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I was born in Budapest in 1957. I learned my first songs from my mother, daughter of Gábor Tanka of Kunhegyes, a famous dancer, singer, jester and storyteller in the Great Hungarian Plain. As a a free lance singer and storyteller, I have been collecting songs, stories and jests in Transylvania, Moldavia, Upper Hungary (now Slovakia), and various regions of present day Hungary for over 25 years now. The songs and stories dearest to my heart are visions and hallucinations of someone deeply in love, someone looking for a home in the world. I have released several CDs, frequently appeared on radio and TV in Europe, the USA and Canada, taught Hungarian folk music at various locations in Transylvania and Hungary, at York University, Toronto. With the help of professional translators, I have entertained Canadian, Estonian, French and Dutch audiences. I also do literary translations, and published several books. I am a member of the band Egyszólam (Unison). I have received a number of awards in recognition of my work.




András Berecz was born in central Budapest but his education in folk lore began right in his parents' home. His mother, a native of Kunság (a region in the Great Hungarian Plain), taught him the first songs and told him tale after tale about Grandpa who, orphaned at an early age, would live the life of a herdsman and become a famous dancer, singer, jester and storyteller. The songs he had 'collected' at various inns (each representing a particular musical 'dialect') were often taught to his children at dawn to make sure they had something to take to school in addition to the warm potato 'gloves' they wore on their hands and ate for breakfast. When he died, forty Gypsy musicians gathered to play at his funeral...

Andras's father came from Upper Hungary (now Slovakia). The village he was born is called Sőreg, which is the word used to denote the fish called starry sturgeon. (The Chuvash, a tiny people on the Volga River, thousands of miles from Hungary, use the same word for that fish...) With three university degrees and a knowledge of about a dozen languages, he made a living doing translations. At the dinner table, however, he would have no loan words from other languages; he was adamant about pure and plain Hungarian. On the other hand, his attempt to teach his son languages was thwarted by Andras' curiosity about the messages of words that kept stopping him in his tracks such as 'Is something interesting to me because it is in my interest?' The father soon lost patience, afraid that he had no time to answer a host of such questions.

A lover of Gregorian chants, madrigals and Baroque music as well as flamenco, András regularly visited the Music Department of the Municipal Library to listen to vinyl records of Asian music -- Bashkir, Tatar, Mongolian, Iranian, Azeri, Turkish and Indian. It was there that he discovered the collection titled Hungarian Folk Music. This turned out to be a life changing experience: he instantly fell in love with the beauty of the music and the language of unnamed peasant singers in Transylvania and Moldva. (It is worth noting that they had to remain unnamed for the sake of their own safety. They would have been beaten up brutally if the Romanian authorities had learned about their singing for a musicologist from Hungary. In Hungary, Domokos Pál Péter, the greatest scholar of the Hungarians in Moldavia, was also under police surveillance at that time. András and other people who consulted him before visiting the Changos could be sure their names would be entered into the files of the Communist police...

András himself got arrested both in Moldva and in Bulgaria where he wanted to learn first hand about the Turkish minority. At both places the police seized his films and suggested he should turn his attention to the achievements of Socialism: new housing developments and industrial plants. He assured them however that he was a botanist with a narrow-mindedly exclusive interest in conifers and, not wanting his interviewees to be beaten up, made sure to expose his films to the light before handing them over.

He started collecting songs in Moldva, and then went on to the Székely land and other parts in Transylvania, Northern Hungary (his father's birthplace), and finally Transdanubia and the Great Plain in present-day Hungary. What really intrigues him is the common features of the deepest, most ancient layers, showing through all variations. He derives unceasing joy and amazement exploring the incredibly rich possibilities of pentatonicism.

He started to go to Táncház parties in the late 1970s. Although he was not much of a dancer, he was a keen listener and soon discovered that there wasn't much variety as to the lyrics -- people just kept repeating a few well known verses. This prompted him to start collecting lyrics, ending up with 50 or even 80 verses to one song!

In the mid 1980s he became member of two bands, Újstílus and Ökrös, performing with the Kodály Dance Group in Hungary, Switzerland and the US, and finally ended up as a free lance singer and storyteller learning from many masters including illiterates but no rich people. The praises he treasures most include an old villager's laconic ok to his performance of a song he had 'stolen' from the old man, the merriment of Transylvanians hearing him sing their songs, and his mother snapping her fingers to the rhythm of Transylvanian music he made her know and love. The awards he received are a pleasant addition, too.

In 1986 András teamed up with flutists Zoltán Juhász and Kálmán Sáringer and singer Éva Fábián to found the band Egyszólam (Unison).

Once he was backstage while an old lady was telling a tale. The audience was rolling with laughter. The images conjured by the storyteller's words were as tangible as if you could just reach out and touch them. The experience set András thinking. It was obviously the quintessential one man theatre of traditional storytelling. What the old lady was able to do was however definitely not part of the syllabus at actors' training schools, although András thinks it could and should be. That old lady gave András the crucial inspiration to really start telling stories and expand his repertoire collecting stories. With director Erika Molnár he has worked to produce a total of over 35 hour long footage paying homage to people who returned from the Siberian winter and the Russian POW camps with hilariously funny and fantastic stories on their lips, poking fun at their own suffering and misery. The humorous stories arising from two world wars would suffice to create a comic epic, a tongue-in-cheek history of the 20th century, a tribute to vigor and vitality.




Folk tales, tested on endless nights on millions of people down the centuries, teach you to fight and show mercy. They teach you to be valiant and honourable. They prepare the soul for true love. They comfort the spirit. If language represents the world of the spirit, then tales might well be seen as nature reserves designated for the preservation of rare but clear ancient words and phrases, otherwise deemed to extinction.


When you are telling a story, capturing the attention of an audience can take place in three steps. First, make them hoot; after that, they will begin to smile; and finally, they will be ready to listen attentively.




Born Of Sorrow, Carried On By High Spirits - The Training School Of Untaught Singers


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