Waltzing with Beethoven


How often in life is it the obscure or unexpected that ends up being so rewarding.That was the case when the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir visited Hlohovec in southern Slovakia.

An early morning coach departure from Budapest in Hungary saw the choir arriving at the historic town mid afternoon after a stop at the picturesque village of Szentendre, on the banks of the Danube.

The drive into southern Slovakia was at first austere, as remnants of the communist domination of the country by the then Soviet Union still showed through.

The broad-acre farming of grain crops continues as farmers pool their resources to remain cost-effective in today’s world economy.

At the same time this co-operative approach is a reminder of the communist system.

There are many decaying agricultural buildings but also unfinished or faceless unit blocks.

This region must be harsh in winter. Matched by the way the spirit of the people has been downtrodden by continual occupation.

Yet there is hope under the new-found freedom of an independent Slovakia.

There are attempts to brighten life, update the buildings and apply brighter colours.

For so many years the people were made to speak Russian instead of their native language. Just like they had been made by the Austro-Hungarian Empire before that.

A power plant of wind turbines has emerged on the landscape. A symbol of the new energy sweeping through the country. A nuclear power plant is away in the distance.

The coach makes its way through town, past the Church of St Michael the Archangel and up a hill. There’s a glimpse of a hall between the trees and soon we have turned into the car park.

The main hall looks like an old butter factory you would find at Maleny or Pomona. Yet beside it is a smaller hall, the Empire Theatre, much like the church hall at Montville.

At the front is a neat garden. There’s even a monument to Beethoven. So what’s the link?

While lunch is prepared by extended family of choir member Evalee Sharples and their friends in the Hlohovec community there is time for a quick wander.

Behind the theatre is this classic garden with views down to the town. Above it is the original palace which dates back to the 13th century.

The Empire Theatre is part of the palace complex and Beethoven was asked to play at its opening in 1802.

Walk down an avenue of sycamore trees to the town and lake.

Past the old riding school and greenhouses of the castle. Past the sports ground created to identify and foster future champions. Past the small casino to Marilyn’s Coffee Shop – at least that what we called it.

Posters and framed prints of Marilyn Monroe adorned the walls of the bar/cafe, 1960s hits sung in Slovakian played as the owner prepared delightful coffees – layers of frothy milk, coffee and warm milk in glass cups.

It’s back story in this community, one that in a way represents the nation’s journey towards western freedoms.

The town of Hlohovec is in one of the oldest wine-growing centres in Slovakia. Winemaking can trace its roots to the early Middle Ages when vines were grown on the southern slopes if the Povazsky Inovec mountain range.

The town is in the valley at the foot of the range.

The first human footprints date back more than 20,000 years when mammoth hunters used to dwell here in the last glacial era.

The first farmers are thought to have settled in the lowlands of the Vah River.

An old Slavonic settlement is documented in 1113 along with the invasion of the Tatars.

After the Tatars withdrew in 1242 a period of peace returned under King Belo IV.

The reason the choir was in Hlohovec was because soprano Evalee Sharples had family members living there and a civic reception including mayor Miroslav Kollar, deputy mayor Miloslav Drgon and his wife Gabriela Drgonova had been arranged.

Film crews were there so the choir’s visit was going to be on Slovakian televsion the next night.

Evalee’s daughter Lisa is married to a Slovakian, Lubo Gregor who works for their safety engineering company in Maleny, BDA Fire.

“This is Lubo’s home town,” Evalee tells me. “He grew up here, just as his grandma did.”

The Empire Theatre is an intimate performance hall complete with dress circle balcony.

The concert gave soloists Sarah Lawes, Gabrielle Deschamps, Evalee Sharples and Ian Rix to come to the fore, also Melissa Innes and Cath Galloway to perform a duet, and pianist Fay Baker to provide accompaniment.

The choir was also joined on stage by Hlohovec dancers Jazzi Phillips, Lisa Gregor and Anna Ruggeri for Ave Maria.

A very heartfelt version of Waltzing Matilda, performed at a theatre Beethoven played at, was a highlight.

