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Practice, we are told, makes perfect.

Yet no amount of practice can prepare you for the real thing.

You can imagine what it must be like. But nothing is quite like that moment when you step out onto the main stage.

Sporting events had given me an insight. Yet here, in an historic church in Budapest, I was about to witness it even more dramatically.

The Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir had been rehearsing for months for their 2016 Central Europe Tour – nine performances in four countries at some of the great churches, cathedrals and concert halls in Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

The 60-strong choir of all ages and vocations would come together for months to practise on wintery nights at a school hall.

And now they were set to sing at one of the grand European churches.


It was a night you dream of.  The performance would include being part of the Thursday evening mass at what is regarded as The People’s Church in the Hungarian capital city.

The acoustics of the thousand-year-old church were said to be superb.

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

The professionalism, flexibility and adaptability of the choir came to the fore on the night.

The Budapest rush-hour traffic meant the coach was delayed getting us to the venue.

Music director for the tour Sandra Milliken suggested choir members do their personal voice warm-ups on the coach. That in itself was memorable.

Just to hear such voices ring out amid the stop-start journey through narrow streets and up the steep climb to the church.

The late arrival meant the choir was spirited into the building through a back door, just as mass was about to start.

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


It was like a scene from a movie. The mass was under way.

And the choir members were getting changed into their uniforms in this small room under the pulpit.

Three of us managed to sneak up the centuries-worn stone steps to get an understanding of how the choir would be arranged best to take advantage of the acoustics. The choir president, music director and myself, so I could see what photo opportunities there would be.


The centuries-old wooden pews in the church were filled with people – even some students and young travellers standing at the back.

How the choir managed to calmly walk single-file up the steps into an unseen and unknown space then perform so admirably was beyond comprehension.


The grandeur of the building simply took your breath away.

Then the sound of the choir was spine-tingling.

The full force of the voices on Salve Regina by Michael Haydn simply knocked you back.

The notes rang out through cavernous interior, swirling through the far-reaching arches and spires.

And I immediately looked back on those rehearsal nights in the school hall and understood how far the singers had come.

Budapest6087 matthias

The singing of Prayer of the Children provided such a powerful message.

In a world where there is so much suffering and tragedy. It asks do we hope for a better way.

Do we hear the voices 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 by Kurt Bestor after the break up of Yugoslavia, as a message has lost nothing in the years.

“Reaching hands, with nothing to hold on to,
“But hope for a better day, a better day.”

It reminds us it is the children who feel the impact of war. A message that still rings true in Hungary, a country that has known such turbulent 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.

Sung in Hungarian by the choir, the classic folk song was found by one of the country’s great composers Zoltan Kodaly.

There was a woman sobbing uncontrollably at the finale. The performance had the crowd calling for more.

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.

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


Enjoyment and fulfilment is the result when everything comes together as one.

No part is more important than any others.

The voice can make a beautiful instrument.

A choir is working together as a community to make a unified voice.

You are working together to get something beautiful out of it.

After all, the key to happiness is giving: having a purpose greater than your own.

The music can be so beautiful and quite emotional.

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

As for the rehearsals, it’s a matter of learning the skill of song … then practise, practise, practise.

Read more about the 2016 Tour of Central Europe:

For more information on the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir, the musical program for 2018 and the 2019 Tour of Italy, go to:

2 comments on “The Universal Language

  1. Will wilson says:

    Thanks for allowing us to experience this through your words.


  2. leavearly says:

    Thanks for your comment Will, it was a pleasure to write, photograph and record it. I’m sure everyone will be inspired by it, about how people can come together and create something of beauty – whether it be in sport, the arts or general sense of community


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