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June 30, 2005



Headline -- Treasures from Transylvania

Photo of the Téka EnsembleIN THE ROOMS OF OLD HUNGARIAN PEASANT HOUSES, The Téka was a small wall cupboard containing the family valuables: documents, money, the Bible, salt and brandy. A téka preserves the treasures and passes them on to the next generation.

That is the musical goal of the Téka Ensemble, a group proclaimed "Young Masters of Folk Art" in their native Hungary in 1977, the same year that they started their own "Téka táncház" dance club in Budapest.

My own interest in folk dance music dates back to 1976, when, fresh out of college, I was touring southern Europe. Street performers abounded in the cobbled streets of Dubrovnik, Croatia. A dancing couple linked gorgeous twirling figures to the sounds of rhythmic violin music. The sight was unforgettable. At the time, I knew nothing of the origins of the dance I had witnessed.

In the early 1980s, I got caught up in the fun of international folk dancing with Kay Chaffey and Janet Sponheim at HSU, and soon I found myself dancing with the North Country Folk Ensemble. (The only requirements for a male were a right foot, a left foot and a willingness to make noise). Chuck Corman and Laurel Winzler had learned a Hungarian dance at the Barátság camp at the Mendocino Woodlands, and they were teaching it to the North Country dancers. There was no doubt that this dance was closely related to the amazing twirls I had seen performed in Dubrovnik. I didn't realize then that those dances represented the beginning of a folk revival movement that has since swept Hungary and ethnic Hungarian communities around the world.

Folk music seems to reflect a universal impulse of humanity, and every pre-industrial culture had its own. Unfortunately, in almost every modern culture that folk element is dying or is already terminally lost. Transylvania was an area with a particularly rich tradition of folk music and culture that struggled to survive a reign of terror directed at ethnic Hungarians after World War II under communism and repressive Romanian rulers, most recently Ceaucescu.

In the 1940s, a pair of musical scholars, Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, undertook a research program to document and preserve Transylvanian village music. These melodies were revealed to the world primarily through folk themes in Bartók and Kodály's classical music compositions. Then, in the 1970s, enthusiastic amateur musicologists began visiting the villages in an effort to understand and revive folk traditions in their full complexity, carefully recording, documenting and classifying what they found. An amateur folk group, the Bartók Egy, directed by Sandor Timar, became the premier training ground for young dancers and musicians.

Timar and friends organized the first táncház (pronounced tahntz-hoss, literally dance house), a club where one could not only enjoy music but also learn the corresponding dances. Folk music and dance left the concert stage and recovered their original function of group participation and entertainment.

The táncház movement grew rapidly in Budapest and in Hungarian communities everywhere as more people returned to the villages to collect folk music, dances and art. A common thread was a commitment to honor traditions as they were found in the village. Revival bands strived to perform traditional instrumental music as authentically as possible. Camps and workshops were organized where participants could learn old crafts, music and dance from authentic practitioners. In the U.S., there are now two dance camps on the West Coast and one on the East Coast. Locally, the Barátság camp ran for 18 years and was directed by HSU dance instructor Jeff O'Connor in the 1990s.

Téka, Muszikas and Ökrös are perhaps the best-known music ensembles exploring the Hungarian folk tradition. All of them trained with the Bartók Egy in the 1970s. Muszikas, with singer Marta Sebestyen, received worldwide acclaim after being featured on the soundtrack of The English Patient. The Ökrös Ensemble first appeared on the North Coast in the 1980s, playing for Barátság camp when the band was called Ujstilus. More recently, they performed in Arcata while on national tours in 1999, 2000 and 2002, bringing along a different guest musician each time, first the Gypsy fiddler Sandor Neti Fodor and most recently master cimbalom player Kalman Balogh.

The musicians of the Téka Ensemble -- Beatrix Tárnoki (vocals), Balázs Vizeli (violin), György Lányi (viola, bagpipe) and Pal Havasréti (bass, hurdy-gurdy, zither) -- have performed worldwide, drawing on the authentic folk music of Hungary and Transylvania, with the distinct Gypsy overtones that influenced Bartók. For the past two summers they have played at Golden Gate Camp Aranykapu Tábor, the Hungarian dance and music camp in Cazadero, near Guerneville.

On their way to camp this year, the Téka Ensemble performs in Arcata at 8 p.m. on July 1 at the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall, off Jacoby Creek Road in Bayside. Admission is $14, $12 for Humboldt Folklife Society members, students or seniors, and $6 for children 12 and under. For more information on the Arcata show call 822-2652. For more on the dance camp, go to l

Bob Doran


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