Monday, November 21, 2011:The Smetana Solution

Kids from Prague schools can enjoy an interactive lesson on Smetana by musicologist Mrs Radmila Habánová (right)

The Smetana Solution

Teachers!

Now that the first snows and Mikuláš (Czech St Nicholas’ Day) and Christmas are coming, are your students getting a little squirmy?

We’ve got the perfect cure.

Arrange to take them on a výlet (American English: field trip) to the Smetana Museum at Novotného Lávka 201/1. Mgr Mrs Radmila Habánová, a musicologist, has the perfect program for children about the composer, his times, and his music.

We watch Mrs Habánková miraculously keep 16 students, from the Na Beránku elementary school, Prague, entranced with her presentation. The students, only 7 years old, are under the watchful eye of their classroom teacher Mrs Michaela Němcová.

But there’s nary a wiggle as Mrs Habánová asks the young scholars questions. (“Imagine! Smetana had 11 sisters! How many brothers and sisters do you have?” “I have 11,” one boy answers seriously. “Petr,” the teacher laughs, “you don’t have 11 brothers and sisters!”)

The young students later stand up to sing a beloved Czech nursery song about a cat and dog. Later in the two-hour-long session, the students will recognize this theme from Smetana’s Vltava as the same song they themselves had sung.

The students look for Vltava landmarks, with teacher Mrs Němcová (l), Mrs Habánová (r), and Smetana's sculpture (far r)

But now the energetic Mrs H is unfolding a stack of tractor-feed computer paper, which she stretches, blank side up, across the long blue carpet. Then she brings out something really cool: a blue ink marker affixed to a long pole.
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She sketches the confluence of rivers in the south of the Czech Republic and walks the marker along the long strip of paper, eliciting the Vltava River from its blue tip as the kids watch carefully. She ends at the Labe River on the far northern border of the paper. Then the students get busy with colored pencils, drawing various points Mrs Habánová suggests along the river’s length.

The National Theatre

Mrs Habánová clothespins the long snake of paper to a few museum curtains, and then plays a recording of Vltava, pointing out exactly the same “stops” – the forests, the whirlpool, Vyšehrad Castle, The National Theatre – the students had drawn on the paper.

The morning ends with a student “conducting” her classmates as the music continues. (“I know how to play the violin,” a boy announces. “No you don’t,” Mrs Němcová gently corrects him. “You know how to play the flute.”)

Most of the children do know how to play a simple flute, but for now they’re playing imaginary drums, horns, and violins in the air orchestra. Then the students cluster around Mrs H as she embosses and hands out colored bookmarks from the museum.

Various instruments in the air orchestra

After the children are gone, we beg and plead for Mrs Habánová to offer her program again. Please! for us adults! and in English! But – no dice. For now, it’s available only for school kids (see www.nm.cz), matched to the knowledge and grade level of students from the first class on up.

Those lucky kids! – oo

Opus Osm’s earlier profile of The Smetana Museum in Prague can be found by clicking on “Go To: Czech Travel,” the black tab at the top of this page.

— Mary Matz

Song about a Cat and Dog
Kočka leze dírou, pes oknem, pes oknem,
nebude-li pršet, nezmoknem, nezmoknem

is the song, sung in a major key, about a cat and dog in a hole, or a window, if it doesn’t rain. The song is produced in a minor key in Vltava, until the final moments.

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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