Folk Music Holidays

31 July 2006
July and August are official vacation months here, which makes them prime time for music festivals and other summer-time gatherings. Last week I made it to a couple nights of the Folkové prázdniny (Folk Holidays) music festival in the small town of Náměšť nad Oslavou about 50 kilometers west of Brno. The concerts were held in the courtyard of the neo-Renaissance chateau overlooking the town. The square of the town features lovely Baroque statues, a fountain, and a church. A Baroque bridge lined with funky statues carrying shields, organs, and castles leads across the river toward the chateau. The festival was a great combination of the best of local Czech and Moravian music and some wonderful international folk and world music groups.

Monday night saw an eclectic lineup of performers that was a little microcosm of the festival's eclecticism. When I arrived, the Hungarian group Parno Graszt was on stage, heating things up with incredibly energetic gypsy music and dance. They were an incredibly versatile group that seem to share in spirit more with Zydeco and Mariachi musics than European folk music. There was a lot of flamenco spirit, too. They sang at the tops of their lungs, banged on milk cans, strummed guitars, threw in a bit of body percussion, and of course, kicked up their heels. It was high energy and intense.

They were followed by the Tuvan group Huun-Huur-Tu. At least in philosophical and aural impact, one could have hardly picked groups who were more at odds. Their music gives you a sense of space. They talk about it being about landscape and, somehow it seems much more like landscape than Moravian music: how could you have landscape without space? You can’t really dance on a landscape because it’s too far away. But those are not the issue at hand. There was the sort of spiritual focus during their performance that happens when the audience is trying to listen closer and closer in order to sap the music of every nuance they can. I haven’t had an intense experience like that for a while at a live concert.

The final group of the evening was Čechomor from the Czech Republic. Čechomor has become quite popular here playing older folk songs with new instrumentation. My favorites are their early albums Dověcnosti and Mezi horami when they favored acoustic instruments, though I also like their recordings with punk rocker Jaz Coleman and the Czech Philharmonic. (I know, you're thinking it sounds like "The London Pops Plays The Rolling Stones," but Čechomor’s project was very musically compelling.) Their collaboration with folksinger Jaromír Nohavica and the film Rok ďábla also helped give a different spin to their collaborations.* Recently, they’ve turned to over-amplified electronic and, despite being billed as "akust." (which I assumed meant "acoustic") at this concert, they played songs from their most recent album very loudly. They're still a fun group, but following two intense, compelling, refreshing, and though-provoking acts, it seemed that they're riding the coat tails of their earlier success. Given that the speakers were turned up too loud and that I was expecting an acoustic performance, the end of the night left me unsatisfied.

This festival had a far different feel than the festivals I attended earlier this summer. People, including me, camped at the other ones, but there was not a tea house set up next to the campsites at the other festivals. Tea houses are definitely a sign of the alternative, dreadlocked, hookah-smoking crowd. It was a nice place to sit to catch a jam session (at decent hours and not only after midnight after all the participants were well-pickled with slivovice) or have breakfast that did not consist of a sausage, mustard, and bread. (What a concept! And I did take advantage of some of their delicious unsweetened/sweeten-to-your-taste cocoa for breakfast.) People also seemed generally light hearted and it was a community event. A symposium accompanies the festival every year, which was also comforting since it showed that the contents of the festival were not yet officially sanctioned but still under discussion and that discussion was open to everyone who cared to show up and to chime in (in Czech or English). It was also nice to see local groups (and not all were as well known as Čechomor) performing alongside non-Czech groups—rather than celebrating for itself only, the audience was given a chance to compare, contrast, reflect, and think about relationships between local and global cultures.

A rather less positive sign of this "global" outlook was sponsorship by the ČEZ Group. The company's orange advertising propaganda was ubiquitous. ČEZ is the Czech Republic's major energy company—it was formed in 1992 when the Czech energy companies were privatized from the Fund of National Ownership, is among the ten largest energy companies in Europe, controls almost one hundred other related companies, is valued at over 10 billion USD, and since 2004 has been a multinational. It's nice to know that they give something back to the communities they affect, but that didn’t decrease the strangeness of the juxtapositions: toddlers played under orange ČEZ umbrellas and carried orange ČEZ ballons past handmade wood-fired pottery, or ČEZ-sponsored outings to tour the Dukovany Nuclear Power Station (which provides 20% of the Czech Republic's electricity annually) coupled with tours of the nearby Dalešice "micro-brewery."

Overall, I give this festival the highest recommendation of any that I've been to so far. It was more expensive &mdash about 1500 Czech crowns (over 60 USD) for a complete ticket or 300 crowns per night—but it lasted for the whole week and the camping was a third the price of anywhere else (10 crowns per tent per night; showers were available for an additional 10 crowns).

View more photos from the festival at flickr in the Folkovky pool.

*Be sure to check out Kolo Kolo on Nohavica; the bulk Julia's Nohavica posts are gathered here.

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Cultural Exchange at Work!

29 July 2006
The Fulbright Program continues to support cultural exchange and educational activities. I thought this report from flutist Lyon Leifer was interesting and inspirational:
I've been spending the summer in India with the support of a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship. Hindustani (north Indian classical) music and the bansuri (north Indian keyless, transverse, bamboo flute) have been a major interest of mine for a very long time. . . .

