Meet The Linha Singers
Most of us have projects and materials that we must finish by the end of the year. And Czechs are no exception: they have to use up a lot of vowels before a new year starts. Apparently this year-end accounting is necessary to balance the profusion of consonants in the language.
So the Linha Singers did their utmost to tip the scales in favor of vowels during their special Christmas concert at the Church of Saint Simon and Jude Dec 26. Almost speechless, most of what The Linha Singers sang had no words at all.
Instead, they used their voices as musical instruments, with series of repeated vowel sounds. This original interpretation is based on an elaborate combination of various singing techniques derived from classical, folk, chanson, and jazz music.
The concert started on a somber note. The founder of the Linha Singers, Jiří Linha, spoke about their uncertain future and how difficult it is becoming to get together to perform.The history of the Linha Singers is fraught with change and adaptation, as their inception dates back to 1963 Czechoslovakia. Since that time, permanent engagements have alternated with international tours in the wake of theater dissolution and employment terminations. They currently exist as a non-profit organization, Linha Singers o.p.s., and try to remain active through recordings and performances both at home and abroad.
In the first half of the concert they mostly performed what Mr Linha termed “world music,” more contemporary works by internationally known composers. The lively, melodic interpretations were suitable for those with shorter attention spans and children, and, in fact, the concert-goers spanned the generations.
The second half of the concert was dedicated to teachers: Not only are most of the members of The Linha Singers either teachers or students, but many of the works they perform are from the salvaged and resurrected fragments written by school teachers in the 18th century.
Such teachers did not have an easy life. They had to combine the challenges of village teaching conditions with service for the local church as both organist and composer. As Mr Linha explained, such teachers were musically proficient, but lacked the prerequisites for fame. And their surviving works reflected the needs of the church: mass, pastorella, requiem, etc.
The Linha Singers performed the full range of composers who are unknown, but whose catchy melodies remain. They included composers such as Tomáš Kolovrátek (1763-1831) and teachers who, as Jiří Linha put it, “had talent,” like Jakub Jan Ryba, whose name lives on to this day.
The Linha Singers’ impressive repertoire includes some 200 Czech and foreign compositions, mostly arranged by their founder. Mr Linha has spent a lot of time in various archives in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, pouring over old scores in search of diamonds in the rough.
It was a memorable tribute and a pleasant listening experience because without the words the focus was on the music as opposed to the religious context. The odd piece that did have words only enforced the idea that language impedes the purity of music.
And the vocalist even had to enunciate a “ř” — how terrible! — oo
– Hana and Frank Trollman
Photo Credits: Frank Trollman