Spa again.


And that evening saw more wine, beer and large plates of Hungarian food being consumed. This time local teacher Ildiko turned up with her guitar to teach them a Hungarian song. Mr Nemeth sang the praises of Yvette and the Choir while Cllr Ian 'Tommy' Tucker could relax after his third performance of a speech in Hungarian. And then was told that one of them had been filmed by Hungarian TV and was being broadcast to the Nation that night. He had another glass of wine.

The following day the group trekked off to Vienna with the assistance of local guide Gabor and had a relaxing tour of one of Europes most beautiful cities before catching the late afternoon flight back home.
Gabor 'tells it like it is' (and later bursts into song)

The reception in Sarvar and the groups programme had been organised with the hard work of local helpers Beata Kovacs and Mr Nemeth, and the partiicpation of Beata's students Berci and Balint  helped everyone understand where they were that little bit more.

 Nem tudok magyaru

Cllr Smedley on the other hand was off to Prague and decided to save his last 2 euros by walking 4km to the Meidling train station then get himself a nice cup of coffee. Which he did. And then proceeded to spill all over himself.


  1. Brian, thanks again for a brilliantly organised tour - I have been getting fab feedback all day!! Looking forward to the next one

  2. Thank you for an amazing experience, Brian - although I would not quite have used the word 'relaxing' in my case. Still, would not have missed it for anything!

    By the way, those strange fruit that Lesley was juggling are Osage Oranges, also known as hedgeapples. They are not nice to eat, but apparently squirrels like them, and the hard wood of the trees has many uses, including the making of musical instruments. The fruit is also rumoured to be a good insect repellent!