"Surprise party" after the concert

Trip Start Jul 01, 2007
Trip End Jul 10, 2007

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Friday, July 6, 2007

So.....after the concert, our schedule had down "suprise dinner with host choir" - sounded like great fun, and we knew from earlier emails from the Romanian choir's manager that they were eager to host us in style.  However, our US tour manager neglected to check further with them about where the surprise dinner location was, and whether or not it was accessible to our very posh but very large bus.

So after the concert, a host choir member arranged to meet the bus at a gas station just outside the city of Timisoara (about 20 minutes away) so that she could show us the way.  We met up at about 10:30 (pm) and proceeded to follow her car along a side road, with the bus driver hesitating along the way.  Finally we reached a stopping point and all got out of the bus - it was pitch dark - stars all over the sky but no moon yet - a beautiful night with a light breeze, mild temperatures, away from it all - we walked a little ways up a dirt road to a semi-paved road and asked in confusion what we were to do next.  Meanwhile, our faithful tour guide Edward is on his cellphone in histerics (truly rare for him!) screaming and no doubt swearing into the phone in Romanian, with the host choir representative on the other line.  Essentially, we were in the middle of what seemed to be nowhere, in the dark, and not sure where to go next - 55 of us!  In all the choir tours I've lead, I've been in a few tight spots, but none quite like this one.  I always am inclined to believe that in the end it will all work out, but after 9 hours on the bus and an incredibly satisfying but exhausting performance, I began to have my doubts and wondered how we were going to get all these 56 good folks to light and food.

As it turned out, neither the tour guide or the host choir new until this moment that the bus was too big to drive right up to the restaurant without a 500 meter walk in this amazing, starry, moonless night.   But with mutual support and the warm embrace of the mild night air, we began to pull each other together.  Members of the host choir soon drove their cars down to us to pick up singers who needed a ride and the rest of us began our adventuresome stroll.  Eventually we saw the lights of the restaurant ahead of us and members of the host choir at the door with plates of bread and salt, symbols of welcome to the banquet they had prepared with great effort.  They were so apologetic and afraid that we would think less of Romanians as a result.  But soon we were together in the big banquet room with long tables, and the plum wine, beer, and eager conversation began to put us all at ease.  Then the dancing started, both traditional Romanian dancing and Gypsy dancing (including pulling skirts over the heads of several of our not-sufficiently-embarrassable men).  Several began joining in on the floor (including yours truly, welcoming some physical activity to release the stress, with much "encouragement" from our singers!)  Courses continued coming out, and there were conversations about life in Romania and the US, preparation for the Romanian Orthodox priesthood by a couple of the men singers, stories of participation in the 1989 revolution by singers who were then college students, the exchange of CD's (from BCCS) with small hand-painted clay dishes from the Romanian singers. 

When it was time to go, leaders from both groups shared translated thank you's, and we sang together again the spiritual "Swing low, sweet chariot"  - we talked about how with all the misunderstanding in the world we didn't want this one to get in the way of enjoying our brief time together - when I shared with everyone the concerns I had heard from our Romanian friends that we might think less of them for the snafu, a spontaneous shout of "NO!" came from the BCCS singers.  The singing was rich and full of emotion, maybe even more so than usual at these kind of gatherings, and before the last refrain, the singers spontaneously grasped hands and stood up - "I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?  A band of angels watching over me!  Swing low, sweet chariot - comin' for to carry me home" - how blessed we are that the courageous community of slaves had the creativity and insight to leave us with songs so necessary in moments like these.  As it turned out, the actual dangers we faced were minor inconveniences, but the sense of our human vulnerability and our corresponding need for connection were somehow especially present to us on this unexpected night adventure.

We slowly filed out, cars picked up those who needed a ride, and the rest enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to the bus.  We got back to our hotel at 2:00 in the morning, dog-tired but without a regret in the world.

The next morning, we allowed ourselves a delayed start, at 10:30, when several of our host choir members led us on a walking tour of the nearby historic squares of Timisoara, including a magnificent Orthodox church built in the years just before WWII.  We had another surprise when we visited a small museum of the 1989 revolution.  A slight man with a cane greeted us at the door and soon became intent that we watch a 45 minute film of footage from the revolution.  The man, who must have been in his 70's, used a cane because he had been shot in the leg during the uprising.  He feebly set up the laptop and projector with help from several as we packed into the small room to watch (see photo).  By the end, many were in tears, and we felt we had touched a part of history.  The film depicted how people had come out on the streets in greater numbers each night to protest Ceaucescu's regime inpite of several hundred people being killed by soldiers sent to open fire on the crowd.  Our guide Edward later gave us a further dimension of the situation - his belief, apparently shared with many others, that the communist party leaders under Ceaucescu manipulated the people to enable their own coupd'etat, followed by even more killings by never-identified "terrorists" who created a climate further fear that kept the party apparatus in power, if under a new name.  Edward's assessment now was that people had become cynical and appathetic about politics, more concerned with making money, even though the former communists were finally no longer in power.

On the way to Hungary this afternoon, after listening to our recording of the moving Missa Brevis of Hungarian Zoltan Kodaly that we will perform tomorrow with a local Hungarian choir, Edward talked about the Hungarian revolution of 1956, which though unsuccessful and far more deadly (25,000 estimated dead) lead to an earlier and more lasting reform in Hungary, which now has a much stronger economy than Romania as a result (as witnessed by the four lane highways that greeted us over the border).

We arrived at our hotel in Budapest at 7:00 and had a very relaxed dinner at 8:30, with bottles of tasty Hungarian wine flowing at each table.  We're looking foward to a relaxed day in Budapest tomorrow with relatively little time spent in the bus, but hopefully some more memorable music making with new friends in a local choir. - TL
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