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.”


On with the show

A tour of the city before tonight’s performance started with a visit to Heroe’s Square that honours the founding of the nation by the Magyar horsemen in the Carpathian Basin. Included are statues of important tribal leaders, kings and statemen.

Heroe’s Square has been a rallying point for Hungarian nationalism against oppression through the centuries.

The bus tour continued through the streets of Pest to the Opera House and across the Danube to the Citadel, a fortress that has seen many battles – even the fall of communist rule.

 The tour finished with a walk through the old townof Buda and a visit to St Matthias Church, the venue for tonight’s concert.

A fascinating building that has provided sanctuary and refuge to the citizens of Buda frommits early beginnings.

A place to encourage the arts as well as nourish the spirit as well as the soul.

Our tour even included a singing of Waltzing Matilda in the surrounds of the church accompanied by a local violin and guitar duo.

My Journey to Europe: Di Pelzer

By Sue Needham

Well, the flight was easy, only a bit tiring crossing time zones ever westward into the night. 
Yet the arrival in the Beke Hotel in the city of Budapest was joy, and to be my home away from home for several days.

I’m here in Budapest to join the Oriana Choir tour of Central Europe.
However, my journey here wasn’t simple, so I’ll start with Mother. 

It’s thanks to my mother in heaven that I’ve linked in with 59 others to appreciate Oriana’s concert in the St Matthias Cathedral on Thursday evening
My mother had suffered from dementia for several years, but in one of her rare moments of lucidity she made a casual statement. 
“When I die you should go to Europe” she said 
She meant it.

When the email of invitation to join Oriana on tour dropped into my inbox during a busy day it sparked a thought….”why not”?
She really wanted me to be making the most of what she couldn’t.

Today is the first anniversary of her funeral, at which I read a carefully crafted (and much appreciated) eulogy of the meaning of her life. This is something Mum wanted for me, to discover the world and its art and cultures.
What I’m looking forward to more than anything is experiencing Oriana voices in acoustically perfect spaces. Next week its Melk Abbey.

Can’t wait.

The flight to Budapest

By Erle Levey

At Dubai international airport and we met Sara, a 23-year-old from Budapest who was returning home after a year in Bali where she was teaching English to under-priveleged children.

With a brother in Perth, she is no stranger to travel. And Sara is studying for a degree in communication and media sciences in English. 

Her passion of travel started at 17 when she went to the US for one year as an exchange student.

That was at San Antonio, Texas, and it taught her that she could do it.

Travelling by herself made Sara strong mentally.

Then followed a journey to China to follow her first love. That was to Shanghai but the relationship broke apart.

Yet Sara did fall in love with the Chinese language.

Her relationship had a bad end which left Sara feeing very negative. So, wanting to replace that with good things, she went to Bali teaching under-priveleged children at Ubud.

That was a good balance, she told me as we waited to board the Emirates flight into her home city of Budapest – the site of Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir’s first concert on their Central European tour.

I used to live for the relationship only, Sara said. I did everything to make it work.

But I realise there is more to life, things that I can give.

I get a lot of pleasure, strength and fulfilment from yoga.

Excited to be going home, Sara said the weather is supposed to be cloudy but sunny, perfect for sightseeing.

What does she like about Hungary?

The atmosphere of Budapest. The buildings. It’s so hard to explain.

It’s very lively and so easy to get around.

Hungary is at the crossroads of Europe, a nation rich in history that prides itself on the arts, sport, food, wine and music.

It has both been both conqueror and conquered in its more than a thousand years – battered and bruised by war and occupation but shows a stoic resistence.

Hungarians were nomadic people believed to have moved to the Carpathian basin from somewhere around the Ural Mountains in the east around 895AD.

King Stephen I founded the state of Hungary, and accepted the Catholic religion as standard. 

In 1241-1242 the Mongols swept through, killing or deporting a million people – half the population – as slaves.

