Hungary jazz great Snetberger puts Roma kids on career path

A music school in Hungary founded by a famous Roma musician aims to teach disadvantaged young people how to make a living from their talents.

The Snetberger Music Talent Centre was set up two years ago by world-famous jazz guitarist Ferenc Snetberger at picturesque Felsoors, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Budapest on the northern shore of Lake Balaton.

The school provides 60 students per year, 90 percent of whom are disadvantaged Roma kids, with a springboard into a musical career.

At an end of year concert last week in a Budapest theatre, Gergely Nagy, a percussion student, said he was thrilled to be a part of it.

"What is really great here is that I could meet and play with Snetberger. We have already toured with the school to Vienna and Berlin. It's incredible to be on stage with world-famous musicians," he told AFP.

"I knew neither scales nor music theory before coming to the school, but I was able to learn everything in five weeks, you just have to practise," he added.

Snetberger, who has performed and recorded with leading musicians like Bobby McFerrin and Arild Andersen, said his school offers a chance to those who have little opportunities in life.

"It's not obvious to see, but most of the young people on stage are from very really poor backgrounds," Snetberger told AFP.

The 56-year-old musician said his own 'difficult start' was a main reason for his decision to set up the school.

"I come from a very poor family and had to overcome years of enormous difficulties and obstacles before finally succeeding," he said.

The school holds auditions in eight locations around Hungary and takes in around 60 pupils -- aged between 11 and 23 -- per year.

Students receive five hours of music tuition per day during 12 weeks spread between June, October and March as most also attend regular school.

Classes ranging from theory and improvisation to genres like classical and jazz are taught by over 20 renowned musicians.

Foreign languages and computing are also taught, skills that Snetberger says are essential in making a career out of a music.

Built in 2011 with the help of a grant from the Norwegian government, the school, which comprises eight classrooms, dormitories, a dining hall, and a performance space, pays for pupils' course fees and instruments.

Running costs are covered partly by European Union funds, and the Open Society Institue of Hungarian-born philanthropist George Soros, as well as rental income from local businesses when the centre is not open.

"I set up my first school in Berlin and thought that it would be good to do the same in Hungary as well, and try to build up an international network to help young Roma people," Snetberger says.