Melody and Song Was Our Common Language Christopher Morley Joined the Birmingham Festival Choral Society for an Unforge Ttable Music Tour of the Czech Republic
Morley, Christopher, The Independent (London, England)
Anyone needing convincing as to the supreme power of music should have been with Birmingham Festival Choral Society on its recent tour of the Czech Republic.
Language difficulties vanished in the face of the unifying language of rhythm, melody, and, above all, harmony.
So many examples live in the memory: the enthralled face of a young teenage girl, probably one of the thousands of worldwide tourists thronging Prague, as she listened to BFCS performing in that wonderful city's historic St Nicholas Church; the tears in the eyes of elderly residents of an old people's home in Prachatice, Southern Bohemia as BFCS gave them an impromptu concert; the camaraderie of singing First World War songs and Beatles numbers with the Ceska Pisen ('Czech Song') choir, hosts in that ch arming little town; the farewell dinner where English and Czech choirs together learned new music from the same song-sheet.
This was the third visit by Birmingham Festival Choral Society to former communist Europe, following on highly successful trips to Bulgaria (1992) and Poland (1994); both occasions were reciprocated with return visits by choirs from those countries,and this one will prove no exception with the Czech songsters coming to Birmingham next year.
As with the Polish excursion, the journey to Prague was overland. It got off to a wonderful start, unflappable tour organiser and choir bass Tim Davis cracking open a bottle of champagne and passing round smoked salmon sandwiches, fresh lemon slicesand all to those nearest him on the coach.
There was also the thrill of a trip through the Channel Tunnel on le Shuttle - a first for many of us - with a chance to admire the ingenuity and sheer scale of the whole enterprise.
Spirits remained high through Belgium and on into Germany, before the 70-strong party unloaded in the picturesque Rhine Valley village of Altenahr for the night (frustratingly only 27 kilometres from Beethoven's birthplace, Bonn).
Here the first of innumerable schnitzel were consumed, good Rhineland wine and beer were sampled, and at least one schnapps glass went AWOL into someone's souvenir booty.
Less happy was the following afternoon's crossing over the Czech frontier, where the party was kept waiting above an hour-and-a-half while the German border guards compiled an exorbitant (and possibly fictitious) tariff of charges the coach drivers had t o pay before we could escape the glorious Fatherland.
Haggling, plus a refusal to accept cheques, led to strong suspicions of an element of back-pocketitis on the part of these paid employees of the German Government, certainly something their embassy should investigate. Such was the tension this caused tha t a sweepstake was established for the return journey as to exactly how long the frontier-crossing would take; this correspondent underestimated by a long chalk.
So, eventually, to Prague, after a journey of two days, where the dusty pilgrims were met by the cool presences of airborne conductor Jeremy Patterson and organist David Saint. …