Then it was the Turks turn but when their domination ended after a further 150 years, the country became part of the Habsburg dominion.

 That led to the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy which lasted until World War II brought more tribulations to the people of Hungary.

After the Germans were beaten by the Allies, the Soviets took over the country, drove out the Germans, and stayed for 44 years. 

In 1956 the people tried to force the leadership to stop this domination, and dictatorship by the soviets, but the attempt was unsuccessful and was punished unmercifully. 

However, it did have some effect on the government and in 1989 Hungary finally became an independent democracy.

The nation joined NATO in 1999 and in 2004 became a member of the European Union.

Budapest is a city split down the middle by the Danube River into two towns, each complete with its own distinct personality.

Among rolling hills, there are historic Ottoman relics and the famous Castle District in Buda, whereas flat Pest is marked by wide, tree-lined boulevards, crumbling apartment blocks and trendy ruin-style bars.

Budapest is a city that merits more than a cursory glance.

It has an excellent public transport system with a metro, trams, buses, trolley buses and even a Danube ferry.

As the first of the Oriana Choir members arrive in Budapest for their performance at St Matthias Church on Thursday evening, they have found it to be a beautiful old city. Full of history and lovely old architecture.

On any evening there are organ concerts, a Bach recital, a string concert at the churches and basilicas.

There seems to be concerts everywhere. A city of music.

Song of life

By Erle Levey

A fall from a horse on the family farm helped Andrew Trestrail discover his love of singing.

It was an idea he took up with encouragement from his mother and grandmother. It was either that or the piano.

While living at Armidale he joined the musical casts for Gilbert and Sullivan musicals … The Yeoman of the Guard, The Gondoliers and the like.

Falling from the horse, he was knocked unconscious. His younger brother found Andrew near the sheds

The horse didn’t move. He just stood next to Andrew.

When his brother found him he thought Andrew was dead.

It was when the family moved to Toowoomba that Andrew became serious with singing, as a bass baritone.

He joined Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir in early 2014 to become more professional – looking for advancement in singing in an organisational situation. 

Andrew auditioned with Daniel Calder and Fay Baker and was told he had an ideal voice.

He was accepted immediately and has since sung in six performances over six seasons.

Highlights have been making new friends, socialising and making good music with similar professionals.

He very much appreciates the very brief tuition from musical director Daniel, and now Sandra Milliken. That has been very beneficial.

Andrew’s sports in his youth of running, cricket and tennis all naturally improved his lung capacity.

Highlights? This first trip to Europe is way up there.

Then there have been the concerts at Lake Kawana Community Centre and Matthew Flinders Anglican College.

Singing brings enjoyment and is also an ideal way of using his faith’s gift. From day one, he has found that if you have a talent then share it.

You also have to think of every new audience as deserving of the best, they have paid good money for the experience.

Andrew Is looking forward to visiting places in Europe he will never forget , such as Vienna and Salzburg. This is because of the music history, the composers, Salzburg being Mozart’s birthplace and where they shot the movie The Sound of Music more than 50 years ago.

Andrew believes if you have a love of music, then come along to Oriana. It will open up your life, expand every area.

And with a sense of humour, you will love it.

Departure lounge

By Erle Levey

Packing the bags in preparation to travel. It’s not as simple as you’d think.

Money? How much. What form? 

Phone, iPad, laptop?

What happened to the old notepad and sketchbook of the 1970’s?

They’ve gone into the museum!

Camera? Why? Won’t the Apple stuff take good enough photos?

No! Real camera must go along, not just for the ride.

What to wear – where and why and when. Who will we be meeting on this European adventure?

Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Nine performances by the choir in 21 days at some of the great cathedrals and concert halls.

The uniforms are washed and ironed, the sheet music folded.

There’s walking and gym gear, casual – most of the time. And some clothes a touch smarter for the more formal events.

All to fit into a carry-on roller bag.

No. There is no way 10 kilograms of luggage (total) will suffice.

