Viola Fátyol

Vámospécs is situated in Hajdú-Bihar County, twelve kilometres from the eastern border of Hungary. Its population is about five thousand people. Most of its residents traditionally work in agriculture or do farming at home besides their other jobs. The town is struggling with the problems of being on the periphery geographically, economically and culturally.

Traditionalist folk choirs appeared in the 60s in the Hungarian countryside and they are still typical participants in the cultural lives of smaller towns today. They mainly perform on national holidays and at major local and nearby events.

The members of the Folk Choir of Vámospércs are mainly elderly women who for the first time, in their retired years, have enough time to do an activity just for the sake of intellectual self-expression. On the one hand, they participate in the choir for the pleasure of singing; on the other, with the help of this community, they can cope with loneliness and depression easier, so they can remain active members of the local society.

I started singing with the folk choir in 2013. The women welcomed me with openness and love from the beginning and I could easily fit in in spite of the generational differences. We often talked about what role the choir plays in their lives, what folk songs meant for them and how community forms their identities. I performed with them, I got a uniform and in a few months’ time I felt that I was a member of the group.

Our common work went on and in the next summer I visited the folk choir again for a longer period of time. I arrived shortly after it had become definite that I would not marry the man who was my fiancé, and that we would not stay together. The ladies instantly understood the situation and took me under their wings.

From then on, our relationship became truly personal, they cared for me individually and together as well, told me about their marriages, loves, the happy and tragic periods of their lives. They invited me into their homes, fed me, took care of me, gave me advice and helped me go through the hard periods step by step. While they were supporting me, they encouraged themselves as well. They told me what it is like to live in the countryside as a woman, watching the suicides of husbands and the loss of children, how to live in good and bad marriages, and what it is like to grow old and cope with loneliness. They told me how, in the end, to survive anything, anytime.

We have been singing together ever since.