I am also working with fellow flutists in the tradition we share (founded by my guru’s guru, the late Pannalal Ghosh. There is a lot of work to be done in the area of collecting and archiving recordings and effects of the two departed masters, an effort to which I am also trying to lend support. (More)
It's reassuring to know that some projects go as well or better than planned.

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One Festival after Another

28 July 2006
This post should have been about the Folkové prázdniny in Náměšť nad Oslavou, but I was sidetracked. Czech Radio Prague is running a series of programs on folk festivals entitled, "Ach, synku, synku." An interview with Dr. František Synek presents some excellent historical information on the presentation of folk festivals around the Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia.

V letních měsících probíhá v Česku jeden folklorní festival za druhým - 08-07-2006 - Radio Praha

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Horňácké slavnosti 2006

Last weekend saw the annual celebration of local music and folklore in the town of Velká nad Veličkou in South Moravia. This year's Horňácké slavnosti (Horňácko celebrations) marked the forty-ninth annual occasion, although similar summer celebrations most likely preceded the official festival. The festival became an official annual event early on in the Communist era, but like the festival in Strážnice, continues as a folklore institution.

The Landscape. One person told me that Moravian songs are about three things: love, wine, and the land (though not necessarily in that order). Given the importance of the surroundings, then, I'll try to give you an idea of what the place was like. Velká, the short name of the town, lies within a few kilometers of the Slovak border and in the heart of the region called horňácko. The name of the region means something roughly like "highland" and is geographically defined by the foothills of the White Carpathians (Bílé karpaty), which form the far western end of the Carpathians that run in a long, crescent-shaped arc from northern Romania all the way to Moravia. The region is quite small and, as officially defined by ethnographers, contains only ten villages. Culturally, the region is said to contain some of the "best preserved" traditional culture in the Czech Republic. Although it's not clear why this material has been preserved, presumably the mountains have contributed to this relative isolation.

As with any festival here, it couldn't happen without alcohol. Being a Czech festival, the beer flows liberally. Despite the higher elevation, the region can still sustain some grape cultivation and there is a culture of wine making, though it is not as strong as in other areas of south Moravia. There is no shortage, as well, of liquors distilled from plums (slivovice), apricots, peaches, pears, walnuts, and herbs.

Despite this festival's importance and growing profile, it has not become too much for Velká to handle. Unlike festivals where there are multiple stages and overlapping events, it is possible to see and hear everything at this festival. Most performances took place in the Horňácký stadion, an outdoor amphitheater perched on the side of the strážná hůrka ("guard hill") overlooking the valley and village. (The foothills have been a border region for a long time, and this hill was supposedly a strategic vantage point from which the reigning powers patrolled and guarded the border. Today, it seems, the hill guards national culture rather than security.)

"Hey, the band was playing for us." There were many performances, including a requisite showcase of the verbuňk dance in horňácko, but the highlight was the concert of the cimbalom band led by Martin Hrbáč on Saturday night. This attracted the largest audience of any of the performances I saw at the festival. Hrbáč's band was founded in 1966 and this year marked its fortieth anniversary. To acknowledge this anniversary, the performance featured many famous guest singers, such as František Okénka, Anna Kománková, Dušan Holý, the male chorus from the neighboring village Hrubá Vrbka, and a chorus of Hrbáč's various siblings and cousins (music runs in the family).

What distinguishes this music from other places in south Moravia? This question bears more serious analysis than I will bore you with, but I have a few general observations. (South) Moravian traditional music is generally of two types: slow, expressive songs (often described as táhlá píseň or "drawn-out song") and dance songs. Also, though most of the music is instrumental, the place of honor is usually occupied by the singer, who is usually presented as the most knowledgeable. It seems that instrumental traditions are slightly more important in horňácko music than elsewhere in Moravia. It has long been an area that has produced celebrated violinist band leaders, such as Jožka Kubík, Jan Ňorek, and of course, maestro Hrbáč. Larger instrumental ensembles seem to be favored here. The instrumental music also often features multiple melodic lines that follow the same outlines but are realized slightly differently, almost improvised, by lead instrumentalists (that is, a heterophonic musical texture). These, however, are only quick observations.

I had been told in advance to expect the most heartfelt, unadulterated fiddle music to be heard in Moravia—this was intimated by a rather well-known Moravian folk musician. However, while fiddle bands may be the most common ensemble that is played at home, all of the bands I saw in performance featured cimbaloms. This is somewhat curious since the instrument is considered to be a newcomer (the current type of instruments were not widely known here until the 1930s).

Expectations are high for the music at this festival, and not just from me. The horňácko festival, being held in the center of what's perceived as the most vibrant folklore region of the country, has the status of featuring the best performers, the purest traditions, and the most authentic folk music. This puts quite a high demand on the festival performances, and it also indicates their ideological importance. They are selected, approved, and often even written out by experts and overseen by a 30-member council of volunteers from the communities of horňácko. It seems that, for the time being, the local culture is in no danger from invasion by whatever outside influence may besiege this guard post of south Moravian folklore.

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Excuse me, what are you driving?