Maybe 15 kilograms. Sure. That gives some freedom without being a burden.

And the carry-on back-pack.

Knowledge. An essential.

Having an understanding of those contrasting countries takes time to grasp.

Got the basics simply by being aware as history happens. Yet the real guts of situations and remote historic events take research, digging and dissecting.

So much of the pleasure from travelling, as distinct from holidaying, relies upon the preparation. It’s personal.

When the planning is done and dusted a veil of mild anxiety lifts from your mood. To be replaced by that building sense of anticipation, excitement and awareness that we are so lucky to be able to indulge in travel for pleasure.

Imagine packing your life and walking away from home, never to return like so many have been forced to do.

We’re heading into Central Europe, the scene of the best and worst of life over centuries.

One memorial to the forced marches during war time consists of cast bronze shoes.

I’m fortunate … my shoes have always taken me where I choose to go.

Guide books and maps? No, don’t bother … use Google maps.

Pack in masses of the elusive sense of humour, tolerance, empathy and energy.

Tour Itinerary

For those keen to follow our daily adventures, here’s a brief itinerary for your interest:

Day 1 – Wednesday, 21 September
BUDAPEST (Hungary)

Day 2 – Thursday, 22 September
Concert in St Matthias Church

Day 3 – Friday, 23 September

Day 4 – Saturday, 24 September
Concert in Esztergom Basilica

Day 5 – Sunday, 25 September
Concert in Empire Theatre

Day 6 – Monday, 26 September

Day 7 – Tuesday, 27 September
Recital at Peterskirche

Day 8 – Wednesday, 28 September

State Opera, Vienna, Austria

Vienna by night

Day 9 – Thursday, 29 September
Informal concert in the Melk Abbey Church

Day 10 – Friday, 30 September
Lunchtime recital in Salzburg Dom

Day 11 – Saturday, 1 October

Day 12 – Sunday, 2 October
Concert in the Municipal Theatre, Trebon

Day 13 – Monday, 3 October

Day 14 – Tuesday, 4 October


Beautiful and mysterious Prague

Day 15 – Wednesday, 5 October
Concert at Hlahol Concert Hall.

Day 16 – Thursday, 6 October

A song in their heart

By Erle Levey

WHY do 60-something people gather in a school hall on a winter’s night with nothing to warm them but a cup of tea and the sound of their voices?

That’s what I wanted to find out and why I was at the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir practice in mid-July.

The choir, now in its 11th year, has grown significantly from the first gathering of about 25 one night at Nambour State Primary School.

Now, with practice virtually every week at Immanual College in Buderim, the numbers have grown to more than 100 including the youth choir members.

The full choir can number about 75 members from all walks of life.

They are aged eight to 80, from all persuasions, every vocation and every location, from Gympie to Caloundra –

doctors, teachers, judge, nurses, students, artists, retirees.

As music director Sandra Milliken tapped her baton to signal the start of practice, and pianist Fay Baker

provided the accompaniment, I was amazed by the level of comprehension of the words and the music by every choir member.

It is a matter of knowing all the words, all the intonations … precisely.

Sitting in the hall, choir member Sharon Fitness explains that the tradition was to hold your music sheets.

This is particularly so with sacred music and this forms the basis for their forthcoming program.

The choir has been preparing to perform at some of the great cathedrals and concert halls in central Europe this year.

In 2012, the choir performed in England, France, Wales and Belgium but this year the itinerary is Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and the Czech Republic.

Venues will include St Matthias Cathedral, Budapest, and Peterskirche, Vienna, as well as the Salzburg Dom.

The conductor’s role brings so much overall understanding of the music and the words, Sharon tells me.

“Everyone listens to the others but focus on their own part,” she says.

“Enjoyment and fulfilment comes when everything comes together as one to make a unified voice.

“No part is more important than any others.

“There are no divas.

“The voice can make a beautiful instrument.