It was introduced to the audience by Lubo, speaking in Slovakian.

He said the audience were so excited by the choir’s performance.

“It’s the furthest anyone has come to perform.

“It was a wonderful concert. Really lovely.

“The passion. The way audience reacted.

“Usually they are a thankful audience here. But the applause today was heartfelt.”

The program included not just hymns but so many fantastic soloists.

They were singing their heart out and the audience appreciated that.

Choir president Melissa Innes paid very big congratulations on the performance.

“I’m not sure where you grabbed that energy from.

“A big thank you to everyone.

“I have not heard waltzing Matilda sung with quite so much passion.”

What really hit home for the choir was the welcome they were given by the people of Hlohovec.

Not just the family connection, that’s important, but it went further than that.

After the concert a restaurant owner and wine maker who was sponsoring the visit, threw his historic venue open.

It was a real sense of occasion with not just dinner and wine provided but a tour of the 200-year-old winery Vanyolai Csaladipince.

Some of the vines in the region go back to Roman times.

Last century, the winemaker told us, the old town had more wine caves than Rome.

Yet the communist times saw the area converted to modern farming.

Now the winemakers are re-establishing their links with the land and wines from this region have made it to world stage in recent years.

“Wherever there are artistic and cultural people together, wine must not be missing,” he told the choir.

Indeed, this visit to Hlohovec showed not just the power of song but real sense of community.


Washing Dirty Linen


What do six Australian girls do on their first night in Vienna when they are on a European tour with a choir group?Go to a laundromat.

It’s day six of the tour and fatigue is starting to set in.

The first night in Austria’s capital provide the chance to catch up on some washing after a couple of days on the road.

The idea was to put all their dirty clothes in together and save time as well as money.

Set the wash-and-dry cycle, go out and enjoy dinner together then return and sort the clothes.

What could go possibly wrong with that.

No names will be mentioned in order to protect the innocent. If indeed there are any innocents in this episode.

One load. Six ladies with no leader but all who knew how to wash clothes … at home.

Combine foreign currency, language and technology.

Again, what could go wrong.

The resulting misadventures could provide the inspiration for an entire two-act musical: The Ladies of the Laundromat.

The spontaneous pressing of buttons by those who knew how … or thought they did, resulted in a very expensive wash-and-dry exercise, one that equalled the cost of what four could have eaten and drunk at the local bar and pizzeria.

What should have cost 25 euro ended up as 44 euro.

Still a cheap night out, they considered. Better than going to the pub.

All the laughter and pain. 

“We were killing ourselves with laughter … afterwards,” they said, safely back in the lobby of the hotel.

Basically, six girls went into the landromat in inner suburban Vienna and wanted to use the washer/dryer.

While sorting out the lights and darks, one was reading the instructions that were on the washing machine.

They decided on a small and big load, as they wanted to wash and dry both.

It was 26kg if they just washed, 13kg if wash and dry. And the cost … 15e for either.

They couldn’t work out the weights, so they chose to do two loads.

The decision was to put everything in together, as they thought it would be way over 13kg seeing how they are normally judged by the wet weight.

One of the girls worked out the wash cycle … but didn’t communicate that to each of the others.

“I just assumed,” she said, amid gales of laughter as they relived the experience. “As I thought they were also just washing.”

Not the case. Everyone was over the machine figuring out how to pay.

But they had put 15e in thinking they were getting wash and dry.

Off the machine goes on its cycle. Chug, chug, chug … whir.

Then one of the group comes along, looks at the top of the washing machine and says, that’s only on wash.

“Yes, that’s what I thought you were doing,” the key operator said.

“No. We want wash and dry,” came the reply in unison.

That’s where the problem arose. There were too many opinions.

Two buttons … and they were now looking to see if they could change the cycle. Yet the directions were all in German.

Then they saw a button that said what to do … but that was in German as well.

Another one of the group jumps in, trying to help, and everything was fine while she pushed buttons.

Yet when it got to the wash-and-dry cycle, it started speaking in German to them.

This new operator kept twisting dials hoping it would start speaking in English.

