Reporting from the Metro

Opus Osm

A hardy, committed audience listens to live music at the Malostranská metro station Wed, Apr 18.

Reporting from the Metro: Not-Quite Underground Music

Despite some hazards, listeners declare the first-ever music in the metro day a success.

“It’s wonderful. It doesn’t happen so much,” Radek smiles. He’s leaning over the steel railing above the Budějovicka metro station, watching the guitar quartet performing below. He’s joined a small crowd that has stopped for a moment to listen to the music students from the Jaroslav Ježek conservatory perform on this chilly, bright Apr 18 morning.

“These people will be late for work, but you see most people are smiling,” Radek observes. A young guitar player himself, he too is lingering before heading off for his day job. “But it’s perfect,” he says. “It’s a good start for the day.”

The guitar quartet – Klára Vytisková, Barbora Priester, Lucie Kolmanová, and Mirek Fiedler – shift easily from classical music into light jazz as more commuters walk by briskly but listen with one ear, or stop for a moment to look and listen.

The first-ever music in the metro project is sponsored by the Prague public transport company (Dopravní Podník Hlavního Města Prahy), and the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory and College (Konzervatoř a Vyšší Odborná Škola). The school was founded in 1958 to offer an alternative to classical academies, and offers a six-year undergraduate diploma in classical, jazz, voice, and commercial music.

“It’s good publicity for our school — and for the Prague government,” explains Jiří Kulišev, deputy of the school’s headmaster. For its part, the metro website explains, people should think of the underground transport system as a way to get to leisure activities, not just to work.

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A guitar quartet performs at the Budějovicka metro station. Concerts ran from 6 am to 10 pm.

Zuzana, 20-something and bundled in a jacket, is waiting for the bus to take her back from work. She normally prefers modern music, she says, but has nothing against classical. This special performance is a good idea, she tells Opus Osm, because “it’s not just for people living here; it’s also good for visitors to Prague.”

Indeed, at the noon concert at the Malostranská metro station, Wei and Chang, first-time visitors from the UK, explain that this live music makes them feel “comfortable and relaxed.” The two Taiwanese visitors say that in the UK, street performances are very common.

Masha from Bulgaria, now living in Berlin, also likes the music even though she doesn’t listen to classical music very often. “But it’s nice,” she says. It’s her third visit to Prague, and she says the city is “great – colorful.”

Back in a less colorful part of Prague, at the Budějovicka station beneath the towering office blocks, Štěpán, with long hair and glasses, glances over his should occasionally, watching for his bus. The music is a good idea, he says, because it “brings some life for me in a dead city.” He explains that “this part of the city that I go to – only down to the subway, to work, only passing through” doesn’t offer commuters the opportunity to enjoy very much of Prague’s historic beauty or legendary culture.

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The metro station in the center offered a more historic ambience ...

In contrast, many visitors at the Malostranská performance stare at the metro hall’s Baroque sculpture as, beneath it, half of the quartet from the earlier Budějovicka concert now smoothly play Renaissance, Baroque, and folk selections on their guitars.

Here, the crowd consists of listeners in baby carriages; with book bags and backpacks; with hearing aids or canes. And they’re staying for the whole concert.

Suddenly, two long lines of tourists, one led by a man holding a folded umbrella up in the air, the other by a woman with a tennis ball on a stick, snake through the space between the audience and the guitarists. The music stops, but a few young tourists on parade applaud anyway; they appreciate the idea, at least.

Mirek Fiedler, one of the guitarists, is “trying my best” to give a good performance despite the interruptions, bad acoustics, cold weather, and no pay. He turns occasionally to stoop in front of a small white space heater, holding his frozen fingers out to it. He tells us his tip-toes are also frozen because, typical of a musician, he doesn’t have very good shoes.

The guitarists start again, and over by an unused escalator, Barbora, a book restorer snug in red tights, and Pavel, a lawyer in a dark green pin-striped suit, tango cheek-to-cheek, oblivious of the crowd and looking only into each others’ eyes, grinning.

Suddenly a ferocious wind whips through the space between the doors where the audience is standing. It’s the perfect opportunity to move on to work, to the shops, down the escalator to the waiting metro.

Opus Osm

and the atmosphere at the Budějovice station was decidedly more commercial.

But nobody leaves. A young mother wraps her knitted scarf around her baby in the carriage; a little grandmother yanks the heavy steel doors shut and returns to the music. As the wind whips the gentle music through the hall, two young women consult the city transportation schedule – not to find where the next metro stop is, but to find where the next metro concert will be.

A businessman cuts through the crowd, looking only for the shortest way to pick his way through the small listening crowd, shouting something into the mobile phone at his ear. In a second he’s gone.

And over in the corner, Barbora the book restorer and Pavel the lawyer look into each others’ eyes and laugh, and start to dance again. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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