So have I talked to you about this group? It’s not akin to the Neverending Session, which is always here in some form, or even the resident Chasing Fireflies contradance band, which has several core members but adds other musicians who are here as need be. No, this is a much more ephemeral group that just seemingly is ready to suddenly do a concert even though a fortnight ago there was no sign of them existing.
It was near unto fifty years ago, I’m told, that this group first did a concert here. The Steward at the time recorded in his Journal that Béla, our resident Hungarian violinist, who had been here but a few years, told one of the musicians here that a group of his refugee friends from behind the Iron Curtain wanted to do a concert as a memorial to those who lost their lives in resisting the new regimes. Not something the British authorities were keen to have done, but they did little to stop it as long it was done quietly. So he agreed to let it be a go.
The group consisted of both stringed instrument players and vocalists from myriad captive nations. Poles and Germans, Estonians, Hungarians and Czechs… Well you get the idea. No three of them spoke the same tongue but the lingue des halles was French. I could follow the conversation because I’ve an ear for French and can follow German, but there was a mélange of other tongues as well.
They didn’t have much of a range of instruments, mostly violins and a few other stringed instruments such as violas and cellos. Oh and that most lovely of instruments – the voice. In the ten concerts they’ve done down the years, they’ve always made sure that the vocalists in the group get their due. Be it sung in Polish or any of the other languages in the group, it’s superb to hear them.
Béla has been the mainstay from the outset, though I’m certain that I recognise several other performers as being part of Huddled Masses from the beginning of the group. They’ve got better at planning — now we know many months in advance when they be here for a fortnight so we can arrange housing and alert the Kitchen that they’ll be requesting their favourite fare.
Since all of them want to share their musical traditions, we arrange for a number of students to study with them while they’re here. It’s fascinating to watch a Slovakian singer teach her songs to students of Slovakian descent who’ve never heard their songs performed live. And our Pub Manger, Reynard, says several of the Hungarian violinists managed to get the musos in the Neverending Session to do an evening of Hungarian tunes the last time they were here.
I know you’re curious why they haven’t returned home now that The Wall came down nearly thirty years ago. Well, some of them did, but many had married, had children and settled in communities of their liking. So the majority of the group has always been “from” the UK, Ireland and Northern Europe from the beginning and still are. Email and other net apps have made it easier for them to keep in touch, and many get together often as a result.
Suffice it to say that the three concerts they held here, each with a different content, were magnificent, with every corner of the theatre in the round that’s the old stone livestock auction house packed with folks from the Estate and from as far away as Poland.