CANTEMUS SECRETS FROM BEHIND THE STAGE DOORS
Everybody can have habits which over time can become traditions. It has been the same for the 45 year old Cantemus. Here Dénes Szabó shares the origins of some of these .
'The infection ward'
To date we’ve never found out who to blame – or to thank – for this label. As I have told the story so many times – after a stormy night we went to school one morning and found a sign on the music room door which said ’infection ward’. Before that happened I’d often told the children that I wanted them to infect people around them with their singing – which may have triggered the mysterious appearance of the sign. The interesting thing is that no matter how many times the school had to move the sign kept reappearing and has remained a permanent feature of the music room door.
There were times when we had concert tours in Japan nearly every year – a country where we were not allowed to enter a lot of places wearing shoes. This custom really appealed to me. Now the children automatically take their shoes off before entering the music room and
put slippers on – so and we don’t take any dirt into rooms where we sing. This way we can live and rehearse in a much cleaner environment. An additional benefit of this custom is a very practical one for me – I don’t need to bother with
either with putting socks on or tying shoelaces. I step into my slippers and I’m ready to get going.
' Flying music '
I have always had to race against time. I simply can’t afford to waste twenty minutes on handing out music. Throwing the music to the children is miuch quicker and is also a form of relaxation as the children need to catch it! Ever since I introduced this it has been a great success and I do it in music lessons as well. We need to use every minute and do something useful with it.
In my experience ’ It is the nature of the strong heart, that like the palm tree it strives ever upwards when it is most burdened’ (Philip Sydney). Nature is full of competition – whether we think about the world of plants or animals. Auditions put the children in competitive situations which are also learning experiences. We have several auditions every year which give me good insight into the children’s progress and I also listen to their individual performances of their own parts.
I am convinced that all this has aided the development of the standards both at the school and in the choirs. Buildings also need good foundations.
We have performed over 1000 pieces during the past 45 years. There are three important things which determine what pieces can be added to the repertoire. The piece needs to be well written, it must appeal to the conductor and the children must feel good about learning and performing it. We can’t live without Bartók or Kodály. We also like the works of Miklós Kocsár very much. Our encounter with him was a lucky one – he gave us many awe inspiring pieces. I am also very grateful for pieces from the Renaissance which I think are excellent etudes for teaching the children to think in parts as well as developing their own part- singing techniques – not to mention the beautiful melodies they encounter and learn at the same time. The children begin working with me in year six . That’s when they start learning core repertoire pieces incuding the Ode to Music by Conrad Hagius and the ’choir anthem’ – both of which are standard audition pieces for admission to the Cantemus Chidren’s Choir.
In 1978 I entered the choir in the then very popular Debrecen International Choir Competition – with 30-40 participating choirs on occasion. The competition day was a Saturday but it was only on the preceding Monday when we could start rehearsing and what I heard was that I had no choir to speak of. The same fact hit me on Tuesday. The Wednesday rehearsal was not problem free either so I started looking for a piece which would cheer the children up. I found one which contained the line ’We are of one heart, one soul, one spirit’. It had an immediate effect on me and we started singing it on Wednesday afternoon. It transformed the choir. On Thursday they were very good.
On the competition Saturday we sang this line just before we went on stage and as the door was open the audience could hear it too. It had a magical effect. We sang well in the qualifying round and before our performance in the afternoon final we had another rehearsal. The children were so full of zeal that I had never experienced such focus and concentration from them. It was amazing. Since then we have always sung this tune together before any major stage appearance and I can always hear exactly what state the choir is in and whether they are there in spirit. I can tell a lot from that single tune. This is the story of our choir ’anthem’ which was found in a lucky moment.
This game was invented in Zánka in 1977 where we spent two weeks in a camp. One evening we ran away from the camp and found a grass field where we used our jumpers to mark goal posts and we scored points by touching the ball down behind these posts. Boys and girls played the game together. At first I only invited the pupils who had top marks at school. Later all the year eights joined in and eventually younger ones who liked running around at speed were also allowed to play. It became a traditional choir game in the old school and remained one in our new one. Choir rugby never had strict rules so anybody could play without any preliminary training. That may have been one of the main reasons for its popularity.
GÉZA ZOLTÁN NAGY