In case you were wondering what to call a tram driver in Brno, Radio Student just cleared it up. A tramvaj, the standard Czech word for tram, is often called a šalina in Brno dialect. Thus, the driver of a tram is officially a řidič tramvaje, or more colloquially, a tramvaják. Likewise, unless you want to get some very strange looks by asking about the řidič šaliny, refer to a Brno tram driver as a šalinář. Of course, there are many female tram drivers in Brno, and one of them should be referred to as a šalinářka.

And if you're a regular Brno tram and bus rider, don't forget your šalinkarta when you ride since "riding blackly" (načerno, that is, without a ticket) is illegal.

Isn't šalinkarta a cute little word? šalina plus karta (card) equals šalinkarta - your tram card! Czech can be charming despite its nineteenth-century fustiness after all!

Just to make sure there is enough vocabulary for today, elektrika may also refer to a tram. Or, technically, any sort of vehicle powered by electricity.

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27 July 2006
While poking around the blogosphere this AM—well, I know it's procrastination, but it's kind of hard to go to the library when it's closed or to go to a music festival that isn't, you know—I had this feeling that I should really find something of substance to say. You see, I wanted to write about music this morning - there is a weekend-ful of notes to write (or transcribe from the recollections that I recorded), yet I found that an ambition to express something insightful - ha - or of interest - perhaps - escaped me. Instead, I find myself writing up (certainly not drafting, composing, or really even assembling) one of those rambling posts that enthrall not many people but the blogger concerned.

I did read a review of Mozart recordings that spawned a reaction, though not a clear one. I'm not sure quite why, but I'm never quite trustful of articles that appear in journals and magazines like Slate—they're usually interesting, but I can never avoid a nagging feeling that there is something partially unrevealed (or maybe it's wholly revealed but I don't discern it clearly). Even though the contributions are usually well-written, researched, clearly expressed, etc., I get the feeling that there remains an unrevealed something behind an unrevealed curtain—a political rag that doubles as cultural critic? too much East Coast? too much canon? (even though it has funny bits about how to survive too-falutin' cocktail parties) Maybe it's just the threatening aggressivity of the name. . . . Anyway, Marc Geelhoed, a Chicago music critic and blogger, responds to three recent CD releases from the label Deutsche Grammophon (DG).

I haven't yet mentioned the overzealousness of response to this Mozart year—see him rolling his eyes in Vienna this spring (at right)? Even Mozart has had enough. It's great that so much attention is being paid to a composer (there is even a book about Mozart and Brno!), but in Vienna you might not be mistaken in thinking that he is the only great thing that the city has ever produced, apart from large helpings of sugar and whipped cream in your coffee alongside a slice of Sacher tort. True, they have tourism to think of. The review (and the CDs covered) is a symptom of Mozartitis: Geelhoed discusses three new recordings (3!) of one (1!) Mozart sonata, all by pianists (otherwise they wouldn't be canonic recordings), that have been released even though recording companies could try something new (and perhaps a few different instruments for a change). Why, I ask, don't they record something else? Geelhoed answers:
All those Mozart recordings exist because Mozart has won a place in the Classical Music Hall of Fame (also known as "the canon") and because pianists have found methods of playing his music in their own ways.

I suspect it's more due to the former reason since the classical music audience that buys recordings is negligibly small for any of the large recording labels (one of which DG, which only records classical, must be a subsidiary of). But how DG stays afloat charging such outrageous prices for day-old music when labels with fresher selection and more attractive prices abound (e.g., Naxos), is beyond me. Apparently enough people buy them—even I have a few, because they usually are great recordings, though also staunchly stodgy as well. DG, though, is about the most canonical classical music label one can think of.

Speaking of canons (of any sort, really) usually makes me nervous. I resent canons, and the way that there are revered is absurd—not because the concept of artistic and cultural categories is wrong (is there any other way for us to incorporate new things than to compare them with what we've already experienced?), but because of the inherent valuation that comes along with "canonization." The blithe way that Geelhoed mentions "the canon" as if its existence is a given and as if we should all know exactly who's made it in, is not just frustrating but condescending. First, there is no "Hall of Fame"—if anything, it's more like a mausoleum. Second, mentioning this "canon" in quotes and in a parenthetical aside clearly excludes the reader from "classical-music afficionados" (mentioned at the end of the review) by making sure it is clearly revealed, yet in a nudge-nudge-wink-wink kind of way. But perhaps, if it's in quotes, then it doesn't exist? But then why would he have mentioned it in the first place? And, if not the canon, then what explains the existence of these recordings?

Geelhoed ends with a more pragmatic observation: "Which recording of the three mentioned above is the best? Which one did you prefer? That's the one." Though avoiding the question, Why did you prefer it? (which can lead in more directions than the canon, I suspect), he does hit on a truth of listening: it's good because there's something you liked about it. And it's not a crime to try to articulate this something.

I was reminded of the way Peter Shickele—on his show Shickele Mix, which he said was "Dedicated to the proposition that all musics are created equal"—used to invoke Duke Ellington with the quip: "If it sounds good, it is good."

But never fear, views to balance the canon are never far away in the blogosphere. For a dose of humor in this rather dreary, serious world of (serious ) music reception, I've found the curious, obscure "Classical Pontifications" blog a welcome antidote.