But then in got to something like verboten!! At this point everyone lost it and broke out into laughter again.

“We knew something was seriously wrong because of the exclamation marks,” they told me.

“We tried to open it because we knew it was serious.”

They found a young German girl, doing her own washing.

She tried to help. She came in to the area our girls were in and interpreted the signs.

The trouble was, one of the girls thought she worked there and tried to get her to give the money back they had already put in the machine.

But the poor girl was just trying to help. And to think she almost got abused.

“It wants you to pay more money,” she said, trying to help.

OK. The girls could start to see reason So decided to round up some more money.

The culprit of twisting the knobs and dials said she would put in extra as she thought she had caused the trouble and had embarrassed the German girl.

Then when they had put in an extra 15e, the German girl said it would have been OK to leave it, not try for wash and dry as it would have done it anyway.

They had paid the extra 15e but the machine stopped. 

“Maybe we didn’t give it time to run the full cycle.

“We had got the German girl back three or four times.

“She said, go for a walk and come back, as we were just going to sit there and wait.

“Before we did the second 15e she said it was cheaper to wash first and then dry.

“At this stage machine 3 with the whites was working perfectly.

“It was working OK. The bigger one was having trouble.

“Really, the trouble came with us. 

“Machine 1 had the problems, we learnt from that mistake and the second machine had a much lighter load.

“The German girl said why not use the smaller one around the other side of the laundromat and leave the bigger one for drying.

“So we emptied the wet clothes out and wheeled the washing around the other side … but then we realised it wasn’t going to fit so we wheeled it back.

“More trouble came when we tried to put too much in when it was wet.

“And we panicked. We should have left it on wash.

“The other thing was we put our own washing powder in … when there was a big sign saying it was automatically included.

“And to think, everything is on video. The security cameras would have recorded it all.”

At first, the little dramas were discussed over dinner while the washing was being done.

Then four of the six went back to fold and sort it all. The other two had already been back to check on the progress and were not up to yet another trip.

There was stuff missing, there were clothes that the four had not seen before.

In the wash-up, sitting in the hotel lobby, the girls agreed: “The more you think about it, there had been conversations about what to touch and what not but no-one took any notice.

“If we had only spoken up,” said one.

Perhaps typical of group dynamics. Like the knowledgable, shy trivial pursuit player who knows but cannot tell. No opportunity to be heard.

“When we finally got the second machine going, it came up with “step away from the machine.”

“That’s when everyone completely lost it.

“Actually, we lost it before then.

“We lost it when we started pulling the clothes out of the machine to put them in another one.

“Anyone walking in would have shook their heads in bewilderment.”

But it did provide a great night of entertainment. 

And, as they say, it will all come out in the wash.

Memories are made of this

There’s nothing to tell, Melissa Innes says when asked to tell her story.

Nothing indeed. The mother of four young boys and business lecturer is also the long-term president of the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir.

That and singing as soprano.

Melissa started as choir secretary in 2005 and has been president of the choir, that numbers more than 100 including the youth group, from 2006 until today.

Except for 2013, the year after the choir’s tour of the UK, France and Belgium that included Wales.

“I wanted to do my businss masters,” Melissa said, on the bus heading from Hungary to Slovakia during the choir’s latest tour – of Central Europe.

“I had been doing it for seven years and wanted some time for me.”

Melissa started singing with Caloundra Chorale and already had three boys.

“Leo, my third, was in my sling during Abba songs while in rehearsals for the Sixties music review. That was in 2007.

“I went into labour. I called the choir about 7pm.

“They had already started rehearsals. I called again half way through.

“It’s a boy.”

The choir is like an extended family for Melissa. But it’s also about getting great happiness from seeing the opportunities the choir can provide for those she calls “our wonderful, beautiful people.”

On this tour, that takes in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and the Czech Republic, she describes it as “phenomenal.”

“I cannot believe what we have done in five days.

“The experience so far.”

Saying that, she belives the breathtaking scenery has been a highlight.

Yet it is hard to describe the experience of singing in those places.

