To warm up our hearts with carols

Weronika Rozycka

Polish folk have always sung carols and Polish carols are so numerous and charming like in no other country. Carols have lasted in spite of turbulent history, storms and changes of various ideas. They have accompanied the Polish nation throughout its whole history. Neither computers nor other technological inventions have pushed them aside. Paradoxically, the more we use mobile phones and discs the more we sing carols in the wonderful and unique time of Christmas.
Sounds of Christmas carols and pastorales deepen our experiences of the Christmas mystery in a proper way. They are a kind of appeal to form our lives to the measure of their beauty. If the aim of this contest was to popularise and preserve traditional arrangements and to create original interpretations of the magnificent Polish songs it was undoubtedly attained. Another edition of the Festival, the 13th Fr Kazimierz Szwarlik National Festival of Christmas Carols and Pastorales, is over. We had another unrepeatable occasion to participate in the unique work of singing carols. Those who filled the huge Church of the Visitation in Bedzin-Syberka on the Sunday afternoon, 7 January 2007, to enjoy carols at the gala concert became convinced of that.

Biggest in Poland

The story of the Festival is a story of success of all those who have been involved in its organisation. It is an example and evidence that a small environment can create a unique artistic event on the cultural map of our country. It belongs to the biggest enterprises of this kind in Poland considering the territory of influence and artistic level.
Another record concerning the number of participants was broken since almost 18,000 people, i.e. ca. 1,500 bands, groups, choirs, soloists and duets went for auditions. The organiser of the Contest is the Foundation for National Christmas Carols and Pastorales Festival and the City Council in Bedzin. The honorary patron was President Lech Kaczynski. Commencing with this edition the Festival was named after Fr Kazimierz Szwarlik, the spiritual father of this unique cultural phenomenon, who contributed to its origin, development and splendour. It was in the Holy Trinity Church in Bedzin, whose parish priest was Fr Szwarlik, that the idea of the festival was conceived. If it had not been his support and permission the festival would not have originated', said Fr Piotr Pilsniak, Festival director.

Youth atmosphere

The preliminaries were held in 30 regions. The winners came for final auditions, which were in Bedzin on 4-6 January 2007. The jury listened to 120 performing subjects and they appointed the winners. The jury consisted of Chairperson Prof. Halina Bobrowicz, the Academy of Music in Wroclaw, Prof. Miroslaw Knapik, the Silesian University in Katowice and Fr Prof. Kazimierz Szymonik, the Academy of Music in Warsaw and the Stefan Wyszynski Catholic University in Warsaw.
The festival is a contest in which there are no limitations concerning performance. Therefore, the presentations are diversified. The Festival in Bedzin has a youth character. About 120 young people help to organise it and without them little could be done. They work as volunteers and begin long before the Festival starts. One needs tremendous patience to endure the hectic days of the Festival.

Some facts from the history of the Festival

The Festival had its roots in 1994. Then the performances were of regional character. Nobody supposed that in a few years there would be even foreign contestants. And we owe that to a group of young people who were actively involved in the Holy Trinity Church in Bedzin. Together with their leader Fr Piotr Pilsniak, priest working in this parish, they organised a contest of carols. An organisational office was created and Fr Pilsniak has run it until now. He is the soul and Festival director and now he is working in St Mary of the Angels Parish in Dabrowa Gornicza. The first festival was held in 1995. 102 groups from the District of Katowice entered for the contest. They represented parish centres, elementary and secondary schools and cultural centres. However, the participation of several groups from other parts of Poland showed that the initiative was right. The next stages brought about many changes, which contributed to the national character of the contest. It was already the next year that 220 performers were interested in the contest, which made it in two stages. Its range was also widened. Preliminaries in 8 regions were held. Over 120 performers were qualified for the final contest.
The third edition arose even more interest. 7,000 performers sent 280 applications. The festival 'map' included centres in Kielce, Lodz and Radom. During the Third Festival another contest was announced, namely an original new carol or Christmas song. The Fourth Festival gathered as many as 628 performing subjects, which was a specific explosion of interest in this musical event. The preliminaries were organised in 19 cities. Local communities got interested in the preliminaries and in many places they became independent cultural events. Two booklets of carols with awarded compositions were published. Those were the fruits of the First National Composition Contest.
The Fifth Edition in 1999 confirmed its rank by participation of over 600 performers. In the Jubilee Year of Christianity carols were sung by over 670 performing subjects.
Polish people living in Ukraine entered the Seventh Edition. The preliminaries were held in 20 regions in Poland and gathered over 700 performers.
Commencing with the Eighth Festival the organiser has been the Children and Youth Department of the Diocesan Curia in Sosnowiec and the City Council in Bedzin. In 2002, over 820 performers entered the contest and they competed in 23 regions all over Poland and in Ukraine. Almost 1,100 performers entered for the Ninth Edition. The increasing number of contestants coming from the farthest parts of Poland and Ukraine testify to the growing popularity of the Festival, which has quickly changed from a local event to a national contest. The total number of people in the preliminaries amount to 15,500.
The Jubilee Festival, the Tenth Edition, gathered almost 1,200 performing subjects. The preliminaries were organised in 25 regional centres in Poland and in Rovny in Ukraine. In turn, the 11th Festival had 17,000 people: groups, soloists, and choirs. The 12th Festival gathered over 17,000 participants. The present preliminaries were held in 28 regions both in Poland and in Ukraine. Within all these years the Festival has become a fixed element of the cultural religious schedule in the whole country.

The awarded

In this year's edition, apart from the traditional awards, special awards of Polish President Lech Kaczynski were given for the youngest and the oldest contestant - winners of the Festival. Mr Ryszard Grobelny, Chairman of the Board of the Association of Polish Cities, financed the Grand Prix and the award of 5,000 zloty, and the special award for the best performance of the traditional carol 'Lulajze, Jezuniu' was funded by the President of the Solidarity Trade Union Mr Janusz Sniadek.
Grand Prix of the 13th National Festival of Christmas Carols and Pastorales in Bedzin was awarded to the duet of Iryna and Natalia Jewtuszok from the parish of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Rovny in Ukraine.
The director of the Festival Fr Piotr Pilsniak thanked all performers for participation and invited them to come next year for the 14th Edition. The audience could also offered financial support for the next festival. As usual volunteers took collection.

"Niedziela" 3/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: