Zdravey -  That’s Hello in Bulgarian. It is one of the phrases the Accolade Community Choirs from Newry and Banbridge, Newry Ukulele group and the Orchestra were happy to learn before setting out on a very special holiday recently.

Our Bulgarian conductors Nikolay and Vessie Ivanovi had been planning every aspect of this trip to their home country Bulgaria for over a year. All their hard work and dedication paid off because the 55 people on the trip all agree that it was an amazing experience.

Accolade group in park in Varna.
The Accolade group in park in Varna.

The Accolade logo bears the words “Accolade connecting people through music” and that is at the heart of all that we try to do in each of our groups. What we realised by the end of our time away was that not only were we connecting with people from Bulgaria, but that our connections already present within the Accolade group were strengthened and deepened in a very special way.

Our first night was in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. The buildings in this city reflect more than 2000 years of history including Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Soviet occupation.

We headed across the country to Varna which is a port city and seaside resort on the Black Sea. While there, we were treated to a singing workshop by Desislava Ivanova who is a soloist with the Bulgarian national radio and a viola player and opera singer with vast experience performing worldwide. She is also our conductor Vessie’s sister and together they prepared us for our performance that evening in the Easter Celebration Concert in Varna.

We felt very privileged to be invited to sing at such an event. One of our songs was “Hubava si moia goro” - “You are beautiful my forest”. This song has a deep meaning for Bulgarians. It is about an exile who has been driven from his home and represents all exiles.

When we sang this song many people in the audience had tears in their eyes. Later people came to meet us and though there was a language difficulty, the warmth of their smiles and hand clasps let us know we had made a real connection through our singing.

On the following day we performed in the beautiful park in Varna. A crowd soon gathered and we sang a number of songs including “Oh happy day” and for the children “The lion sleeps tonight”.

Janet Mc Alister presented a ukulele to one of the children .
Janet Mc Alister presented a ukulele to one of the children .

To the delight of the children, Vessie got everyone to do the actions for the lion song. We received a round of applause as we began the Bulgarian song and many people came to greet us afterwards. We noticed that the younger people spoke English well.

One of the highlights for all of us was our visit to an orphanage near Plovdiv. The Accolade Committee had offered to buy some 20 ukuleles that our members could use while in Bulgaria and then offer them as a gift to the children in the orphanage.

Our first visit was to a group of younger children who, with children from the local community in Zelenikovo, put on a show of Bulgarian traditional and modern dance. As well as the gifts of the ukuleles we also gave them Easter eggs and the children were delighted!

It was so touching for us to see the joy on one little girl’s face who once she was shown how to play chord C, began to strum the ukulele.

We then visited the group of older children who were less inclined to join in, but were delighted with their gift of Easter eggs and ukuleles - a rare treat to be given such a gift.

Leaving the orphanage our group was unanimous in our decision to somehow raise funds to ensure that a music teacher could be employed to teach these children how to play the ukulele. We believe this will bring joy and fun and open up a whole new world of music to these children, whose parents have gone to work abroad, leaving them in the care of the State.

We were delighted to meet Vessie and Nikolay’s Parents. They must be very proud of Vessie and Nikolay and be so aware of the respect and love we all have for them. They came with us to a special place 17 km north of Varna where we climbed  to see the monks cells in a medieval  Christian Cave Monastery.

Singing “Irish Blessing” in that place of peace gave us a sense of continuity of prayer in that holy place.

Accolade member Rosaleen Moore said she was very impressed with the information Vessie and Nikolay provided us with as we travelled through the country. We learned so much from them about the history, culture, political and economic situation of Bulgaria.

One thing that particularly stays with Rosaleen is the absolute camaraderie of the group.

“We were of different ages and different backgrounds. We were known to each other previous to the trip, but this was an opportunity to get to know each other an awful lot better, making friends for life.”

Accolade singing in Amphitheatre in Plovdiv
Accolade singing in Amphitheatre in Plovdiv

Rosaleen also says “There was so much fun, from the singing, the interchange with the Bulgarian Folk Group, to the Walking Football  and Tai Chi on the beach in Varna to the sing songs in the evenings and the special  birthday party for Vessie.”

Another member, Feidhlim Convery said he felt privileged and delighted to be part of the whole experience and very grateful to Vessie and Nikolay.

One memory for him was the sound at night of the waves of the Black Sea lapping on the beach below the window of his hotel bedroom.

As a farmer Feidhlim was particularly interested in the countryside we passed through. He noticed the huge swaths of land often more than 200 acres, with no hedges or boundaries. He says he would love to go back in August to see the harvesting of the corn when huge machines would be doing the work.

Like many on the trip, Plovdiv was Feidhlim’s favourite city and he especially liked the Ancient theatre of Philippolis constructed in the first century AD. It can hold 7000 spectators. Feidhlim worked out that we were singing some 65 ft. from the rim of the theatre. It gave him a real sense of being part of history, a sense of timelessness.

Vessie and Nikolay had organised a wonderful meal in a Beautiful Bulgarian restaurant in Plovdiv on our final night. We were entertained by professional Bulgarian dancers and before the evening was spent we were all winding our way around the restaurant dancing traditional dances.

As we walked back to the hotel that night we agreed that Accolade is indeed about connecting people through music in the most simple and yet profound ways. A few of us called into the still night “Blagodaria” which means Thank you , Thank you Bulgaria, Vessie and Nikolay for all that has been on this trip.

Diary Date

Celebrating Together Concert Fri. 24th May in Newry Arts Centre at 7 30pm.

Bulgarian Pop Music Band ALFA

Accolade Choir and Ukulele Group and Children’s Dance Group Solnechka

Entrance £5  Concession £3.

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