“I feel blessed that this choir from the Sunshine Coast has the opportunity to sing in such places.

“We have sung in two of the top three cathedrals in Europe – St Pauls and Esztergom Basilica.

“Then again, we had a really beautiful moment in Budapest. There were six of us right down by the Danube, sitting at a bar underneath the Chain Bridge.

“Every photo we took had the Matthias Church in the background, knowing that was the place we had sung at the night before.

“It was an overwhelming feeling of pride and gratitude knowing we had sung at such a splendid venue.”

As for the dinner, the four girls had sausages and pickles with glasses of red wine.

“It was our version of a Hungarian sausage sizzle.”

In her naturally unassuming yet endearing style, Melissa said it was the people in the choir who were the real stars.

“They are all heroes. What a team. 

“We sang like angels at Matthias Church and Esztergom.

“Singing at these first two venues was effortless, a real treat. A pleasure.”

The Infectious Doctor

Krishna Rao is a dangerous man. A retired doctor who is wanted for spreading infection.

While Krishna may have now retired as a surgeon he has found how to live life. Fully.

His outgoing nature is infectious. He sweeps all he meets along with him.

As the latest member of the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir, having joined just four months ago, he has fitted in perfectly as a bass singer.

“If you had told me a year ago that this is what I would be doing, I would not have believed you,” Krishna tells me as we travel between Budapest and Bratislava on the choir’s tour of Central Europe.

This comes from someone who has done so much in his life already.

An event that stands out in an already active life was that at the magical age of 50 his wonderful wife Sona took him on a dive adventure to the coral atoll of Lakshadweep, north of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

It was scuba diving and he even scared the instructor with his enthusiasm.

Instead of falling in backwards off the boat he tried a forward racing dive … with full equipment on.

The force of the dive with the weight of equipment he had on could have been fatal.

It wasn’t and he lived to write another chapter in a rich life.

Born in Ootacamund, which was the summer capital of Madras residency during the British Raj, Krishna worked at various places throughout India, Malaysia  and the UK.

Mysore was where he worked most, a city of 1.2 million famous for its temple, silk and sandlewood, teak and rosewood furniture as well as coffee.

Going to school with the Irish Christian Brothers at St Edmunds in Shillong, Krishna had always wanted to be a doctor, but whether that was due to his mother or his own wishes remains in doubt.

“Mum always wanted to be a doctor and couldn’t,” he said.

“I thought it was my idea. Yet wiser now, I believe it was my mother who influenced me.”

Krishna’s involvement with Australia started with Richie Benaud’s touring cricket team of India in 1959. His heroes were Norman O’Neill and Neil Harvey.

Krishna’s uncles were good cricketers – one played first class in India.

As for Krishna, he was a good cricketer at school – opening bat and as he describes “a butter-fingered fielder.”

His next contact with Australia was through his father, who was a good tennis player and coached as well.

“He made me read Lawn Tennis, The Australian Way. Players such as Rosewall, Hoad and Mal Anderson had chapters in the book.

“Then while doing the English O levels, I read The Far Country by Neville Shute. It is about a Czech doctor and his experience as a displaced person in Australia.”

Not surprising perhaps, Krishna has written a novel, The Coucal Collaterals. It’s about mistaken identity which leads to an innocent doctor being arrested as a terrorist.

It’s set in the UK, US, India and Iraq.

So how did Krishna get into singing?

“One thing I wanted to do was write my memoirs,” he said, “but I got writer’s block. 

“I mentioned to my dad’s carer that I would like to sing, in a band or something like that.

“She mentioned Oriana Choir. That’s where it started.

“To my total surprise, I was accepted. 

“That was four months ago. I am the baby of the choir.”

Krishna’s love of singing came from the school choir, starting as a soprano.

“A major success was The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.

“I would like to sing more opera. It has to appeal to me, to my perculiar taste in music.

“Mozart, Carmen, La Traviata, Marriage of Figaro.

“I also like other music … The Beatles, some old country such as Jim Reeves.

“Oriana has given me an opportunity. Even though it’s intensive, it has supplemented what I was trying to do by learning to play the sax.

“It’s helping me to do all the sorts of stuff I wanted to as a medical student at the age of 16.”

Krishna met Sona when he was a house surgeon and she was a third year medical student. 

That was in Delhi. Her father had fractured a collarbone from riding a motor scooter.

“She came in with him. And I continued to pursue her relentlessly.

“A year to the day later he fractured his leg. I believe he thought things were not going fast enough.”

Krishna came to Australia because after completing surgical training in Delhi he went to Malaysia as a lecturer in surgery and was training Malaysians for the Royal Australasian Palliative Surgeons College.

They allowed him to sit for an exam and he was accepted without setting foot in Australia but that enabled  him to go to the UK for further training.

Back in India, he worked nearly 20 years with some sabbaticals in the UK.

In 2006, nearing the end of his career, he set out to see if he could work in Australia.

It was the one thing missing from his cv.

After a short locum at Redcliffe in 2006, he enjoyed it so much that when a position opened up at Rockhampton he joined as a staff specialist surgeon.

Now living at Twin Waters, he regards the area as paradise.

“My wife has got to do her training as a pediatrician.

“We have two boys. One is a mechanical engineer in Sydney and the other a computer software engineer with Deloite in New York.”

The highlights so far for Krishna on the choir’s tour of Europe include the very first performance at Matthias Church in Budapest.

“That was stunning,” he said, “just like Budapest itself.

“And the fact we were able to satisfy our audiences in terms of their enjoyment.”

For a man who has achieved much, Krishna’s tips are simple: “Take life one day at a time and take the rough with the smooth.

“Enjoy what you have and not hanker for what you don’t have.”

Born to sing


When you ask Evalee Sharples to tell her story, the bubbly blonde has a simple reply.

“Which one do you want. I have so many.”

The soprano was president of the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir in its first year and has remained an active member to this day.

“I was born singing,” Evalee says. “That’s what my mother said.”

As part of the choir’s Central Europe tour Hlohovec’s Empire Theatre has been included, an intimate concert hall made famous by Beethoven having performed there at its opening in 1802.

The town is in south-western Slovakia, not far from the new nation’s capital of Bratislava.

It sits in an historic park enclave near the castle that dates back to the mid 14th century.

“The reason we are in Hlohovec,” Evalee says, “is my daughter Lisa married a Slovakian, Lubo Gregor. He works for our safety engineering company in Maleny, BDA Fire.

“This is Lubo’s home town, he grew up here just as his grandma did.

“It’s just a small town by European standards, a bit bigger than Maleny perhaps.

“Lisa met him in Europe and married him.

“When we were planning this Central European tour for the choir, seeing how Holhovec is only one and a half hours from Vienna we felt we could have a feel-good concert.

“This town would not have had a choir from Australia before and they are very excited. It’s been two and a half years in the planning.

“It’s come together nicely.”

When asked what it’s like to come here and perform, Evalee says it’s totally exciting.

“You’re going to make me cry. It’s the connection of family and the connection of this community with Maleny.

“When you embrace someone else’s culture, and they’re willing to embrace yours, it’s quite a different thing when they welcome you to their town, their home.

“It’s a melding of families.”

The whole family are here at the Empire Theatre. Evalee’s husband Mark, Lubo and Lisa with their two children.

Evalee is a very passionate person. Lively, outgoing, always excuberent and excited, which is very infectious.

After the choir performance at Matthias Church in Budapest she grabbed the chance to sing her heart out performing Villia from The Merry Widow.

That was at the Karparthian Restaurant in downtown Pest and done with a gypsy trio.

“I sang it with the choir two years ago at a concert,” she says.

“It’s a wonderful piece of music. Beautiful. 

“I have sung it several times but never with a gypsy violinist.”

That performance brought screams of delight and tears of joy to Evalee.

“It’s so exciting. Like Caruso would get up in a movie and sing quite impromptually.”

Evalee trained for singing at Queensland Conservatorium of Music and with teachers from then on.

Singing Villia has been a major highlight for her.