Of course, Prof. Shickele is pretty hilarious too, which you can see from his Web site.

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10 points

26 July 2006
In a column in today's MF Dnes newspaper, Karel Steigerwald says the CSSD party has all but admitted that their election campaign promises were empty words. Of course, they have expressed this sweet nothing in a far more winded and exhaustive way.

Steigerwald's column, titled "10 Points for Nothing," plays off the CSSD's June campain and statements by many parties regarding a new proposal Tuesday for a coalition government. They might as well all get together and become one party, he writes: The Party of General Good.
Just about every day, politicians stand at the podium before journalists and the like public in order to say nothing in many words. It would be nice if the public stopped taking this. And if an end arrived to this comedy. . . .
The journeys may be varied: yet politics are not the goal, rather a means to achieve them. [Paraphrasing the words of poet Jan Kollar]

More: other reactions, the column

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It's been busy since last week. The highlights:

-2 folk music festivals
-2 showers
-4 klobasa, bread, and mustard dinners
-beer to match (including one dark, unpasteurized cherry beer)

Photos to follow.

New Streets, More Commercial Wasteland

20 July 2006
Moderní Brno, an online source for all news Brno, linked to a Mladá fronta story about new street names in Brno. "Milada Horáková" street, for instance, may become "Milada Horáková, 1901-1950, victim of judicial murder" street. (Horáková is one of the most famous political victims who was executed during Communist show trials in the 1950s.) It's certainly worth honoring her memory, but could you imagine trying to fit that address onto an envelope?

A member of Brno's planning committee claims that people are not interested enough in who the streets are named after. In the case of Milada Horáková, it seems to me, there is less danger of complete ignorance than in the case of someone like Karolína Světlá, but I haven't heard any plans to change the name of her streets to "Karolína Světlá, nineteenth-century writer and feminist." But even if all the streets named after famous people, would such subtitles really raise residents' level of appreciation for these namesakes? Does naming a street after them really convince citizens that these were significant people?

If they do go forward with the plan of renaming streets, how are they going to decide to redistribute the names? Smetana, the Bohemian (ahem) composer has a whole street, while Kurt Gödel, a logician and mathematician born in Brno, will only receive a path in a park below the cathedral. They say he walked to school on these paths as a boy, but why not re-name the highway to Vienna for him since he left for there not too long after? And what about Erich Korngold (another composer)? He was born in Brno, but I haven't yet noticed any streets for him.

Moderní Brno also announced the opening of a new office complex along the (current) Vídeňská street, which goes toward Vienna (Vienna is Vídeň in Czech). The new complex is, I suppose, a sign that Brno is moving up in the world. The complex is named Spielberk and was opened in mid-June by Remon Vos, managing director of CTP Invest, the group that is developing the office park. Not too long ago, the Dutch-born Vos couldn't have been less condescending when he spoke about Brno to the Prague Post, where he was quoted: "In Prague, you have everything. [. . . In Brno] that's not always the case." Now that CTP has invested more than 143 million USD in Brno, perhaps he's changed some of his outlook, but I suspect he would still not want to live in Brno. It's always nice to know that such heartwarming people are looking out for the city's future.

CTP (short for Central Trade Park) also cultivates charming corporate architecture. If the looks are anything to go by, Brno will soon be the next Canton, Michigan (at least, according to Joe's reports of endless strip malls). I admire Brno's tradition of functionalism, but I'm afraid that the architecture for most commercial office parks just doesn't cut it, and it's not creating new neighborhoods in which people (especially not Vos, I suspect) will want to live.

In any case, they probably won't be changing the name of Zámečnická street since it hasn't changed since the 13th century. At least some things stay the same.

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Play Me a Song!

Play Me a Song!
Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
It was impossible to ignore this funny vintage poster at the U Derků pension in Úterý, West Bohemia, when I visited there in May. Luckily, we heard some good old Czech tramping songs later around the fire &mdash the evening didn’t feature too many Communist hymns.

The caption reads, in Czech:
"Nemohl bys mi zahrát nějakou hymnu komunistů?"
"To na kytaru nejde, to jsou většinou sólové písně komediantský buben . . ."

In English:
Her: Couldn't you play me some Communist hymn?
Him: That's impossible on the guitar: they are mostly showy solo songs for percussion.

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Clap Your Hands

19 July 2006
A lot of musicians I know talk about the possibly impending death of "classical" music or lament the shrinking audiences at live performances by orchestras and the like. It's certainly an issue that spawns much discussion, and it may be a pressing concern.

Part of the problem, at least in the U.S., is that you get the impression that you have to "know" too much before you can even set foot inside a concert hall. There's not even a small chance that you might encounter the music as unprejudiced perception since our expectations have been shaped by the cultural connotations and implications of "the concert." The patronizing aura begins long before a person even sees the door of a concert hall where the feeling may be compounded by busts of the greats glaring down from on high, conveniently placed in the entrance lobby or above the stage, or the passage through an entrance portico enwreathed by their inscribed names, in almost all cases literally paternalistic as most of them are were European males. I'm a card-carrying musicologist and still feel inadequate when I go to many concerts, mostly because of the "edified" culture that surrounds things like orchestras, recitals, and ensembles and tells me that I really can't enjoy the event without a lot of study in advance. The implication is that you need to pre-possess an esoteric body of "in" knowledge.

