He started his career from a Roma settlement in Törökszentmiklós, and by his own admission he was an introvert. Thirty-nine-year-old Máté Péter award-winning pop performer Ferenc Molnár Caramel appeared on a commercial TV talent show seventeen years ago, at the age of twenty-two. He won the competition. We met the singer in a bar in the city center. In that atmosphere – aming clinking cutlery and contemporary music - I asked the proud family man about his faith, his professional responsibility, his attachment to the psalms and Reformed hymns and his preparations for the thanksgiving service celebrating the new Reformed Hymn Book.
On Sunday, 21 November, there is a thanksgiving worship in the Kálvin Square Reformed Church, with the peculiar title Stars and Psalms - the new Reformed hymnbook is presented. You are one of those stars. Why is it important for you to perform in a church, to stand before a congregation and sing Reformed hymns?
Bishop Zoltán Balog contacted me, again, offering me the opportunity to perform Reformed hymns. I had already had the opportunity to do this before, in the Reformation 500 event series in 2017. At that time, I had doubts: should I accept such an invitation in today's world? What would people think of me? How would they write about it? It was at this event that I sang for the first time the hymn "How Good It Is to Sing of Thee". It was an uplifting experience. There is that moment when we hear a song and we know it will be ours. I was like that with this chant. It felt so much like my own, I could identify with it, both in terms of the content and as a musician. It was such a perfect choice for me that I developed a confidence in me that is still with me today. I trust that any church hymn that is recommended to me to perform, they do it with a good sense. On 21 November - I won't give away any big secret - I will probably sing the hymn “O my Lord, how good it is…", but I have also received three or four other suggestions, and I am still looking at them, getting to know them.
People who have the same belief, look for answers to their questions from the same source, meet in the same place... This is the congregation gathering in the church. Singing among them is a determining experience. We look for answers in the same realm, and hope for dialogue in a similar place.
What do you feel when you sing a psalm?
I was baptised as a Catholic. My first encounter with the Reformed Church was when I was a child. I attended a Reformed school, where there were worship services every Monday, there were Bible classes, and I was introduced to the hymns and the Scriptures.
I was attracted to this musical environment because I found it very interesting already as a child. I could feel the depths of classical music in it, but I also felt something "twisted" about it, that it was a different kind of classical music, with musical solutions and harmonies taken from there. There is a saying in pop music: it is the music, the melody in a song that catches you, but in the long run it is the lyrics that make the lasting songs ‘eternal’ and true. When I first heard the Reformed hymns, I felt something like that. I think the lyrics are outcome of sacred inspiration. That's what made it interesting to me; I felt a whole other dimension to it. And added to that, the musicality, which also created this kind of sense of solemnity in me. I felt they are sacred. So I experienced a sacred musical environment, with a distinct and unmistakable content in the lyrics. It was a very interesting experience for me. It made me more aware of my own faith.
I can only speak of my own personal inner journey. When I sing a Church hymn, it is a celebration, a feast for me. I think it is not trendy, not fashionable. These songs have no place in the world. I find - if I may say it aloud - that sometimes it is awkward to talk about Jesus. I often experience that it is embarrassing when you call Jesus’ name on stage. Sometimes I myself don't know what to make of Him! But surely I'm searching for expressions of my faith. I'm interested in it; I'm attracted to it. I am looking for answers to my questions. Questions that science hasn't really been able to answer. Who am I? It is strange to me that masses of people, billions of people, don't care that we're ‘floating’ here in dark space on a planet, and we are not interested in questions like what our role is, what my purpose in life is...
Somehow I get tiny answers to my questions by singing a hymn. Whenever I have to do with Reformed hymns, I always leave that place with good feelings. They can touch our hearts, and it doesn't matter in which ‘bubble’ we live, what kind of robe we wear, or what color our skin is. They speak to everyone in the same way and we can hear and experience the hymns used in the congregations in the same way.
Do you feel a special responsibility for your role? Do you think your life is a role model?
Every moment should be a moment of responsibility. Every single beat and moment of our lives is as important as the melody and lyrics of any pop song, rock tune or psalm. Every moment is sacred. Every moment affects us, our environment and therefore the world. We socialize by socializing our whole environment. We are just as responsible for ourselves and our world in this moment as we are when we write a song and perform it in front of ten thousand people. This moment - as we are talking now - must also be responsible. There is nothing spectacular, we have the same impact by the way we are, by what we say and how we say it, by the way we move closer or further away from each other. Each of us has an impact on the other. I believe this deeply. Because God just said, "let there be" - and there it was. And we think that words have no power? Words, gestures, actions have the greatest power. As a sinful man, I believe that every moment will be weighed.
Does a big concert in the Arena have the same effect on you as singing hymns in front of a congregation in a church?
More than that! It maybe has a bigger impact! It does not depend on how many spectators there are, or what the circumstances are. The spiritual depth and experience, is not bound to a place. A great cathartic experience does not necessarily happen in a sports arena. Of course, everything is there, me Caramel, the audience, the band, the crew to experience a catharsis, but it is not necessarily the case. And you shouldn’t believe that a concert is cathartic from start to finish. If we can really love each other in that moment, it's a cathartic feeling, but you don't need an arena for that. So many profound moments happen to me! I'm just sitting in the studio, for example, in a bad mood, and I come across a video or a song or something comes to mind, and I have a cathartic experience. Even when It is a song of praise, or one of my tunes ... I became a fan of pop music because it made me feel happy when I listened to it. Especially if there is a message in it, a glimpse of eternity. I discovered messages in tunes that elevated me or expressed for me what we all feel; disappointment, love, joy, longing, anticipation, the experience of success. I felt that songs can offer answers for everything. And the hymns of the church gave me and give me answers to questions of faith, just as the Scriptures do. I’m convinced that rock music is also capable of conveying the kind of holy, sacred messages inspired by good-will. We have seen evidences for this. I think both are sacred, we cannot live without either. Where our faith comes from, what we believe in, who we are as human beings, what we seek in life, what we will be one day, or what Jesus taught us, what God's message is - we are looking for answers in all dimensions of our life.
Translated by Bence András Szabó