Category Archives: Brasov

Vlad the Impaler, Dracula and the Archduke.

Romania choir blog no 4.

Friday – the day of our visit to Bran Castle aka Dracula’s Castle!

Firstly – why “Dracula’s Castle? Bram Stokes heard many of the gruesome tales around the infamous 15th century local hero who became known as ‘Vlad the Impaler’ due to his terrible cruelty.

It’s probable that Vlad the Impaler stayed at Bran Castle at some point, and this castle is definitely the only one that fits the description in the Dracula stories. During the communist period, the Dracula connection was not mentioned, but since the fall of communism and the restoration of the castle to its former owners, the Dracula connection is encouraged, bringing in the tourists in big numbers and spawning a lot of shops around, selling Dracula tat. Our conductor entered into the spirit by putting on his black cape and fangs to conduct us in the castle. Dracula didn’t ever have to blow a tuning device, however. The fangs had to be removed to get the correct note!

By far the most moving history was that of the fortunes of the recent owners of the castle, particularly after we were met at the entrance by the present owner, introduced as His Imperial Highness Dominic Habsburg – Lothringen.

We heard about how his grandmother Queen Maria (granddaughter of Queen Victoria) had been a very important influence in WW1 and the subsequent creation of Romania in 1918. In gratitude, she was given Bran Castle, and spent a lot of money restoring it. The Archduke told us that he had lived there for 10 years as a child.

Our young tour guide went bright red and looked very embarrassed when the Archduke popped up later in the tour and listened! We learnt that the royal family and relatives had been forced to flee by the communists after the 2nd World War and spent 60 years in exile, before eventually returning to the castle in 2006.

Our 20 minute performance took place inside the castle, as it was raining outside. Dozens of tourists trooped through the room as we sang. We were ‘singing for our supper’ as all 62 of us had been given free entry in return for the performance.

The Archduke listened to it all. He said that he felt very emotional as, when his family had returned to the castle after all those years in exile, he had a wish for the castle to be ‘filled with song’.

As a final farewell, we sang our Romanian song in the courtyard, so that the song would rise up to all the levels of the castle. The castle posted a Facebook video, which has been shared on our Facebook page.

Unfortunately, Facebook videos can’t be shared here, but you might enjoy this recording we’ve been sent of us singing the same song with the Youth choir Cor cu Dor on Wednesday.

The coaches took as back to Brasov for a few hours rest and recuperation in the afternoon. Most of us sought out restaurants for a mid afternoon lunch / dinner.

Then it was back on the coaches to the Sala Patria in Brasov for our rehearsal and evening concert, having carried our choir clothes and music around all day. We were very relieved that chairs were found, so that the weary singers didn’t have to stand throughout the concert, holding folders of heavy music.

It was a lovely hall with a beautiful grand piano for Kevin to play (in contrast to the piano – keyboard we’ve been taking round with us). We now know the works well and are enjoying singing them. However, the small audience was rather disappointing. We were pleased to see some visually impaired people in the audience from the charity we had collected for at our last concert in Birmingham. Liz Collins, our chair, went to speak to them after the performance. Once again, our Romanian song went down well, with murmurs of approval when it was announced, and clapping along as we sang. Our small but appreciative audience rose to its feet as they applauded, bringing a long day to a good conclusion!

Relaxing in Brasov.

Romania tour blog no 3.

Thursday was our only day without a concert! We travelled by coach from Bucharest, the capital city, to Brasov in Transylvania, the mountainous area of Romania.

It was fun to explore the picturesque town of Brasov, and enjoy the local restaurants and cafes. Some ventured up the hillside beyond the city walls to get the view from the White and Black Towers.

Heavy rainshowers moved in, and some very wet singers boarded the coach to the hotel at 5pm. The view of a rainbow from the hotel almost made up for the drenching!

