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Morehead traditional music goes international

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RALEIGH, N.C.  Exchange students from Morehead State showed that the language of music is universal through their own ‘international’ sound at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass.

Four Hungarian traditional music students ventured to Raleigh, N.C. with their fellow MSU Mountain Music Ambassadors as the first students selected by the Hungarian government and the Petőfi Cultural Agency for a scholarship to share their own musical culture, as well as learn about the American music industry.

“This is probably the greatest opportunity that we will have in this one year,” said Lőrinc Mohácsy, a bass player. “Such a major event like this, these are the kind of big booms that we can have as a group and as a Hungarian missionary.”

Hungarian students at IBMA

Attila Dezső plays the Hungarian viola at IBMA in Raleigh, N.C. on October 1, 2021. Photo by Olyvia Neal | Trail Blazer

As the next generation of Hungarian folk musicians, they are dedicated to keeping their traditions alive after almost a century of historic struggles to silence their musical culture including World Wars I and II as well as part of the Eastern Bloc.

“After the Soviets went back to Russia, the Dance House Movement was still alive, but actually after that there was no increasing how many people learned about it– until nowadays,” said Mohácsy. “For us young musicians, it’s like a life task to show really how rich our cultural background is.”

Through their week at IBMA their band, Eredő Zenekar, performed at the IBMA Expo Stage and Youth Stage and jammed alongside bluegrass icons. The band’s name technically translates to “the source.” 

Hangarian students at IBMA

Eredő Zenekar displays their business cards at the MSU Mountain Ambassadors' booth at IBMA in Raleigh, N.C. on October 2, 2021. Photo by Olyvia Neal | Trail Blazer

And the band drew fans in Raleigh.

“When I see the way people are accepting them, and the excitement and enthusiasm that people are showing when they play, I’m just proud,” said Kentucky Center for Traditional Music  director Raymond McLain.

The performances caught the eye of Ben Wright, whose band, the Henhouse Prowlers, has worked with the U.S. State Department through international music diplomacy. Wright interviewed Mohácsy and fiddle player Áron Rostas for a podcast through their nonprofit, Bluegrass Ambassadors, to share their story. 

“To realize that three booths away from us on the expo floor was this Hungarian band, it just turned all of our heads and felt like such a fortuitous and beautiful thing,” said Wright. “I just love that we’re sitting here at IBMA, and there is this group of just as virtuosic musicians from Hungary playing on the same stage that an hour ago there was a hard-driving traditional bluegrass band.”

While their folk music shares similarities with bluegrass and traditional music, it stood out by conveying the powerful emotions, energy and rich cultural background of its people through deep lyrics and instruments such as the viola and Balkan tambura.

“There is a moment where you are touching each other with your souls and you find that you’re playing isn’t at the same time just from your brain [but] from your heart,” said Rostas, a native of Balinka. “So, when you catch this flow that can be a big power like a big wave.”

Hungarian students at IBMA

Ben Wright interviews Áron Rostas and Lőrinc Mohácsy for his podcast at IBMA in Raleigh, N.C. on October 1, 2021. Photo by Olyvia Neal | Trail Blazer

Anett Török has carried the old tradition of her family’s musical talent through her voice and playing the tambura. At IBMA, Török never let a language barrier stop her from conveying their music.  

“I think a lot about how they don’t understand, and I want to share with my face and they will understand what I’m singing and what they’re playing,” said Török, a student from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. “So, I try to make our music more comfortable for the Americans, and it is just a good feeling when I see a lot of people interested.”

Eredő Zenekar made a great impact at IBMA through their music and energy as the association awarded Attila Dezső a John Hartford book and CD donated by the Hartford family for a worthy, young fiddle player. 

“It’s just an honor to be here and represent our culture and country,” said Dezső, who plays viola and is a native of Transylvania.

Hungarian students at IBMA

Lőrinc Mohácsy strums his bass with his Hungarian bow at IBMA in Raleigh, N.C. on September 29, 2021. Photo by Olyvia Neal | Trail Blazer

Beyond sharing their culture, the Hungarian students have been learning more about how the American music industry uses production, networking and performances at IBMA workshops and through the KCTM to bring those skills back to Hungary.

“We would like to learn how to work actually, how you record it, that kind of really powerful working attitude, and at the same time kind of learning to be proud of our cultural heritage like bluegrass musicians,” said Mohácsy. 

Their year in American will conclude in May with the production of their first album recorded in a Nashville that will also serve as a recording tutorial to take back to Hungary.