There is a special "in" vocabulary, too. I still remember a friend in my first year of music school - in the practice room hallways (which, as is so often the case, were hidden away in the basement like a secret lair where you learn these things) - telling me that I shouldn't call what I'd just played a "song" because such things were properly called "pieces." Of course, that was still an umbrella term: other words opened up further and further inner sanctums - like concert halls, this box-inside-a-box-inside-a-box world is sacred and not often disturbed. Big pieces are most likely "works," songs are very rarely songs but more likely "art songs," and if you really know what you're talking about, just refer to the piece by the composer (and use a number to distinguish between multiple works or, if appropriate, provide the key, and, in certain cases, refer to a title but usually only by a selected word). Of course, I'm not denying that precise words come in handy when you want to think about or express certain things - but they exert a lot more than "pure" semantic power. These words often act as a barrier to separate us from the them outside.

The pedestal on which classical music has been placed in America - it's probably more of a column by this time - rose, most likely, from debates about music, its position in American "culture," and nineteenth-century America's colonial relationship to Europe. Classical music generally has slightly different cultural connotations in Europe. In Brno, I have been to orchestra concerts, chamber music concerts, and opera performances, and I am usually surprised by the range of ages in the audience. Granted, the audiences often fill less than half the theater, but they usually seem to be having a good time. Then again, you just have to go down the road to Vienna and the Musikverein to witness the heights of classical music's elitism.

But I digress. I've went on far too long in a post that was meant to be a mere reference. The excerpt below is from a post by Jim Palermo, artistic director of the Grant Park Music Festival (Chicago). I think he's hinted at the real problem: joy, spontaneity, and depth have been removed from many classical concerts in the U.S., and replaced by decorum, manners, and pomposity. What happened to good old fashioned enjoyment and entertainment? Perhaps there is a possible antidote:
Let's go back to classical music's early days, when it wasn't classical, when it was just fun. Let's go back to the days when we could applaud when the spirit moved us, cheer, feel spontaneous, show our individual or collection gratitude, go crazy for music.

Read more: Go On, Applaud Between Movements

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Your Typical, Exciting Brno Evening

Lately I've been making it to the store just as it's closing. Luckily, I can just pop over to Interspar on the tram any day, any time between 7 and 22 (hundred hours). (That is, assuming the tram is running, which in Brno, is not always a safe assumption, particularly during "late" hours, e.g., after 6 p.m.) Thank goodness for the revolution, I think every time I go, because otherwise all the stores would have probably closed at about 3 p.m. and there would have been long lines for everything, particularly fresh stuff.

Of course, there are still long lines, they've just been moved to more aesthetically pleasing locations. They're no longer outside the door of the only shop in the city selling fresh produce and they're aimed toward centralized paying stations (quaintly known as "check-out counters," or pokladny). The line situation is made worse by the store's decision to have only a few counters open in the last half hour before closing time. This means that everyone &mdash there is inevitably a handful of people in addition to myself &mdash has to wait in a long line.

After my late-night shopping spree, I can walk home along the bank of a pleasant river. In case you are unfamiliar with Brno, this is not like walking along the Vltava in Prague or the Danube in Vienna or Budapest. No, like so much in Brno, the rivers are humble and often unremarkable. Yet it is still a pleasant walk and, in case you're in need of variety, there are two rivers to choose from (and, of course the dam and reservoir).

Along the way home I can think about the wonderfully insightful and witty things I will post on my blog. Or about the few thoughts I wrote down and added to the (small, unbecomingly formless) pile of papers that is supposed to someday amount to a dissertation. It may be small, but it's still worth something. Or about what strange things the Brno dragon might have written if he was still marauding local waterways and had been interviewed by the local paper. Or how the rock band practicing in the garage across the river might sound if they could play more than three chords. Or what all the
fishermen out so late might actually be catching (I don't really want to think about that one so much since all I can imagine is that they will catch something to make a tripe-soup-like dish for breakfast).

At the end of tonight's walk I met a hedgehog. It was so cute! I don't know if I've ever seen one before, but if there is no superstition to this effect already, then I'm sure that meeting a hedgehog on your way home must be a good sign.

Tsunami 2

18 July 2006
A month ago, an Asia-Pacific tsunami warning system was hoped to be ready. Seemingly, it was not soon enough or effective enough. More info.

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Far or Distant?

An interesting story on Czech semantics was posted at Radio Prague yesterday by Věra Schmiedtová. It discusses the distinction between two adjectives: daleký and dálný. They are related by a common root and express distance. In modern Czech there are other related words like dálka (distance), dálnice (freeway), dálkové vzdělávání (distance learning, or dalekohled (telescope, i.e., "long-distance viewer"). Basically, modern Czech speakers use daleký six times more often than dálný. Though infrequent, dálný carries more sentiment--it's found in ninteenth-century usage, and connotes feelings of nostalgia for far-off places. The less-used adjective usually modifies places, including vlast (homeland), but usually carries a hint of the Orient and the exotic, being linked with India, foreign lands (ciziny), and the Far East.