We had all been looking forward to our special choir evening together, starting with a lovely meal. This was then followed by a BFCS ‘soirée’ always the highlight of our tours! We were treated to song, comedy, and instrumental music, showcasing the talents of our singers.

Our special tour guest Sidney, 10 month old son of David (our conductor) and Alexandra (our soprano soloist), enjoyed the music and all the attention!

The evening ended with a comedy version of the Abba song, with us all joining in the chorus. The words “Thank you for the music” seemed a very fitting way to end the evening.

Singing for all ages in Bucharest.

Bucharest day 2 started with a free morning! Some singers set off bright and early for sight-seeing, but others took the opportunity to rest, communicate with home, write a tour blog (!) and just have a quiet stroll around and a bite to eat.

The University of Music was a 20 minute walk from the hotel, and soon identified by the graduating music students in cap and gown, and the BFCS poster on the notice board outside.

Inside, we had our first glimpse of the youth choir, Cor cu Dor, who were to share our concert that evening. As they rehearsed we were bowled over by their perfect performance of popular songs in English from memory. Their ages ranged from about 7 to 18 years of age,and they were led by an inspirational lady who communicated exactly what she wanted through her gestures, rather than a strict beat.

In the concert later we also heard them give an interesting representation of the dawn chorus, and other difficult rhythmic songs, but the star piece was a full version of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with choreography.

We learnt afterwards that they practise 3 times a week, and practise every day when they have a performance coming up.

Our performance provided a contrast, but we hope that the young people and the rest of the audience were inspired by hearing a full SATB choir from the English choral tradition, plus our soprano soloist Alexandra Wynne. They certainly responded to every song with whoops and cheers!

Solo lines in our folk songs were taken by David Wynne and Mitch Holland, and Geoff Evans and Barry Jones sang the solo lines in ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’.

This choir tour had been moved to May (instead of the usual July / August) in the hope of finding lower temperatures. However, the concert on the enclosed stage at the University of Music provided the full tour experience we remember so well from the past, with high temperatures exacerbated by us all standing so close together, resulting in sweat dripping into our eyes and onto the music, and running down our backs. Such is the lot of a touring musician!

The concert ended with the Cor cu Dor joining us again in stage to sing the Romanian song ‘Corborai din deal in vale’ together. The joint choir included singers covering an age span of 80 years, united by a love of singing. It was a good ending to a great concert!

This blog is being written on the coach to Brasov, Transylvania, for the second half of our tour. We look forward to posting about our experiences there.

Choir tour to Romania

Going on tour is one of the highlights of singing in Birmingham Festival Choral Society! In the past 30 years we have been to many places, the tours to Eastern European countries being particularly interesting and well received. We are really looking forward to keeping up this tradition when we visit Romania between 27th May and 2 June.

The choir and family supporters will stay 3 nights in the capital, Bucharest, followed by 3 nights in Brasov, Transylvania. Our plans include a flash mob in a bookshop, an informal sing in “Dracula’s Castle” (Bran Castle) and four main concerts.

Bran Castle

Our programme will include well known choral classics, a selection of music by English composers, and some arrangements of folk songs from the British Isles. Kevin Gill will provide organ and piano accompaniment , and David Wynne will be the Music director. It is a special treat to have David’s wife, Alexandra, as our soprano soloist, and family support will be provided by their baby Sidney and his grandparents!

One of the more interesting aspects of touring abroad is meeting local people. In Bucharest we look forward to sharing a concert with the Youth Choir Cor cu Dor, and in Brasov we will visit the charity Asociata Nevazatorilov for the blind and visually impaired, to give them the money that was donated by Birmingham singers and supporters at our last concert. We look forward to learning more about the valuable work they do.

Biserica Manastirii Sighisoara, venue for our last concert.

Finally, no tour would be complete without the informal concert party, at which singers show a full range of musical and comedy talents! Much fun is had on tour, and friendships made. We’re not known as the Big Friendly Choral Society for nothing!