As well as Oriana she also performs with the Maleny Singers and has had some fabulous roles with them over the years.

As for the Central European tour by Oriana, Evalee says what we have had so far, you could not have written about it.

“When we sang at St Pauls in London in 2012 it was just some tourists who attended.

“This time people have come especially and they appreciated it so much.

“The Hlohevic concert is another extension.

“Singing, to me, I cannot imagine life without it.

“Singing … it’s me.”

Voices of angels

By Erle Levey

You dream of nights like this. A magnificent basilica filled with glorious voices and an appreciative audience.

I had been given a taste of such an occasion while hitch hiking through England many years ago.

Stopping by Salisbury Cathedral and hearing a boys choir rehearse.

It happened again in London that same year when the combined choirs of nurses in that city gathered on the steps of St Martins in the Field to sing Christmas carols.

And it snowed during the singing. Once, as it turned out, of only a couple of times it had snowed in London in the 20th century.

There was a feeling of anticipation yesterday, Saturday, as the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir coach made its way up to Esztergom, on the banks of the Danube River and with Slovakia on the other side of its waters.

As the coach made its way up those narrow tree-lined streets it was hard to imagine it to be the centre of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary.

Then suddenly you could see why. There on top of the hill surrounded by lawns and trees was the basilica.

The third largest cathedral in Europe, after St Peters in Rome and St Pauls in London.

The sight of it brought oohs and aahs from the choir on board the bus. The sheer size of the building, its massive columns at front and the dome … imposing.   At the same time welcoming and protective as it caught the last rays of day.

While the choir’s first performance in Hungary at Matthias Church in Budapest was so pleasing, walking inside this glorious cathedral promised even better.

The expansive floor space, the altar, the alcoves and the huge cupola overhead.

Time permitted the choir to observe and acquaint themselves with the layout of the building they were about to perform in.

And, most of all, to prepare themselves for the carry of sound … in the short rehearsal time it became evident there was about six secords delay and the sound of voices echoed through the sacred spaces.

The benefit of being able to rehearse in the venue gave the choir and music director Sandra Milliken the chance to work out positioning of singers and how the acoustics fit with the songs.

Then it was time to change … in the remains of the royal castle which is now a museum no less.

And the choir file into the basilica in a line of two abreast.

Right from the welcome address by Sandra and the first notes from the choir of Salve Regina, one of 12 Latin chants, it was obvious the audience were absorbed by the program.

They hung on every note. And at the end of each number you could hear the applause build in appreciation.

The acoustics were such that even the softest hymn or ballad saw the voices rise up through the basilica. Like the voices of angels.

It would be hard to expect the choir to sing at a better venue.

Ave Maria, Missa Picolla, Locus este, The Blessing and Esti dal were among those warmly applauded.

“Another big day on tour!” Sandra Milliken said. “We performed a beautiful concert in Europe’s third largest cathedral: Esztergom Basilica.

“I have never heard an acoustic like this in my life! 

“My Missa piccola was beyond belief and the Hungarian composed Esti dal received a standing ovation from the crowd.”

That applause continued from their calls for an encore, to their appreciation of Esti dal to the choir as they filed out of the grand basilica.

Some, who had come from Germany, were going to follow the choir to Vienna.

The smiles on the faces and the enthusiastic clapping showed how much the choices of the music program and the choir had touched them.

“A most appreciative audience,” Sandra said afterwards, “and proof that music has a powerful connection with people all over the world. 

“The choir sang superbly. Bravi tutti!”

Now I’m a bass man

If you can walk you can run. If you can talk you can sing!”Wise words from my singing teacher,” said Rob Mayer, describing his adoption and transition into singing just seven years ago.

He loved the challenges of the joined voices and so the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir was his logical choice of participation. 

As second bass he sings for pleasure, a release from any pressures of work as a biometrician, a research statistician.

One of his many research projects was to study the eating habits of crocodiles. That was in Townsville.

Yet cut-backs by the previous Queensland government saw Rob transferred back to the horticultural research facility at Nambour.