The conclusion is based on a search of the Corpus of Ancient Czech, known as diakorp for short. The Corpus is available (and searchable) in an online database maintained by the Ústav Českého národního korpusu (Institute of the Czech National Corpus) at Charles Unversity.

The earliest usage of daleký was in the 15th century in a text entitled "Journey from Bohemia to Jerusalem and Egypt": a oznámili sme jemu, kterak sme z dalekých zemí přišli ohledávat zahrady, or in English (roughly), "and we told them that we came from distant lands to inspect their gardens."

The classic usage of dálný is Karel Hynek Mácha's: Však hoch jen mlčky hlavou zavrtěl, luna mu postříbřila bledé líce; na dálném spadla hvězda obzoru, však k vrbám nechodil hoch nikdy více, (roughly), "the boy silently shook his head, the moon shone silvery on his pale cheek; in the distance a star fell past the horizon, and the boy never more went to the willows."

Typical usage of daleký also comes from Mácha: dalekáť cesta má, marné volání, or (roughly), "my long journey, vainly calling." It's all a bit existential and soul-searching. However, this verse does show the adjective in one of its most common connections: with cesta (road or journey). Other commonly linked words are budoucnost (future), vesnice (village), and kraj (district).

Now, I wonder, which of these adjectives will be appropriate for Brno? When I leave, will it be daleké Brno or dálné Brno? Will those be memories of a far away place with well-tended garden plots? Or, will they be of a small city nestled in a far-off valley of Moravia enwreathed in the scents and pollens of lime-tree blossoms, bouquets of balanced wines, and the slightest hint of fried cheese wafting on the air amid bustling market-day crowds and Vietnamese shops?

The whole story: Daleký, dálný - 16-07-2006 - Radio Praha

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Echoes of the World Music

16 July 2006
Rob Cameron at Radio Prague interviews Luděk Brož, an anthropologist who has also helped organize performance by a Central Asian throat-singing group in Prague this fall. They will perform with the Moravian cimbalom band Hradišťan.

The interview: Bringing Altai throat-singing from Siberia to Prague - 14-07-2006 - Radio Prague

Earlier at NvB?: Hradišťan performed in Brno

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A View

12 July 2006

Originally uploaded by youplayawhat.
The reward at the end of my hike a week and a half ago. On the edge of the forest and the Moravian karst, looking out toward Austria. Beautiful to look at, though take precautions if you're going for a walk since it's a paradise for ticks as well.

Ticks, which can carry Lyme Disease and Tickborne Encephalitis, are particularly attracted to areas of long grass at the edge of forests (like the one in the picture). Risk info here.

Hopefully I'll get around to posting about Telč soon, but in the meantime Karla has.

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Look What's Coming to Brno

The Masaryk Circuit appears to be moving up in stature:
Fans will be delighted to learn that A1 Grand Prix - “The World Cup of Motorsport” - is set to come to Brno’s Masaryk Circuit on October 8th.

Read more at Prague City Beat: A1GP Coming to Brno

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61. MFF Strážnice

11 July 2006
Over two weeks ago (my, what a procrastinator!), I visited the largest folk festival in the Czech Republic: 61. Mezinárodní folklorní festival v Strážnici or the 61st Annual Folklore Festival in Strážnice. A few Prague friends braved the wilds of Moravia, and we all met at the beautiful Autokemping Strážnice (car and tent camping), where we pitched our tents outside the town. (Read Karla's account and see tent pictures, among others, here.)

Strážnice is a small town on the Czech-Slovak border just an hour or so south of Brno. The annual festival takes place on the third weekend in June and is held on the grounds of the local zámek (a sort of chateau). The zámek is home to the Národní ústav lidové kultury (NÚLK or National Institute of Folk Culture), which directs, sponsors, and hosts the festival. The festival is one of the most venerable in the Czech Republic: it was held for the first time in 1946 and existed through the Communist era up to the present. Given the changing political situations, particularly the ideological use of "folk" or "people's" culture, this is no small achievement. Only the festival in Detva, Slovakia, might rival the present-day Strážnice as a presenter of local and regional Central European "folk" performances from Czech and Slovak areas. There were certainly thousands of people in the audience, and the amphitheaters that host officially programmed events were usually full.

There are really "two" festivals that take place in Strážnice simultaneously. The "official" program is a series of pre-rehearsed and scripted performances that are assembled, directed, conceived, or overseen by degreed officials who serve on NÚLK boards. The "second" program is freer, being comprised of many spontaneous (and some planned) pick-up groups of musicians, singers, and dancers. This second program lasts until the not-so-wee hours of the morning, and during both nights we were awaken in our tent around three or four in the morning by loud (usually male) singing that would erupt spontaneously in the vicinity of our camp, or even trailed from the confines of the festival grounds on the late night wind. South Moravia is a wine region (many of the most favorite songs here are all about wine), and throughout the festival, the wine flowed freely.