“A choir is working together as a community and why such groups are so well-loved.

“You are working together to get something beautiful out of it. Studies show music and singing especially are good for the soul.

“Singing, like people who volunteer for community groups, leads to well-being. You feel so much healthier.

“The key to happiness is giving: having a purpose greater than your own.

“When you are creating music, you are giving to others so that they get something out of it.

“There are a lot of things to be gained by community singing.’’

The music itself can be so beautiful and quite emotional.

Sitting in that Buderim school hall and listening – you could easily be in one of those great cathedrals in Budapest, Vienna or Prague.

And so Milliken takes the choir through voice exercises – very important in winter.

“Full voices, not the neigh of horses,’’ she begins.

“Zinger, zinger, zinger … I’m not talking about a fast-food advertisement.

“Can you sing vertically?

“Don’t sing with clenched teeth.

“We are not in the outback trying to keep the flies out.

“Now. A nice ringing tone … E. A. R.

“I like to sing very loudly.

“I like to sing very softly.

“There’s a ‘t’ in there.

“Sing with a good chime, hear the vowels, yet with a vibrancy. Excitement.

“Next, calm. Loudly and calmly.

“Think about that. Sweetly.

“Majestic. We won’t say pompous. We are not the queen or the king.

“We will be working on word accent and nuance to put the polish on some classic pieces.

“It’s better to be wrong than to hold back. You can correct it.’’

So that is choir singing. I’m not a singer but I could be. It’s a matter of learning the skill of song … then practice, practice and more practice.


The Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir tour of Central Europe starts on Thursday, September 22, with a concert in St Matthias Church, Budapest.


Tour Time!!

The songs are rehearsed, the uniform’s pressed, the bags are packed and Oriana members are raring to go! In just a few short days we rendezvous in Budapest for the start of our 2nd International Tour!!

I hope you’ll come along for the trip and follow our little tour blog. From Hungary we’ll travel to Slovakia, Austria and The Czech Republic. Our bohemian adventures will see us sing in some of the most beautiful buildings in Central Europe and you can read about it here. Make sure you follow our Facebook page and Instagram as well for all the sights and sounds along the way.

Stay tuned! Can’t wait to share our European Tour 2016 with you.


Come Join Us!

A bit of a flash mob choir performance on the steps of St Paul's
Thursday June 11 at 7pm, Saturday June 13 at 10am, Thursday June 18 at 7pm

Immanuel College Junior School Hall, Wises Rd, Buderim

Secretary 0431 542 343


The Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir, current Queensland Grand Champion Choir, and the Sunshine Coast’s premier vocal group, are offering a unique opportunity for MALE singers to join this renowned and respected group. Vacancies exist in the Tenor and Bass sections of the choir and interested singers are invited to audition at our rehearsals in Buderim this week and next. This is the best time to join the choir, as it is the start of a new rehearsal season.

As members of the choir, each week singers receive great vocal tuition that develops and improves pitch, listening skills, sight reading, diction, phrasing, breathing, music theory and performance skills

Members also participate in varied musical performances each year, some with orchestra. Over the next 18 months Oriana has plans to travel to Melbourne and Toowoomba and to tour Eastern Europe, on our second international trip. Also planned are concerts with orchestra, a Broadway Revue and Christmas Spectacular.

Singing with the choir is challenging and a lot of hard work but offers great personal rewards: friendships, sense of purpose and community, camaraderie and of course, the satisfaction of making MUSIC together. Singing in a choir is the hobby with SOUL.

Joining the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir means becoming a part of one of the Sunshine Coast’s most vibrant and successful community groups. With the committed contribution of each member, we strive for performance excellence and provide opportunities for continuing musical development, volunteering, personal enjoyment and fulfilment.

Being able to read music and previous choral experience are advantageous but not essential. For more information call 0431 542 343 or come along to our rehearsal at the Immanuel College Junior School Hall on Thursday night at 7:00.