While newcomers to living on the Sunshine Coast, Rob has fond memories of holidaying as children at his grandparent’s place at Moffat Beach.

“Every summer. It was great. Body surfing, fishing … there were so many different beaches to choose from.”

Now living at Buderim, Rob and Maree have slotted into a group centred around the celebration of song.

They and 58 other Sunshine Coasters are exploring Budapest.

This dedicated group of choristers thoroughly enjoyed their first performance of this European tour at The Matthias Church on Thursday night.

Known as The People’s Church, the thousand-year-old building is located on the Buda side of the Danube, amongst a cluster of historic monuments and buildings. Evening is the best time to visit the church and to catch the lighting up of the Parliament buildings, the Chain bridge and the city of Pest.

Born in Brisbane, Rob worked in Toowoomba before being transferred to North Queensland.

Maree worked with the Department of Primary Industry as well.

It was where they met. Gardening was a common interest.

While Rob loved growing lots of fruit trees, Maree was really into bonsai.

“It’s something I do just to please myself,” she said.

Rob had only sung in church, as melody, but joined a couple of choirs in Townsville and discovered there was a bass section.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “It’s just the harmony.

“The way the parts come together is just magic.”

One of the Townsville choirs he sang with was Aquapella, a play on the acapella style of singing.

“The conductor lived on Magnetic Island,” Rob said. “Half the choir were on the island and the others on the mainland.”

They actually won the ABC Classic FM choir of the year for Queensland, a year before Rob joined.

And his first overseas singing tour was to Bali with them.

As for this European tour, he loves the music Oriana make and being able to travel with Maree.

Another start

How far can she go? Marlene Hoskin enjoys travelling.

Her hint to reduce or avoid jetlag is to travel at night. Sleep on the plane. No, she doesn’t have to be upgraded from cattle class.

Marlene’s advice when planning a journey is to book an overnight flight, eat then sleep the night away. 

Once awake, immediately adopt the time of the new zone. She finds this the easiest way to adapt her body clock. 

Marlene’s journeys have taken her to so many places worldwide. 
With children residing in New York and London she and her husband must travel to visit these young, busy professionals.

They don’t have time to visit home!

Though travelling is a passion her favourite place is home creating a lush, edible garden on the Sunshine Coast.
Now singing alto in the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir, Marlene’s latest journey is singing her way through Central Europe. 

First stop Budapest. 
First concert on the tour was the free performance after mass at The Matthias Church on Thursday evening.
After this tour Marlene will have made many more friends and created lasting memories of people and places only travel can deliver.
The bonus here is the common threads of love of music and living on the Sunshine Coast.

Opening night a sensation

​​​By Erle Levey
IT was a night you dream of.  Singing in one of the grand churches of Europe.

The acoustics of the thousand-year-old Matthias Church at Budapest were superb.

And the choir sang like angels.

The performance on Thursday evening included being part of the mass at what is regarded as The People’s Church in Budapest.

The 60m spire of the church can be seen from most parts of this beautiful city, split by the Danube River.

The church was full – even some students and young travellers standing at the back.

The professionalism, flexibility and adaptability of the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir came to the fore on the night.

The Budapest rush-hour traffic meant the coach was delayed getting us to the venue, overlooking the glorious Danube River and the city.

Music director Sandra Milliken suggested choir members do their personal voice warm-ups on the coach which in itself was memorable to hear such voices ring out amid the stop-start journey through narrow streets and up the steep climb to what they call The People’s Church.

The choir was spirited into the church through a back door as mass was about to start.

Tucked away downstairs behind the altar, they readied themselves to participate in the mass and at a concert following.

How they managd to calmly walk out into unseen and unknown space then perform so admirably was beyond comprehension.

The acoustics of the building simply took your breath away. Then the sound of the choir was spine-tingling.

The singing by the choir was matched by the experience of Sandra Milliken in choosing the program for the performance.

Prayer of the Children is such a powerful message In a world where there is no much

suffering and tragedy. It asks do we hope for a better way.

