Handel’s Messiah, in concert

This evening I was invited by Lynn and Meredith (two other Americans at the ICS) to go to a live performance of “some type of classical music.”  They weren’t quite sure what it was going to be, but they’d heard about it at the tourism office and they were told it was free.  So off we went!

It turned out to be Handel’s Messiah, performed by the Budapest Strings Orchestra.  I’d never heard this piece live before and I’m glad my first experience with it was in the old Roman Catholic church here in Kecskemet.  We were sitting in the second row, and the acoustics were really amazing.  The tones reverberated in the air for several seconds after the musicians stopped playing or singing.  When the orchestra and choir were at their loudest, you could feel the sounds vibrate in your chest, much like when you’re out gettin’ your dance on and the bass is super loud.  This was different though, because the music was all acoustic, and it was the church itself amplifying the sound.

Naturally this made me interested in the acoustics of old churches.  There’s been quite a bit of research done on them over the years.  Here are two of the articles I read, if you’re curious too:

“Acoustic Characterization of Worship Ambience [sic] in Catholic Churches – Old Goa’s Capela do Monte: A comprehensive example.”


The Acoustic Characterization of Worship Ambience, a method used in Old Goa’s Capela do Monte (a significant Catholic church of Goa, a former Portuguese colony in India), introduces a new concept of describing the worship mood through evaluation of architectural acoustics results. [Bold is my emphasis.]  Three acoustically constituted worship parameters named Sacred Factor (SaF), Intelligibility Factor (InF) and Silence Factor (SiF) are presented in this study. The constituent subjective acoustic measures were analyzed and averaged in four listener zones within the church. The objective acoustic parameters RASTI, RT, EDT, D50, C80, TS, ITDG, G, and Leq were measured. All acoustic parameters were normalized using the data of previous acoustic measurements in Portuguese Churches.

SaF was found to relate with Initial Time Delay Gap (ITDG) (R2 = 0.99) with a “F-Statistic” probability (p < 0.01). InF related with D50 and EDT (R2 = 0.99) (p = 0.07) and with subjective Directionality (R2 = 0.95) (p = 0.03). SiF showed correlation with G (R2 = 0.99) (p = 0.05). The tested prediction equations derived from regression analysis showed the possibility of evaluating and designing a “Tranquil Worship Mood parameter” in a Church, from measured and calculated acoustic parameters.”

I should probably come clean and tell you I might have skimmed parts of that one (it’s a little too heavy on the math for me).  The sections I did read were highly informative, however! 🙂

The other one is a lot easier on the brain but no less interesting: Acoustic History Revisted


This paper will attempt to show that after the Roman Empire yet before the acoustical experiments of the eighteenth century (which are considered by too many acousticians as the true beginning of their science), there was a profusion of acoustical ideas, practices, and accomplishments. This text is above all for architects, a document reviewing sonic architectural expression of the past. It is one of many ways of “reading” a building, of understanding it Traditionally, visual sensations are considered predominant, yet other sensations can be acknowledged as well. It is possible thus to study architecture from a tactile, thermal, olfactory, or auditory point of view. […]”

That particular text talks quite a bit about using built-in eccentricities of architecture to spy on people (through eavesdropping), way back in the day.

Apparently I’m attempting to educate you this evening, because I also became curious about Handel and I’m going to link to a short text on him:  Messiah

“The establishment of Messiah as a venerated English institution for Christmas and Choral Societies has a long and complicated history. A few excerpts are familiar to almost everybody, unlike any other work by its prolific and misunderstood composer. Messiah remains Handel’s best known work, although this was not a status that it enjoyed until the last few years of his life, brought about by annual performances in Handel’s oratorio seasons and charitable benefit concerts at the Foundling Hospital (an organisation for underprivileged children, and which still exists today as The Thomas Coram Foundation). It was not originally envisaged as a Christmas tradition, but its microcosm of Christian doctrine and faith was intended as a timely thought-provoker for Lent and Easter. ”

This is a paper that’s about a page long, and it gives a pretty nice synopsis of the history behind the Messiah.  I don’t know how accurate it is because the author doesn’t cite his sources (although he does give a bibliography at the end), and the place I chose to double-check his statements was wikipedia, but… meh!… I think it probably gives the general idea and that’s all I was after.

Once again, the audience was uber-respectful, which made the whole experience that much more pleasant.  Hungarians could teach the rest of the world a thing or two on attending public performances, I think.  Anyway, here is a picture of the inside of the church and some people’s heads, since I didn’t want to raise my camera very high and be the only annoying one in the crowd.  There’s a short video clip on my facebook page as well.

Hungarian orchestra

Budapest Strings performing Handel's Messiah

Kecskemet Catholic Church ceiling

Ceiling of the church. (Bad picture, I'm sorry!) Does anyone know how to get rid of dust specks that are under the camera's lens?

A Hungarian Birthday

Hello there!  Today’s my birthday.  I’ve had a very nice day.  I started it off by sleeping in and then opening my packages from home while still in my pajamas.  One gift was a pair of slippers, so I put them on right away.  Perfect!  (Thanks, Jen!)

