Török Testvérek: A Dynamic Hungarian Trio

While the rest of the U.S. stampedes to mass arenas for rock concerts, I gravitate toward classical and folk music in small places. Some of my favorite musical experiences have happened in venues not much bigger than a classroom. I love the

Török Testvérek

Tilla Török

informal rapport that develops as the musicians relax, talk and even laugh with the audience. If the musicians are foreigners and struggle with English, for me it only adds a sense of cross-cultural sharing.

Two weeks ago I attended a joyful concert of this kind. The performers were Tilla Török, Flóra Török and Ádám Török Dancsó, a sibling trio of Hungarian folk musicians. The concert was sponsored by the Hungarian American Association of Washington (HAAW) and was held in the Phinney Neighborhood Center, where HAAW often gathers for folk dancing.  As I arrived for the concert, a farmers’ market was closing up in the parking lot, and artists were displaying their work in the hallway. What a cultural meet-up!

Török Testvérek (the Török siblings) gathered at the front of the room to perform, wearing clothes embroidered in traditional Hungarian patterns. The trio’s repertoire includes music from Hungary and the larger Balkan region. The various group members play violin, zither, different types of flutes and whistles, lute, drum and the Transylvanian gardon (somewhat similar to a cello). All of them sing.  The leader, Tilla, has a beautiful voice. Their music also incorporates the shouted chanting typical of the region.

Flóra Török

During the concert the musicians introduced each of their songs in Hungarian, and an American translator interpreted their comments. Clearly, the group loves the music and honors its traditional roots. They have been acclaimed for their ethnographic research as well as performance.

Their music exudes a wonderful energy, even in the passionate slower pieces. Because of the whistles and the drum, which is similar to a Celtic bodhran, I was sometimes reminded of Irish folk music.  Yet Hungarian and Balkan music is different, frequently set in a modal pentatonic scale. If you’ve listened to Bartók or Kodály, you get the idea.

I bought their CD, Naphasadás (Birth of the Sun). The music definitely sounds foreign to American ears, but it is vibrant and sensitively

Ádám Török Dancsó

interpreted. My favorite piece on the CD is a deeply compelling Kyrie. This group has done a wonderful job of preserving and adding to the musical heritage of Hungary and the Balkans. Check out their website and Facebook page. 

Photos in this post were taken by Márta Horváth.

Better You Go Home: A Tense Novel by Scott Driscoll

In January I met Scott Driscoll, a Seattle author and creative writing teacher.  I welcomed the opportunity to talk with him because of our common interest in the Soviet bloc countries.  Scott has written a novel set mainly in the Czech Republic, titled Better You Go Home.  I read the novel eagerly last month.  It is powerful.scott driscoll's book

Better You Go Home tells the story of a Seattle attorney, Chico Lenoch, visiting the Czech Republic a few years after the fall of the Iron Curtain.  The Czech Republic is the homeland of Chico’s father, and Chico has become aware that he has a half-sister here.  He looks for the woman partly out of desperation: Chico, a diabetic, is in kidney failure, and perhaps this sister could be the genetically matched kidney donor that he needs.  Yet as he searches for both this woman and the truth about what happened in his family, he unearths the pain that his family endured . . . and inflicted.  More and more, Chico’s quest goes beyond his own immediate medical need and becomes a drive to do the right thing for the sister who was left behind.

The book is sharply written in a close first-person narration, and the reader feels Chico’s diabetic weakness and dread as he walks this darkening path of generations-old hostilities.  The novel is driven by the tensions of family secrets (based in similar events from Scott’s own family history), political corruption and medical emergency.  This book is not light entertainment.  The chain of cause and effect is complicated, and the characters are not always easy to interpret.  But as I told Scott in an email to him after I finished the book, the complicated characters seem very real.  Even the ones that appear most reprehensible have at times done helpful deeds, and the sympathetic characters have had their moments of caving in to despair or compromise.  This conveys the stresses of people who have lived under Nazism and then communism.  In my readings on Hungary, I have encountered similar stories of moral ambiguity.  Sometimes we have to ask not only whether the characters (whether real or fictional) did right but also whether they felt they had any choice.CIMG0779

Scott’s comments about the writing of this book were illuminating.  “It was family matters that encouraged me to set out to write this story to begin with,” he said.  “What I especially wanted to know was what people thrust into a pressure cooker of politics, history, and geography (that was central Europe and the Eastern Bloc countries) did to keep their humanity alive. What I discovered was that there was no easy way to judge either side. There were consequences for my family.  But I didn’t write this for them. I wrote this for my generation, the generation whose parents suffered the worst of these events. The generation whose upbringing bore the weight of unresolved conflict among parents, many of whom were forced emigres.”

Better You Go Home is a deep and beautifully written book. Read it. But don’t read it for escape.  This is a novel you have to think about—and that’s a compliment.

Here is the Amazon link for the book