Rocking out in Prague
When Anna started taking singing lessons over a year ago, I remember her asking her teacher how we should practice at home. No one in either of our families, apart from Radek’s grandmother, can do more than carry a basic tune, so I was skeptical that we could help Anna practice. Anna’s teacher, a professional singer turned elementary school music teacher, reassured me that we’d be fine. All you need is heart, she told me. I can teach Anna the technical aspects of singing in class, but she needs to learn to feel the music.
With that advice, Anna and the rest of our family began listening to our favorite songs on youtube.com. When Anna got an MP3 player for her eighth birthday, we uploaded a variety of music, from hits by Bruce Springsteen and Lana del ray to Czech nursery rhymes like “Pasu, pasu pisničky” and contemporary Slavic hits by Peha or Václav Neckář. When the children have to wait in the car, they’re happy to listen to music. Through the cold winter, I found myself taking Anna’s MP3 player occasionally on longer runs, and though I felt a bit silly pulsing along to a favorite children’s tune, “Když se zamiluje kůň,” I found that running with music, no matter the genre, gives me a different kind of emotional experience.
While running the half-marathon this past Saturday, every few kilometers a different band was stationed playing music along the route. Some of the bands played Czech originals, others played international cover songs like Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” The most inspirational running music for me personally was a reggae-style band that played near the Čechův bridge. The band drummed a solid upbeat rhythm that my legs and my heart immediately responded to. When I got within earshot of the reggae band, I could feel myself relax and get into a smoother running grove.
Later that night, I sampled a different variety of Prague’s musical offerings when Radek and I attended a concert by the renowned Welsh DJ Sasha at Roxy music. Supposedly, DJ Sasha is ranked among the world’s top 10 DJs, and many of Radek’s friends were eagerly awaiting his appearance in Prague. Although I had been in Roxy before, it was in the years before children. I wasn’t sure what to expect from DJ Sasha, but I figured the unusual experience of being in a dance club all night would be worth it no matter how I liked the music. Plus, I wanted a chance to celebrate my successful race.
The show started at 10 pm with an opening performance by Spanish-based DJ Rai, and DJ Sasha first appeared at 1 am. It had been 12 years since he had played at the Roxy, and the club was packed with Czechs anxious to experience Sasha’s show. Even though I am not a follower of the music, the atmosphere was invigorating. Listening to the throbbing beat from one of the club’s two wing balconies, my eyes darted between the images flashing on the screen behind the DJ and the dancers below me. It was music meant to be felt, and although I was hearing it for the first time, I couldn’t help notice the power that the music was working. Hours later, as morning approached, I convinced Radek it was time to head home, even though the club was still packed with dancers going full-throttle. It was an experience to remember, and the combination of experimental house music and the club atmosphere made both Radek and I feel transported, for a moment, back to our early days when we were dating in Prague, and when live music and late-night club shows had been a more regular part of our lives. We vowed to do it again soon.
A few nights later, I got an invitation to attend the concert of Italian Eros Ramazzotti from a Slovak friend. Held at the O2 arena, this concert was a different kind of experience all-together. Eros and his multi-musician band played for over two hours straight while the packed arena swayed and clapped in time to the catchy, pop hits. Although I couldn’t understand the Italian lyrics, I felt an emotional connection with the romantic, soft-rock music. Eros’ resonant voice and his powerful band, including a talented electric guitarist and an exceptional saxophone player, quickly caught and held my attention. The show was sexy and high-energy, with Eros and his two female back-up singers decked out in black high-heels, abundant makeup and tight jeans, encouraging the audience to wave their arms and move with the beat. It wasn’t my personal music-style, but hearing Eros’ songs in the context of his concert made me feel I’d listen to them again, though I doubt I’d seek it out.
To bring my week of varied musical experiences full circle, the following evening Anna Lee and I attended the ballet Giselle, held at the State Opera. The dramatic two-act ballet was danced to a score by Adolphe Adam, performed by the opera’s full-orchestra. Not realizing the dark-nature of the ballet until just before the show, I quickly tried to prep Anna for the beautiful peasant girl Giselle’s untimely death and for the dramatic second act where two of the men who loved her are forced to dance to death, or nearly, at the hands of the Willis (vengeful maidens who haunt the woods near Giselle’s grave). The emotional heart of the ballet was distinctly set by the orchestra’s dramatic music. Before the curtain rose for each act, the orchestra established the tone with several minutes of music. Although the full-length ballet still seemed long to Anna, she asked fewer questions during the performance and seemed to understand more about the emotional connection between the dancing and the music than she had last year when we attended Swan Lake.
After having a rich week of live musical experiences, I feel pretty lucky to be living in a place where it’s possible to hear a cutting edge DJ, a famous Italian pop-star, and a classic ballet performed in a historic opera house all in one week. Not to mention to be able to participate in a race through a city’s historic downtown while several local bands kept me and my fellow runners energized and moving toward the finish line. I didn’t grow up in a city with such a variety of musical experiences so readily available, and I’m thankful that even though I’m getting older, I’m still learning to expand my musical tastes.
Next weekend, Anna Lee is supposed to perform in a singing competition sponsored by Prague 6. Last year she performed for the first time and we were all impressed that she’d been able to sing in front of a room full of people. She’d been pleased with herself, even though, like all the children, she admitted that she’d wanted to win. Then unexpectedly, one night last week, she went to bed in tears telling me that she was too nervous to sing one of the songs she’d trained, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” at the competition. I tried to calm her down and hoped she was just having a bit of pre-performance jitters. Thankfully, the next day after school, she came bounding from her singing lesson saying happily that she and her teacher had chosen a different song to replace the one she’d been nervous about. Anna told me that her teacher had said she had a gift for feeling the music. Together they’d chosen a Czech tune where Anna was more comfortable expressing her emotions than in the English song.
No matter what happens at Anna’s competition, I’m thankful that she’s found a song she’s looking forward to singing. I’m also grateful that our family is learning the power of music, and that we’re taking the opportunity to experience some of the different musical genres that Prague has to offer.