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CD Release Party

The Variations Ensemble recorded their program after our return from Hungary and the result is a mighty fine audio CD. Donations to the Music Scholarship program are requested for a CD so contact your favorite Variation Ensemble member or Bill Brewer for more details. We got together to celebrate the release recently and it was great to see everybody again.

Variations Ensemble CD Release Party from PSTCC ETS on Vimeo.

It was great that I had a window seat for our flight from Budapest to Munich so I could say good-bye to Budapest and take a photo as the clouds parted when we took off!

Here we are in Charlotte after getting up at 2:30 am (yes, that was AM!) to catch our flight.

Yes, it was early.

Only one more leg of the trip. Some of us leave in 2 hours and rest of the group will head out in about 4 hours.

I have been working on some “special” slideshows with some different focuses. Here they are:

Euro-things (different stuff we saw that was very “European”)

Group Shots (Variations in various locations)

and I have been adding to the Variations People all week

Also, on the long flight from Munich to Charlotte, I had time, of course, to reflect on the trip and all of the different experiences that the students and chaperones have had. New foods. New sights. New customs. New people.

Some things we found a bit odd: like having to pay to use a public restroom. Some things we found quite wonderful: like walking into the elementary schools and seeing three stories of children cheering for the choir.

For me, though, I think the overall highlight having the joyous experience of hearing Variations’ voices ringing through such wonderful places like Saint Stephens’ Basilica and the crypt in the Saint Peter and Paul Basilica. The songs they performed were meant to be sung in such places and hearing their voices and knowing that those vibrations were bouncing off such ancient walls and sharing with who knows how many other voices over the years was something I will never forget. I feel honored to be able to share that experience with the students.

Signing off for now,


This church is also called the Coronation Church. It is located on the Buda side of Budapest and it up on the fortressed wall that dates back to medieval times.

It is our last full day on the tour. We spent the morning with Thomas on a bus tour of Budapest, which is really two cities: Buda (supposedly named for the brother of Attilla the Hun who hid from him in the hills of the area of Buda) and Pest, which is much flatter and has often been flooded by the Danube river.

We saw the Parliament Building, sang in both Saint Stephens Basilica and the Coronation Church (or Saint Mattias Church), drove past the Opera House, went to the Citadel on top of the hill in Buda and ended up at Heroes Square, which has statues of all of the great Hungarian heroes as well as a tribute to the dual experience of Hungary which has often been involved in war (symbolized by the god, Mars, on a chariot) as well as at peace (symbolized by the Angel of Peace on a chariot). After the tour, smaller groups when their separate ways in the city to find the grand market, tour other sites and explore foods and, of course – help the Hungarian economy by shopping.

Slideshow of Budapest

Posting video has been a bit harder than I had hoped due to my netbook and other complications. Here is another one. Please let me know if you have problems with it.

Mateszalka from PSTCC ETS on Vimeo.


Some of the group are more adventurous eaters than others, of course! But for two lunches, we have been treated to traditional Hungarian fare.

At Szatmarcseke (prounounced sat-mar-seke), we were treated to a a wonderful lunch thanks to the generosity of Kati Blalock. It was in a small restaurant that was opened just for it. All handmade foods!

We were able to sit and enjoy a family style meal of

two soups:

  • Gorcsleves (a clear broth with twisted noodles that were handmade)
  • Fustolt szalomas leves (a smoky bacon and bean soup)

We also had two entrees:

  • Szivas derelye (two thin noodles with a plum sauce between them that were covered with cinnamon)
  • Toltott kaposzta (cabbage leaves filled with ground beef and simmered in a paprika/tomato sauce)

For dessert, we had szilvas pite, which was golden cake with plum sauce in the middle.

It is Thursday night. We are now in Budpest. We woke up this morning in Debrecen to a light snowfall.

On the way from Debrecen to Budapest, we stopped for several  hours at the Hortobagy (pronounced hore-toe-baj) National Park, which is a great Hungarian plains.

The land is called the Puszta (poos-ta), which means empty. The land is not good for agriculture but the large, flat expanses have already been used for animal grazing and herding.

Before the Hungarians, there were Serbian tribes in the area. The nomadic Hungarians arrived and used the long horn Gray cattle, which are very large and strong animals to pull their carts as they moved around. There are also horses and endangered twisted horn sheep in the area.

