Tuesday, August 9, 2011: Vacation Homework!

Notebooks and pencils are out, working, at a final rehearsal for Rhapsody! Children's Music Festival

Vacation Homework!

Check any Prague street kiosk between June and September and you’ll find concerts by touring orchestras and choral groups from all over the world. But music tours provide more than just an easy, memorable summer holiday for the performers. In fact, they often require a lot of homework.

“This tour is a great chance for these children to grow, to stretch themselves musically,” explains Joan Gregoryk, music conductor of the Rhapsody! Children’s Music Festival. Its July Prague concerts featured teen choirs, the Princeton Girlchoir from the US, and Seraphim Choir, New Zealand, along with a special performance by the Children’s Opera Prague (Dětská Opera Praha).

After the foreign choirs’ rehearsal July 21 Mrs Gregoryk took a minute before a delayed lunch to chat with Opus Osm.

“The rehearsal today was tiring – they’ve been singing now for three hours – and I was hard on them,” she admits. “But I could see as they left they were feeling good about themselves because –” she quotes a typical sentiment – “’I've mastered something today,’” she says.

The choirs’ accompaniment by Prague orchestra Virtuosi Pragenses also offers the singers an extra bonus “because most have never sung with an orchestra before,” she explains.

Another benefit for touring teens is to come specifically to central Europe, “the birthplace of classical music. It makes a difference coming to the places where these composers actually lived,” she says. Touring musical landmarks was part of the group’s itinerary in Vienna, Salzburg, České Krumlov, and Prague.

When the singers first arrived for the tour, “each was singing as an individual,” adds Mimsy Gill, the festival’s tour director. “Now they’ve come together as a choir.”

Mrs Gregoryk concurs: “When we first arrived, there was the American choir. And the New Zealand choir. Two separate ones. Now they’ve learned to sing together as one.” This type of teamwork, like the often-claimed benefit from sports, will help the students later in various aspects of their lives, it is believed.

BTW, How’s Your Czech?
The Rhapsody! stop-off in Prague also gave the young singers the chance to try speaking (or singing) the Czech language. The choirs first studied the lyrics for part of The Bartered Bride and “Teče Voda Teče” written phonetically, and then memorized the complete music. Once in Prague, they had help with pronunciation from Czech assistants.

Conducting young choirs singing in a foreign language presents an additional problem, according to the conductor. Unlike adults, it’s harder for younger singers to keep an eye on both the music score and the conductor, Mrs Gregoryk says; “I need them looking at me so that I can ‘shape’ the music.” So they can’t rely on memory jogs from glances at the score.

Another benefit for the touring youngsters, though, according to their conductor, is the reaction of Czech audiences: “They’re much more expressive. American audiences enjoy the music, true; but they don’t express it so much. [With “Teče Voda Teče”] Czechs immediately start singing along, tap their feet, and nod in time to the music.” This kind of instant feedback surely boosts the confidence level of any performer, regardless of age or nationality.

The homework paid off. You can see what fun the audience and the singers had, by clicking on the short video clip of the encore from the performance, below. – oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Photo and video: Miroslav Setnička

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