It was the drums and the paper trumpets which really got the children of Cserdi fired up at the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s concert. Members of the orchestra took their Music Castle community programme to the underprivileged village to both entertain and help build the community. An article by Vince Ballai, Abcúg.
“Please, if you want to practice, go outside into the courtyard!” they tell the kids who are eager to try out their new, brightly-coloured paper trumpets - otherwise the noise in the cramped lobby of the clinic-cum-cultural centre in Cserdi would soon become unbearable. It’s always the trumpets they love the most - observes one of the Festival Orchestra’s assistants, who joins the children in producing the makeshift instruments. Besides the trumpets, they make rattles from half-litre soft drink bottles and fashion stringed instruments from egg cartons and heavy-duty rubber bands.
The kids blow, shake and strum away, rehearsing first in the lobby and then in the courtyard. They will soon be joining members of the Festival Orchestra to make music, but for the time being they are happy simply to be blowing the little plastic mouthpieces attached to their trumpets as they wait for the Music Castle performance to start.
Music Castle is a way of showing children, through storytelling, that an orchestra is about more than just music, that its members function as a community. When they play their music together, it’s a result of teamwork; it makes them happy, sets them free, and ensures that they all look out for one another, according to Erika Illési, a violinist in the orchestra and one of the co-creators of the programme.
The orchestra regularly holds such community weeks. They feature a variety of programmes, including church or synagogue concerts, performances in nursing homes for the elderly, instrument tasting sessions for children or Music Castle. This Music Castle in Cserdi, Baranya County, is the eighth such event in the series; the orchestra have previously performed in Bódvaszilas, Told, Téglás, Tiszaszalka and in Zugló’s School for Mobility Development.
The community weeks serve partly to entertain, partly to renew the audience. “The contrast is tremendous,” violist László Bolyki tells us during the three-hour bus ride to Cserdi. “As we return from touring Asia, we see just how classical music audiences in Hungary are ageing.” He goes on to tell us how surprised he was to see how enthusiastic and young their audiences were in China, and says this may be because, in China, they are still learning about European culture. The orchestra hope to use community programmes such as Music Castle to turn classical music into a ‘cool experience’. The violist says, between tours and more major performances, their musicians too find such events refreshing. “There is no sense of intellectual reserve, but music can serve as a means for the underprivileged to break out from their situation.”
“We hope to create a kind of network, so that listening to music becomes more than just a one-off experience. It is a way to hold their hand, so we offer something to adults as well as to children,” says orchestra deputy director Orsolya Erdődy while sitting on the terrace of the Cserdi cultural centre. Among other things, Mayor László Bogdán treats the musicians to ‘Gypsy ratatouille’, as well as strudel and stuffed cabbage from the Kóstolda Roma restaurant in Pécs.
Orsolya Erdődy talks of how they want to stay in touch, how they would possibly like to bring a family from each of the disadvantaged areas they’ve visited to one of their regular concerts, maybe even in Budapest. “Music is just a tool; the point is to build communities and provide a model for how we can create something together.”
A great blowing of trumpets heralds in the concert as children sit inside on rubber mats just in front of the orchestra. They are reluctant to let the professionals take over. “Settle down, young man,” the mayor tells one of the noise-makers, so that the storytelling concert may commence.
“Nǚshìmen xiānshēngmen - ladies and gentlemen,” Music Castle narrator Erika Illési, dressed as a court jester, welcomes the audience in several languages including Chinese, alluding to their tour in Asia, and then looks around. “What languages do you know?” she asks. ”German!” several of the children yell out. “English!” “Romani” say others. “And who speaks the language of dogs? What about the language of birds? And who knows how to speak the language of music? That is what our story today is all about...”
The story revolves around a medieval kingdom - Music Castle - where the conductor is the king; the shiny, gilded woodwinds are the ladies-in-waiting and the noblemen; the brass instruments are the knights in armour; and so on - yet “all of them speak one language: the language of music.” “And this allows them to tell any story.” There are messengers, there’s a princess playing the harp, a lakeside walk and, at the end, making music together.
The children pay attention, although some are more focused than others. Between two pieces they blow their trumpets happily and clap. “Ronaldo! Ronaldo!” - they try to encourage one of the popular boys when Erika Illési asks for a volunteer to bark like a dog during the applicable part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. But Ronaldo does not want to take the limelight so, eventually, another little boy, Bendzsi, takes the microphone and barks happily along to the viola (even though he does sometimes miss the beat).
The climax, clearly, is the bucket dance. Four percussionists kneel in front of plastic buckets and begin beating them to a captivating rhythm. The children are completely fired up; almost all are on their knees, craning their necks to see the drummers’ hands as they work their diabolical magic on the drums. They shake their heads to the rhythm until finally the drumsticks are given out, causing something of a mêlée. Fortunately, the orchestra has brought quite a few. This is what really grabs the children’s fancy. “The drummers” - they all say when I ask them after the performance which part of the concert they enjoyed the most.
At the very end, they all get to play music together. They’re allowed to blow, shake and strum as loudly as they want to Charpentier, and that is precisely what they do. Then, after the final round of applause, when the children have been well fed with stuffed cabbage, László Bogdán has announced the recipients of his new scholarship and the musicians have loaded their instruments onto the bus, small groups of children continue to blow their paper trumpets, shake their rattles and strum a beat with their drumsticks all the way home.