Music makes the world go round
The coach makes its way through the town of Hlohovec, past the Church of St Michael the Archangel and up a hill.
We are in southern Slovakia with the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir which is to give a performance in the town.
It is part of a Central Europe tour by the 60-strong choral group from Australia. Nine performances in four countries in three weeks.
The houses in this elevated part of town are tidy, neat. Especially when compared to the unit blocks down in the valley, around the town centre.
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 so many Australian country towns.
Yet beside it is a smaller hall, the Empire Theatre. At the front is a neat garden. There’s even a monument to Beethoven. So what’s the link?
While lunch is prepared by 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.
You think about that and let the magnitude of it sink in.
Such a pleasant afternoon … a reminder of summer as you 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 and into Marilyn’s Coffee Shop – at least that what we called it.
Posters and framed prints of Marilyn Monroe adorn the walls of the bar/cafe, 1960s hits sung in Slovakian play as the owner prepares delightful coffees – layers of frothy milk, coffee and warm milk in glass cups.
It’s a back story in this community, one that in a way represents the nation’s journey from such a tumultuous past 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. Here, human footprints date back more than 20,000 years when mammoth hunters used to dwell in the region during 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 1113AD along with the invasion of the Tatars, one of the major tribes from the Mongolian plateau.
After the Tatars withdrew in 1242 a period of peace returned under King Belo IV.
Yet today we climb the hill to the theatre just as the townspeople are filing into the hall that has provided a performance venue for more than 200 years.
Inside, we get a glimpse of what life can be like when people are allowed to express their talents.
The choir is in Hlohovec due to the family links of soprano Evalee Sharples. A civic reception has been arranged including mayor Miroslav Kollar, deputy mayor Miloslav Drgon and his wife Gabriela Drgonova.
Film crews were there so the choir’s visit was going to be on Slovakian television the next night.
The Empire Theatre is an intimate performance hall complete with dress circle balcony.
The choir was joined on stage by three Hlohovec dancers for Ave Maria.
“The audience were so excited by the choir’s performance,” we are told.
“It’s the furthest anyone has come to perform.
“It was a wonderful concert. Really lovely.
“The passion. The way the audience reacted.
“Usually they are a thankful audience here. But the applause today was heartfelt.”
What struck 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,” the winemaker said.
Indeed, this visit to Hlohovec showed not just the power of song but a real sense of community.
That’s what really hit home, the sense of community. And that, in the end, is what will overcome any oppression of the human spirit.