Guest post from David Burbidge of Lakeland Voice: Our Week Of Singing In Slovenia 2018
Let’s Go Slovenia travel blog is happy to present a piece written by David Burbidge, director of Lakeland Voice community choir from Sedbergh and Kendal in Cumbria, the U.K. The choir in Sedbergh has a connection with the town of Zreče, in Slovenia. And recently they have visited Slovenia to sing Slovene community music together with Slovene singers.
By David Burbidge
Our choir Lakeland Voices from Sedbergh and Kendal visited Slovenia for a week of singing and walking and meeting people. We had a wonderful time in Kanal where we sang a concert by the TIC Kanal (Tourist Information Center) and also sang in the station. We were very kindly hosted by Miran and Alenka. We are now back in the UK, but for most of us our hearts remain in Slovenia.
Many of the singers were amazed at the hospitality of the Slovene people – like walking down from Skomarje, a little hilltop village near our twin town Zreče, and being invited to have a wee glass of slivovic as we sang a song by a farmhouse. Or Jožica Podgrajšek on the Brinjeve Gore inviting us into her garden to drink Franc’s wine, or the singers in Ljubljana inviting us to stay in their homes for the night … We loved singing with everyone we met, and having spent some time learning a number of Slovenian songs like Krasni Majnik, Planinska and Lipa. We were able to sing songs which others could join in with, which was a great pleasure – the narodni pesmi, the national folksongs. We had the same thing here once, a collection of folk songs from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, which all the children learnt at school in the 1950’s and 60’s so that we always had something we could sing together – but sadly many of these songs are being forgotten here in the UK.
As always we were very much impressed by the quality of the choirs we sang with: The Franc Urbanc male voice choir in Bohinj, the Waldorf School parents and teacher choir in Ljubjana, and of course all the Zreče choirs who are such excellent ambassadors for Slovenian chorul music: Zbor Jurij Vodovnik, Vinski Brati, and the Zreče Firemen’s choir. I heard that Zbor Jurij Vodovnik from Zreče had won a silver medal for the quality of their singing – but we all thought that if singers were judged on their kindness to others and their warm hearts, then the singers would all have been given the gold medal.
All our singers saw that although Slovenia is a small country, Slovenians everywhere have very big hearts, which inspired us to have very big smiles!
We live in an area of Britain that has lakes and mountains – the Lake District national park – although a lot smaller than you have in Slovenia. But even though we are used to this sort of thing, we still we found the scenery extraordinarily beautiful – swimming across the lake at Bled, singing on the boat going over the lake at Bohinj and then on a walk back along the northern shore; walking round Bled Lake and then after rowing to the island, singing in the beautiful church there; singing in Prešeren Square under the statue of your famous poet; and singing in the stunningly beautiful Skomarje church, in the Skomarska Hiša and on a walk down the hillside through the wild flowers. Of course the weather is so much nicer than we have at home, but even if it had been raining and cold we would have been kept happy by the warm hearts of the Slovene people.
The town where we live here in Cumbria is called Sedbergh – we are one of just a handful of towns twinned with towns in Slovenia – our twin town is called Zreče near Celje.
How did it all start
Our twinning stated in 2004 when the BBC wanted to make a film about town twinning and chose Sedbergh because we live in beautiful countryside for filming and because we didn’t have a twin town. The BBC invited towns from five European countries including Slovenia to come to Sedbergh and try to win our hearts and become our twin town – like a blind date.
The butcher from these towns stayed with our butcher, the poster master with our post mistress, the baker with our baker – even the policeman from Zreče in Slovenia stayed with our policeman and drove around in his squad car. After 5 weeks all the mayors and represenatives of these 5 European towns came to Sedbergh for the big vote. We all gathered in the People’s Hall – our town hall to make a vote.
A few people voted for one country because our children were learning their language at school and people thought it might help them. A few voted for another country because they were dancing and drinking and seemed very happy. One mayor came in a private jet thinking it would impress the people of our town – but it had the opposite effect. People here aren’t rich and don’t trust rich people!
And then the votes to be twinned with Zreče came in – over 750 – more than the number who voted in our general election for our representative in parliament.
“The most successful town twinning in Europe”
The Slovenians had been very open hearted but also down to earth like people here in the Yorkshire dales, They had similar values – kinship, cooperation, making music together, valuing the good things in life more than wealth and status. Since then we have never looked back – our school children have exchanges with the Zreče school; we have had over 40 choir exchanges (expanding the area a bit further to include what we call the greater-Sedbergh and greater-Zreče areas (like Greater London) to include Edinburgh, Leeds, Ljubljana and Bohinj.)
Other groups having exchanges have included poets, artists, hill walkers, skiiers (though not too much skiing here, scouts, football players, town bands, etc. etc, The Slovenian Ambassador HE Tadej Rupel called our twinning “the most successful town twinning in Europe”.
One advantage we have had is that we never received funding for our exchanges – the people of Sedbergh have always paid for our trips to Zreče ourselves. Many other twin towns stopped visiting each other when the funding ran out – but our twinning has been driven by love rather than free holidays so it just gets stronger every year.
The tree of friendship which grows in Zreče – an apple tree from Sedbergh – “May our friendship always bear fruit.”
About the author: David Burbidge, who is originally from Ambleside, previously worked as a journalist and now lives near Sedbergh. He has enjoyed singing all his life and has been involved in starting several community singing projects.