Do we hear the voice of the children, softly breathing while living through a shattered world. Blood of innocence on their hands.

What is needed to bring peace and brightness out of darkness.

Prayer of the children, written more than 20 years ago after the break up of Yugoslavia, is a message has lost nothing in the years.

It reminds us it is the children who feel the impact of war. A message that still rungs true in Hungary, a country that has known such turbelent as well as peaceful years.

Other powerful songs on the night were the men’s chorus rendition of Find the Cost of Freedom, the thought-provoking classic by Stephen Stills, and the irish ballad The Blessing.

Yet the respect the choir gave to the Hungarian people in choosing Esti dal … Evening song to finish the concert was highly appreciated by the audience.

There was a woman sobbing uncontrollably at the finale. Sung in Hungarian, the classic written by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly, had the crowd calling for me.

Yet Sandra Milliken, also visably overtaken by emotion, said there was nothing the choir could sing that would better that moment.

“Absolutely gorgeous,” tour director Marta Lindop said, “you had them eating out of the palm of your hands.

“I am so glad your first concert in Budapest was in my church.”

Sandra Milliken was very proud of the performance.

“I don’t know how we can top that,” she told the choir members at dinner afterwards.

Indeed, such a night.

And now the choir is preparing to perform in Hungary’s greatest cathedral, at Esztergom Basilica on Sunday night where they will again participate in the mass and give a concert afterwards.

Source of inspiration

On Thursday we had the chance to visit the magnificent Matthias Church, a source of inspiration for the people of Budapest for many centuries.

It was also the venue for our first performance on this Central European Tour by the choir.

Officially named the Church of Our Lady, this famous landmark in Budapest’s Castle District is best known as Matthias Church after the much-loved 15th-century Renaissance king who contributed the towers and was married here.

The southern high tower (60 m high) is called Matthias bell tower and bears the Hunyadi coat of arms a raven holding a golden ring in its beak,

Matthias was a much-revered ruler of the era and was one of the greatest kings of Hungary.

He was very fond of the arts and sciences and invited famous artists from abroad to help establish Renaissance enlightenment in Hungary.

His royal court was famous even in Western Europe and visitors often praised the magnificence of his royal palace.

It towers over modern-day Budapest. 

The first church on the site was founded by Saint Stephen, King of Hungary in 1015. This building was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols; the current building was constructed in the latter half of the 13th century.

Originally named after the Virgin Mary, taking names such as “The Church of Mary” and “The Church of Our Lady,” Matthias Church was named after King Matthias in the 19th Century.

Following the capture of Buda in 1541 by the Ottoman Empire, the church became the city’s main mosque. 

Ornate frescoes that previously adorned the walls of the building were whitewashed and interior furnishings stripped out.

Yet this in turn led to the church becoming the site of the “Mary-wonder.” 

When Budapest was under seige from the Turks, locals plastered over the niche that contained the statue. 

The Ottomans used the church as their primary mosque during the occupation, but never noticed the statue.

More than a century later, in 1686, an explosion of gunpowder at the castle crumbled the wall around the statue, revealing the Virgin’s shining face.

After the expulsion of the Turks in 1686 an attempt was made to restore the church in the Baroque style but historical evidence shows that the work was largely unsatisfactory.

It was not until the great architectural boom towards the end of the 19th century that the building regained much of its former splendour. 

The church was restored to its original 13th-century plan, but a number of early original Gothic elements were uncovered. 

By adding new motifs such as the diamond pattern roof tiles and gargoyles laden spire, the architect Schulek ensured that the work, when finished, would be highly controversial.

During World War II the church was badly damaged. It was used as a camp by the Germans and Soviets in 1944–45 during the Soviet occupation of Hungary. 
The church was largely renovated between 1950 and 1970 with the organ updated and sanctified in 1984.

It is home to the Ecclesiastical Art Museum, which begins in the medieval crypt and leads up to the St. Stephen Chapel. 

The gallery contains a number of sacred relics and medieval stone carvings, along with replicas of the Hungarian royal crown and coronation jewels.

So that was our introduction to “The People’s Church.”