The choir of Bethlen Gábor College

Life of the BGK Choir – Summary by Forika Éva, retired music teacher


The final and most beautiful period of my teaching career (1990-2018), which went well beyond my official retirement date (2006), was being a music teacher at the Bethlen Gábor College in Aiud. I was responsible for the music education of the students of the training classes and sometimes of the “refi” (reformed classes). The most important part of my work was the direction of the choirs, because this was naturally public.

I have always been aware of the responsibility of representing a famous college.

Luckily for me, I was given quite a free hand in the execution of my work. So, first of all, I had to think of a strategy. In retrospect, I think it worked for most students.

I assumed that teachers, nursery school teachers and those working in the Reformed Church would also need to sing.  For this, one music lesson a week, without textbooks, is very little. The SINGING can only be learned, developed and especially taste its joy  in practice.

So I made it compulsory for EVERYONE, regardless of their musical ability, to sing in the choir, and of course I rewarded them for their efforts. I found that even the weaker students caught up in the end. Only rarely, for example for TV recordings or performances abroad, did I have to select those who had really mastered the repertoire and reached the right level.

So each year group had its own choir, and sometimes, when it was necessary, we would sing together in a big choir. The most beautiful confirmation of this “choir policy” comes just in time for the 375th anniversary of the college. At the opening of the ceremony, under the famous bell of the Owl’s Nest, 375 students sang the Bethlen hymn together.

All the choirs performed at the closing service, which was of course held in the Castle Church. Including the children’s choir, which was then led by my colleague Lőrincz Gertrud, there were 7 (seven!) choirs in total. We sang the closing < Soli Deo gloria> Paul Kickstat canon together. I had to conduct from the pulpit so that everyone could see me. The choirs were set up in a circle in the balconies and each sang 2-3 pieces. I went around to each of them in turn to conduct.

The greatest success of my life as a teacher came during the dress rehearsal of this performance.  For some reason, I had to do this rehearsal alone, without a colleague to help me to discipline . So directing 375 students in 6 choirs (five formative years, plus refi) on my own was no small feat! Fortunately, everyone understood the importance of the task, and so they listened to each other in a disciplined and obviously curious way.  I am still grateful for that! The ringing, resounding singing of the young voices filling the church was a wonderful experience for me too! Unfortunately, there are no recordings of this, only memories. Uncle Guttman Misi, a great and leading personality of the Transylvanian choir movement, was also moved. He hugged me with love at the end of the ceremony and congratulated us all from the bottom of his heart.

Another important element of my “choir policy” was to develop a unique feature, a profile that was unique to us. This first became very important in 1995, when the choir was invited to Northern Germany and the Netherlands for a concert tour (Neuenhaus, Nordhorn and surroundings). Before us, the mixed choir of the Reformed College of Cluj-Napoca was invited several times, conducted by Dr. Székely Árpád. So the stakes were high! Together with Szőcs Ildikó, we came up with the idea of dressing the girls in folk costumes from their region. In this way, the diversity of our students was reflected, as we had students from almost all over Transylvania. It was a beautiful sight to see the girls’ choir in any venue! I remember that in Cologne, where the Hungarians rented the Deuz church for our concert, when the heavy, ornate entrance doors opened and the 40 girls in 40 costumes marched in a beautiful line singing, it was such a majestic experience that many Hungarian emigrants began to weep. The Cologne radio broadcast and the recording of the event made this very clear.

The same lucky group of students was invited to France the following spring (Mech, Besancon, Strasbourg). This successful programme was extended there with an early music section, including choral works from the 16th to 18th centuries. We made use of the results and period costumes of the college’s already existing early music group. These were well suited to our soloists, many of whom have since become famous, such as Antal Tibor, Kerekes Boglárka and Zoltán,  Demeter Tünde and Csilla, Kiss Huba, Borbély Izabella, Nagy Zoltán and  Szabó MÁria. The clothes were sewn from velvet curtains that arrived in the Western aid consignments by teachers Tomay Gyöngyi and  Erdőháti Katalin, a drawing teacher. These programmes already included old, archaic prayers and folk songs, which were sung in unison, alternating between choir and soloists. This initially complementary repertoire slowly became the “ars poetica” of the choir.  Most of our performances were composed from old Hungarian prayers or folk songs and psalms, always around a certain theme.

E.g. Spring wind blows the water – a folk song on the theme of love

Following the school year calendar, the next holiday was always 15 March. We were usually part of the events organised by the history teacher Kónya Mária. On this occasion, the military songs were included in our programme. They were always loved by the students and the audience. We sang them in many places (Felvinc, Lapád, Enyed, Torockó etc.)


Of course, there have also been major anniversaries in the life of our school that we have been part of. Among these, the celebration of Prince Bethlen Gábor and the college in the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest in 2013 was very prominent. Girls dressed in folk costumes welcomed guests on the steps of the Parliament, we sang our celebratory programme from the gilded balcony in the Assembly Hall and paid homage to the Holy Crown. When we sang our prayer O Saint Stephen, praise be to God, even the Crown Guards blinked with emotion.

The most complex programme of my teaching career, which has attracted the most students and teachers, was also triggered by an anniversary in 2007, the international year of the 800th anniversary of SAINT ELISABETH. In the castle of Aiud, at the base of the 800-year-old church tower and in the parish church of St. Elisabeth of Aiud we presented our 5-part show, Who Shares her  Heart, our castle play. Children’s songs, folk songs, flower songs, Catholic folk songs were all included in the scenes. The choir and soloists, sometimes accompanied by recorder, enriched the thematic scenes with stage play and dance. Two storytellers guided the audience through the life story of Saint Elizabeth. Four schoolgirls played the role of Saint Elizabeth, in a row, always wearing the same wreath of roses. Fortunately, this was also made into a TV programme and video, thanks to the late Antal Tövissi Ildikó (TVR1) and her team.


Pentecost – in memory of the canonisation – performed by the 5th classes

The life story of St Elizabeth, in 2 parts, presented jointly by the education classes and the Reformed classes.

The final part 5 was performed in the church of St. Elisabeth in Aiud. We sang the popular song Who shares her heart, this time accompanied by the college’s light music ensemble. In this part 5, we summarised the lessons learned, based on a text by Lázár Emőke, religion teacher.

Graduation is the final, beautiful event of student life at college. The choir of each year group sang at graduation. At first the graduates themselves sang in the celebratory service before the class teacher’s lesson, later the choir of the graduating (11th) classes, and then, as the number of classes decreased, the whole choir sang in honour of the graduates.

But for me, the most memorable was my own “graduation” in 2017. I knew that I would be handing over the baton in the autumn, so I also graduated at the 10th Children’s Choir Meeting in Enyed, organised by the Song Society in the spirit of Zoltán Kodály, in April 2017. As a token of my gratitude, I composed a programme of sung prayers entitled Ecce homo. The prayers sung led me through the events of the church year, paralleling the human journey from birth to death.


Fórika Éva retired music teacher, 2022 – SOLI DEO GLORIA !


Thinking of the future, in 2012, Tomai Gyöngyi and I founded the KAKUKKSZÓ Children’s Choir.

We also received musical instruments.


Hungarian Days of Alba Iulia

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