Our time at the Hortobagy  included a guided tour through their nature center, a film and then a visit to a large area where we were treated to a demonstration of their cattle carts and a horse show.

We even got a chance to ride the horses. (check out the slideshow below to see images of that!)

A short ride in a horse drawn cart led us to horse and sheep barns and a visit to a pottery shed where the black clay and smoke of the kiln create unique black pottery that is known in the region.

Another carriage ride and we were treated to a goulash lunch by Sara Smith, who used to work in Dr. Edwards’ office at Pellissippi State.

Here are more photos from our visit to Hortobagy National Park

The concert on Wednesday night was in Mateszalka. It was the third concert of the day after the two elementary school performances. We arrived at the church just in time to change clothes and warm up the choir before the crowds started arriving. This concert was a benefit for the formation of a YouthACT club in the schools that we visited. Before a crowd of over 125 people in the Reform Church of Mateszalka, Variations performed a set of sacred tunes and then we were all treated to a performance of the Mateszalka community choir before Variations sang their second set. It was really neat to see that one of the elementary school music teachers was the choir director and the other sang in the choir.

After the performance, the choir was treated to a reception with the other choir. It was delightful to see the reaction of each choir to each other. The choir gave CDs of their music to the Hungarian choir and Mr. Brewer was asked to autograph them by the music teachers…much to everyone’s delight.

Dr. Edwards also exchanged pins and gifts with the local Rotary president and other members. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful day full of making connections to things old and new!

Sorry the post seemed so rushed yesterday, it was very late when we returned from the full day exploring the extreme northeast corner of Hungary but we really wanted to share some of the day right away. After a restful night, I can begin to share more of the day!
It was a day of connections. The town of Mateszalka (prounounced mah-tah-sal-ka) has a chapter of Rotary Club International that has had a relationship with a Knoxville chapter for over ten years. This chapter was very instrumental in helping us plan this day and the concert.

As we rode the bus to the area, our guide, Thomas, explained how this part of the country was different from the other parts we had visited. It was not as connected as the rest. In fact, much of it had been under water at some point in the past. Because of that, they were connected as a community since they were cut off from the rest of the country. They also have very different influences than the Muslim Turks and Serbs that we had seen in Pecs. This part of the land was also too far from Austria to get that influence during the occupation but still had to pay taxes as they were able to because of the animal trade that was so successful in the region. (We had learned earlier that city of Debrecen was named from a derivation of a Turkish word for “animal trade”.

We also made a connection at lunch when we met and dined with Lajos Biro, the artist who created the bronze sculpture in Krutch Park in downtown Knoxville that honors Bill Sergeant, who chaired the Rotary’s international polio eradication efforts since the late 1980.

Mr. Biro also joined us after lunch to walk to a cemetery with a very special tradition. Koplyafas Temeto is a cemetery that has all of the tombstones made of wood that are carved to look like boats. It is the only place like this in the country (and I would guess the world) and the tradition arose because the land was flooded and the cemetary was only approachable by boat. This lack of connection with the rest of the area created the tradition. Walking through this graveyard provoked a very unusual feeling in many of us. We commented that it was obviously a very special place.

We then went to tour a water-driven mill that was built in 1752 and is still operational. There were grindstones to view and the operator opened up the wheel and got it spinning just for us!

A Perfect Day

Today was one of those days that you know that no one in the group will ever forget.

We are just now back at the hotel and it is almost 11 pm so I will have to wait to get into the details but I wanted to share some photos from the day.

First, we stopped at Mariapocs, which is a Catholic church that was the site of a miracle involving a Saint Mary icon that began weeping real tears.  Pope John Paul II came to the church back in the 1970s  and celebrated with over 40, 000 people in attendance. It is now on the list of pilgrimage locations.

After that, we headed to two different elementary schools where the children had program for us and then the choir performed from them. We were all delighted with their dancing and singing and piano playing and energy and laughter.

Here is a slideshow from those two school visits.

After the schools, we were treated to lunch by Kati Blalock, a Knoxvillian who grew up in Hungary and moved away when she was a small girl. It was served family style and involved many traditional Hungarian dishes.

More events happened in the afternoon before the concert and those details will have to wait! But, if you need more photos!

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