Singers, fiddle bands, and cimbalom bands — none of which were in short supply — are the most typical musical performers and ensembles from this region. Cimbalom bands are basically a fiddle band — multiple violins with viola and bass — with the addition of a cimbalom (and often a clarinet). Both types of ensemble are well known in south Moravia, although the fiddle band is regarded as an older type of ensemble since the cimbalom was "introduced" here in the 1920s and 1930s. The ensembles play similar repertories of Moravian songs and dances, including a few polkas and waltzes for good measure. Aside from the "official" bands, on Saturday night the grounds were dotted with informal cimbalom groups that seemed to have just come together on the spur of the moment. Many performers also showed off fancy kroj (regional "folk" costumes) and other cultural finery (the wine-tasting glass hung around the neck on a string, assuring that you never have to refuse a drop, is a common accessory).

Most of the performances are by local Czech groups, but the festival also features an international component. All of the non-Czech ensembles were grouped in a single two-hour performance. These "groups from outside the borders" (everything about these groups was determined by political nationality) nicely diversify the program. This year's festival featured groups from Cyprus, Serbia, Venezuela, and Slovakia. The Venezuelans presented some nice, colorful scarf dances and offered up a giant serving of move-your-body music that added a touch of spicy (and appreciated) Caribbean rhythms. The Serbians also gave a wonderful performance, with particularly beautiful costumes, and they added more rhythmic variety with some mixed-meter dances. Oddly, the group that received the greatest audience response was a Slovak ensemble from Žilina; visually, they were quite similar to the Czech groups and they were musically distinguished only by a few different harmonies and modes. Certainly the Slovak group offered a familiar option for the mostly-Czech audience: Slovakia and the Czech Republic were the same country from 1918 to 1993, and culturally much of Slovakia is similar to the Czech Republic, particularly southern Moravia and Slovácko (the region where Strážnice is located) straddles the border between the two countries. The Slovak group was excellent, but it seemed odd that it was grouped with the "outsider" groups and that the audience warmed to it more than the others.

It is somehow affirming to see the adaptable ways in which local expressive culture, particularly music and song, has been updated in the present. Much of the culture that this sort of festival celebrates is retrospective, or even nostalgic, in that it looks back toward earlier time periods. But the backward glances that this sort of culture may suggest, it still appeals to many and there are some people with fresh approaches and styles that are rooted in the tradition. One of the festival's most successful and enjoyable performances was a Sunday-morning presentation that featured an overview of these contemporary tensions. The program was opened by Javory, a group led by Petr and Hana Ulrych, that is famous for its "modern" acoustic interpretation of Moravian songs. The group imitates the instrumentation of a cimbalom band — singer, violin, and cimbalom — with the addition of guitar, and their performances have remained highly popular since the 1960s. More traditional interpretations were offered by venerable folk singers and cimbalomists, including Jaromír Nečas, Jan Rokyta, Jura Petrů, and the cimbalom band led by Martin Hrbáč. Popular writer and newspaper columnist Ludvík Vaculík ("of Moravian origin" or a "native son of the region," as is sometimes pointed out, as if this cemented his authoritative and interpretative position vis-à-vis folk music) even made a guest-singer appearance.

As a cultural celebration, the Strážnice festival viably celebrates local cultural distinctiveness and diversity at the same time, even though the sort of culture it enshrines seems often susceptible to ideological implication and distraction.

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10 July 2006
BBC SPORT | Football | World Cup 2006 | Italy win World Cup on penalties

And I had pizza for dinner.

Od písní kosmických

07 July 2006
Jak lvové bijem o mříže,
jak lvové v kleci jatí,
my bychom vzhůru k nebesům,
a jsme zde Zemí spjatí.

Nám zdá se, z hvězd že vane hlas:
"Nuž pojďte, páni, blíže,
jen trochu blíže, hrdobci,
jimž hrouda nohy víže!"

My přijdem! Odpusť, matičko,
již jsi nám, Země, malá,
my blesk k myšlénkám spřaháme
a noha parou cválá.

My přijdem! Duch náš roste v výš
a tepny touhou bijí,
zimniční touhou po světech
div srdce nerozbijí!

My přijdem blíž, my přijdem blíž,
my světů dožijeme,
my bijem o mříž, ducha lvi,
a my ji rozbijeme!

Napsal Jan Neruda (1878)

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Something Different for a Change

05 July 2006
Two months ago (May 5), the chord of John Cage's composition Organ2/ASLSP changed! In a special ceremony, people gathered at the St. Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, [East] Germany to witness the changing of the chord. You may think my news is a bit late, but given the context this is like light speed. The next change won't happen for about a year.

"We love the event because it's so brilliantly funny," said Jens Frohling, 38, a bank employee who had come from Frankfurt to this town about 110 miles southwest of Berlin. He said government officials had been trying, without great success, to draw visitors to eastern Germany. "So why not this?" he said. "I think it worked." Read more.

The Garden Party

04 July 2006
There was a request for photos from a recent celebration I attended. I couldn't really think of much to say, so I'm just putting up some small versions. The party was in celebration of the United States, kindly supported by a wide array of corporate sponsors. The photo was blurred to protect the innocent.

Of course, I don't want to imply that I rejected the sponsors. In fact, there was a smorgasbord of delicious food, provided by the best hotels in Prague. I was told that the food was one of the best reasons to go to this party - my informants hadn't lied.

