The legacy of Zoltán Kodály was brought to life in Kiskunfélegyháza. World famous musicians played with children as their equal partners at a Community Week concert organised by the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Report by Krisztina Hompola, Népszava.
At the beginning of the harp solo the instruments used by the fidgeting children were dropped on occasion but everybody quieted down when it came to the really peaceful sequences of Marcel Tournier’s Sonatine. We visited the event called Music Castle, held in the Story Castle, a Golden Apple Folktale Point in Kiskunfélegyháza, as part of the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s Community Week.
Egg cartons with rubber bands, plastic bottles filled with colourful sweets – children know that there is no object that cannot be turned into a musical instrument. And so do the members of the orchestra. Fifteen musicians and about one hundred children were playing together. “Once upon a time there was a conductor king. The inhabitants of his land – the noblemen, the ladies-in-waiting and the knights – all happily obeyed to the touch of his baton. That is how chaos was turned into order and noise into harmony in the Music Castle. With the instruments we made ourselves we can also become guests in this land, which is called: The Orchestra,” begins the story by Erika Illési. “Every family has its rebels, doubters and cynics – he is the cello,” was the special introduction, which perfectly fit in with the story.
The Story-teller asked a question before making sounds with each of the string, brass and wood-wind instruments, and of course the mandatory question was also raised: how can a flute be a wood-wind instrument? Many children were able to identify the cello, about five or six recognised the flute, a few more of them knew the clarinet but only three hands shot up in the air when a bassoon appeared. We sadly acknowledge the passing glory of the world, since when the once best known bassoon tune – composed by József Vadas for what was once the title music of the children’s TV bedtime story – was played, it did not bring a smile to any one of the children’s faces; it is only us, adults, who smile upon hearing it with a pinch of nostalgia.
The one-hour event was long enough to include Khachaturian, Dittersdorf, Strauss and even the Charleston. Scanning the rows, it was obvious that when they hear ragtime, children find it extremely hard to keep still, and when loud brass music was being played, they danced happily to it albeit with their ears covered to muffle the loudness. The Story-teller began to dance with a little boy between two rows of chairs, while the king – despite being a king – probably did not know what the true use of a sword is because he was clowning about with it to Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance. The king showed the children, though, that a wooden chair is just as suitable for drumming as his own instrument. The closing chord, Susato’s Moorish Dance, became a real experience through the children accompanying it by plucking rubber bands on egg cartons and shaking sweets in plastic bottles, and when the ’jam session’ was over we found out what sometimes happens even in professional orchestras: regardless of the final move of the baton to end the last chord, in an improvised orchestra of more than one hundred members, the greatest challenge is not to keep time, build up the dynamics and intonate perfectly but to finish together.
Who is cool?
“I liked the harp the most, and when we all played together.” “I liked the bassoon.” “I liked the flute.” “I liked the violin.” “We’ve already been to an open-air concert and I would like to play music” we hear three little girls chattering about. They are classmates and their teacher brought them here. “I also liked the harp solo the most, and when they were playing a sword fight and when we were dancing. I don’t want to play music, I only do stuff like calling my friend over who has a toy guitar, and he is plucking that and I am drumming with two wooden spoons,” Gergely Gillion says. They all nodded when asked the question if they found it difficult to finish together on time. “Yes, there were a few who did the rattling a bit longer on purpose, to be cool, but our class tried to finish together, when the king signalled us to stop,” they said.
Conquerors with a twist
Erika Illési, the Story-teller of the Music Castle, who is a violinist as well as a mother, knows how to reach children. “I write these stories to be able to show children the parts of an orchestra. They may think that musicians live on a different planet and have a very different life from theirs. So we use playing to bring music closer to them and make them see that music and dance can be made part of their lives too. To quote Kodály: music should belong to everybody, explains Erika. The Community Week events are free of charge and have been running for four years now. When the programme is on, we ‘occupy’ almost the whole of Hungary with small productions. Every member of the orchestra participates in at least one event, be it a concert in a church, a synagogue or a performance in an old people’s home, and we take our Music Castle to the children,” she tells us.
“We have a lot of stories and the programme is always different: this year we play six or seven stories, alternating them. A new story, choreography and costume idea pops up in my head every year. And I can get my colleagues to do anything. We come here to give the children something, we also get so much, lots of inspiration and ideas from them, Erika says, referring to this being a mutual experience. It once happened that when a harp was being tuned before the performance, a little boy from Ózd said out loud “It’s out of tune!” It later turned out he had an absolute pitch. Up to that day, he had only played guitar with his father occasionally but he did not go to music school. After the Music Castle, a local foundation, called You Belong! Foundation, began to support him and helped his music studies,” is one of the stories Erika, the inventor of the Music Castle shared with us from among the many experiences she has had.
“The Budapest Festival Orchestra organises two Community Week programmes per season, within the framework of which different chamber formations take music to old people’s homes, children’s care homes, schools, churches and synagogues. We decided that besides going to the less developed regions of the country, we will give people living there the opportunity to come to Budapest and create an important and large-scale event together. One of the outcomes of this effort is the event called Dancing on the Square concert; this year too, hundreds of young people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds were able to dance together to the live music played by our orchestra, feeling they are heroes at least for a day.” (BFO) Information: Dancing on the Square concert, 16 June, 7 p.m. on the square in front of the Basilica in Budapest (Szent István tér 1.)
Photo: Lili Chripko