Then I downloaded some Micheal Jackson with an itunes giftcard.  Heck yes.  Some of the greatest studio work music, I believe.  Right?  Another grad student at UMassD and I used to have Micheal Jackson Sunday Mornings, where we’d crank his music in the studio because we were the only ones in there at that time.  It’s a nice little slice of home, to have the same songs pouring through my headphones here.

I scrounged the studio complex for ware boards today and was moderately successful.  I’m making 300 tiles that are 15cm square, so I need quite a few boards to put them on until they can be fired.  I’d used all of the ones that were up for grabs in the student workroom, so I had to hunt through the other common areas.  I found 5 or 6, which will get me through the weekend.  I’m hoping I can do a firing of 100 tiles on Monday, even though I’m not scheduled until Wednesday.  That would free up the boards to be used again for the next round.  Wish me luck!

This evening, Meredith and I walked to an Italian restaurant called Cezar’s.  It was really good.  The menu translations were funny – this is what I ordered:

Hungarian menu translation

"tortellini, whipping cream, ham, parsley"

This is what I was served:

my meal

"tortellini, whipping cream, ham, parsley"

It was really good, and enough for two meals, so I’ll have it again tomorrow 🙂

Before I say goodnight – Thank you to everyone who’s written on my facebook wall, sent a card, or emailed me birthday wishes.  I feel lucky to have so many kind people in my life.  Several people here in the studio also wished me a happy day today and gave me small gifts.  This is a really nice community and I’m blessed to have met everyone here too!


British Flags, 42 Ice Creams, and a Folk Ensemble to Cry For

Yesterday was spent making saggers.  I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know I got them all finished (if only for the fact that maybe now I’ll stop writing about them…)!

I took a couple of breaks while waiting for the slabs to set up:

1) Meredith and I went looking for a specific ‘upscale’ thrift store.  It’s been getting colder here at night and we wanted to look for a cheap winter coats.  Neither of us bothered to pack one since they take up so much room in the luggage.  Do you know how to tell which store is a thrift store here and which one isn’t?  It’s easy – just look for the giant British flags in the windows.  These flags fly triumphant over the second-hand shops of Hungary.  Why?  I don’t know.  I was told that it possibly has something to do with the Brits (historically) sending a lot of hand-me-downs to Hungary.  Anyone know for sure?  I’d love to hear it!

1a) We found the store but it was closed (shops close here at noon on Saturdays and don’t reopen until Monday).  BUT, we happened to be in the neighborhood of “the best ice cream and pastry shop in town.”  So, of course we had to verify that claim.  They have 42 different kinds of ice cream.  We didn’t even look at the pastries.  I had the Riz (cinnamon), Mojito (SE), Malna (raspberry), and Erdomaster (triple berry-esque).  At this rate it will take me 10.5 visits to try them all.  I figure that on the 11th+ visits, I can start in on the pastries.  That case was at least as long, or longer than the ice cream case.

2)  Then we went back to the studio and I put together the slabs, and cut out the pieces for the last two and some lids.  While waiting for those to set up, we went to find the folk dancing and music.  We asked Peteris and Ilona to come with us, but they were busy glazing.  They’re firing their last kilns this week.  I wish they weren’t leaving the 1st week of October!

Anyway, we found the folk dancing, after some initial mishaps.  It was in the town square on the same stage that was set up the previous night.  These dancers and singers were a step or two above their predecessors, however.  It turned out that this was the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble.  (We didn’t know that beforehand.)  They were excellent.  I’ve never seen, heard, or experienced anything quite like it.  I’m struggling with how to explain it.  Maybe I should just bite the bullet and admit that I almost cried.  More than once.  You can’t laugh at me because you weren’t there!

Part of what made it work, in addition to the beautiful music (live), dancing, and costumes, was the respect given by the audience.  People stood patiently and attentively, in one place, for two hours.  They didn’t talk to their neighbors or fidget and complain because they couldn’t see or sit – nobody pushed anyone around to try to get “the best spot” even though the square was packed.  People very courteously looked behind them when choosing which area of cement to put down their roots, making sure that they weren’t blocking the view of a fellow audience member.  When I was videoing, a couple of different people walked in front of me.  They each ducked down and were careful not to jostle my elbows as they passed so as to not disrupt my picture.  Old people (from what I could tell) were given deference; they filled the vast majority of the seating area.  It was all very respectful.  I liked it.  In a way, it freed you from worrying about the other people around you and left you space to absorb the show.

At the end, when everyone wanted an encore, instead of whistling or yelling, the audience suddenly broke out into rhythmic (synchronized?) clapping.  I’d definitely see this group again, and if you’re ever in Hungary and have the same opportunity, I highly recommend that you seize it!

Kecskemet, Hungary

Hungarian Folk Ensemble - see a video clip on my facebook site

town square, Kecskemet

Traditional foodstuffs before the performance.