My personal interest was the music. Where, I wondered, would they get a full military band? It turns out that there are enough people in Plzeň who still remember fondly the American liberation of that city that they still send a Czech military/pensioner band to celebrate every year. They were pretty good except for horridly out-of-tune clarinets. The more out of tune they became, the happier the conductor looked. I assume he was taking advantage of the free beer provided by the Herold brewery (even though it wasn't Pilsener Urquell).

The highlight of the party (at least for me and the people I was hanging out with) was the chance to meet Václav Havel. I am still kicking myself for not asking to get a personal photo with him. Oh well, live and learn. You will have to settle for this paparazzi shot instead.

Let it be said that I've never had much of a talent for garden parties. And this was no exception - I talked with people I knew and had a few mixed drinks (hey, they were free). But I can be drawn in by a bit of pomp and circumstance (more here). I suppose I should go on about something more substantive, but I'm not sure that I have the words at the moment. At least nothing that wouldn't end up in a confused mess and a lot of academic jargon which I'm trying to avoid at the moment. I was just trying to imagine what it would have been like if it really had been an absurdist drama (one of Havel's first successful plays was called The Garden Party), but that would've just been, well, absurd.

So, while I collect my thoughts, "Go Germany . . . and Portugal!"

A Thought for the Fourth of July

None of us is in a position to eliminate war, but it is our obligation to denounce it and expose it in all its hideousness. War leaves no victors, only victims. . . . Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.

Elie Wiesel - Nobel Lecture

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On Prams

03 July 2006

I haven't mentioned prams in a while, but I haven't forgot about them - at least not giant vintage ones! This picture from the film festival in Karlovy Vary shows that neither have the Czechs. What is going on here?

Image from Radio Prague in Karlovy Vary

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The Underbelly (again)

01 July 2006
Yet another post about a non-Brno issue. It seems important though and, since many of the decent English-language news sources on the Czech Republic deal largely with Prague, I often write about these issues and link to the articles so that my non-Czech-speaking friends can read them if they choose. Or perhaps I just needed to rant about something on a grey Saturday morning. Anyway, it appears that Prague's main train station is finally routed for renovation. Not only is the site in a sad state of decay, but it has become an unfortunate center for drug dealing and prostitution, the less savoury side of Prague's neo-capitalism. On top of that, it seems that authorities are doing little to improve the social situation.

A company called Grandi Stazioni was selected to plan and oversee the reconstruction. According to Czech Rails spokesperson Aleš Ondrůj, the new station will look "more like a shopping mall, like a center of both traveling and other activities. Today it is not only about traveling; it is about meeting friends, going shopping, going to services like hairdressers, medical services, cinemas, and that is the way we would like to follow here in Prague. That is the reason why we have selected Grandi Stazioni." Judging by the pictures that accompany the Radio Prague story, the renovations will be largely cosmetic: addition of new ceilings, pillars, arrival boards, and a change in color scheme from drab to white, glassy, and modern. This is all well and good, although I wonder why they have picked Rome for a model rather than Budapest, Dresden, Vienna, or Berlin, all of which have modern or refurbished stations too. Perhaps their designs were not as successful in integrating the historical parts of the station. In fact, according to the LN article, Grandi Stazioni "promises that Czechs will no longer recognize the station after the reconstruction."

It seems that there are more than a few disagreements about the new project. Alena Šramková, an architect of the 1970s reconstruction, complains that the new design will destroy some of the city's mid-twentieth century architecture. "I would like to see it listed among sights of historical interests," she says, "We should protect the architecture of 60s and 70s." I think she's right - the major problem with the station is that it's dirty, in disrepair, and neglected. What it needs is a good cleaning and refurbishment. There is a certain charm to the unlikely combination of the art nouveau building and the fascist communist structure. Of course, they are planning to save the oldest parts of the building and the Fanta coffee house (named after the architect, not the soda).

The new design seems to make no provisions to solve the social problems that haunt the main station. As Petr Kotas, described as the "brains behind the project," says: "Changing the environment at the main train station, changing its character and surrounding, is going to push away those groups - they will not feel comfortable there anymore. It is a paradox that these days it is the other way round, which is wrong; the main train station feels safe and comfortable to the homeless while the rest, the 95% of people who use the station as passengers, don't feel safe and comfortable at all." Sorry, but five percent is not completely insignificant, and the new design does nothing to address the problem: these people need services and more help to keep them off the streets. Presumably nothing of the sort will be provided under the ODS government since it's an issue that would need more NGOs and non-profit aid organizations, like the Šance House for abandoned children.

Moreover, it seems that the new design is meant to make the station the most un-Czech and modern facility possible. Said Kotas: "The main purpose is that there won't be groups of people that expect the same services as at a street market. What we want are clients similar to those at an airport. And for sure there should not be stands with sausages, bread and mustard served on plastic plates and beer in plastic cups." Obviously, gentrification is the main goal. Well, at least they will probably serve high-quality Czech beer (in glass mugs), even if it is accompanied by wafer-thin slices of aspic served on silver platters.

Previously on NvB?: Prague Weekend and The Dark Underbelly of Prague
Quotes and photos from the Prague Radio story: Prague's main train station set for extensive renovation in coming years
Lidové noviny story (14 June 2006): Nádraží budou i centry obchodu

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