One Happy Monday Evening in the Library!
Library is a place where everything seems to go quietly and smoothly! We tend to speak in hush voices, we step more carefully not to make too much noise, and when we hear a sudden shred of laughter piercing the calm air, it feels almost comical, bringing smile to everyone's face and maybe an apologetical look with raised eyebrows and shoulders.
But all of that pleasant quiet culture was disturbed on the third Monday of April when a Czech crowd was invited to share its heritage in the Point Loma elegant Hass auditorium! The banjo would wake up even the most tired reader quietly dozing above a thick tome of a historical novel, even the strict looking professor diligently copying something from a flyer into his calendar raises his head in alarm and then softening his feature upon recognizing the noise as music, and even the most tired librarian had to be alarmed by that loud singing in unrecognizable and unpronounceable language! And then here is the laughter and quick feet of several Czech-American girls running in the foyer ready to swirl in their cute authentic colorful outfits on the stage.
And I was so much looking forward to this! There is nothing more pleasing, fun and exciting for me than to perform in my own neighborhood ! After all, our band, the Poe Street Band, takes name from our own Point Loma's Poe Street, and my modest Czech school has its headquarters in the heart of Point Loma, coincidentally on Poe Street!
We enjoyed the evening tremendously! First, we are pleasantly surprised that the library almost ran out of chairs ,and the audience is warm, genuinely interested, and so much welcoming! Everyone seems to laugh easily at each (corny) joke I try to come up with to set a fun mood. And so with a quip — that I am faking my Czech accent as to add to the authenticity of the evening, I am challenging the audience to ask me to switch to my perfect American English at any time!
But jokes aside! The reason I am happy to perform at any time for Americans is that I admire them quite a bit!
No matter how lofty it sounds, I was allowed to make in America a beautiful, happy and fulfilling life, being one of forty plus million immigrants making home here. And it is a lot of foreigners bringing in all kinds of languages, manners, opinions, habits, and yet, the American people I am surrounded with, parade nothing but tolerance, goodwill, and a great dose of patience. And a genuine interest in us, newcomers! That always humbles me, it really does: that curiosity in my tiny country, that interest in me, I embrace the self-effacing American attitude that is free of any criticism or envy, and full of effort cheering so many of us, newcomers, on. It astonishes me as much today as it did when I first came. And despite some problems and disappointments from the public life here, and missteps in American history, it seems that this country managed the best to cultivate the majority of its crowd into decent polite people with lots empathy and an incredible dose of tolerance and understanding humanity. And I spread this news about Americans wherever I go and am happy when I can share my feelings directly with that great crowd, and if I can entertain them, I will!
And so, we start with bluegrass , played by Vlaďa Hanč and Pavel Chvístek, that is as Americana as it is embraced by Czechs as ours! So much so that when I came to America and heard Johnny Cash songs, I naively said that I did not know America has so many Czech songs in English!
The radio station, the American Forces Network of the United States Army, operating from Munich, Bavaria, from 1945 on, made us know Americana songs well, and Pete Seeger, having a concert in Czechoslovakia in 1964, was the true catalyst introducing the Czechs to the live banjo! A Czech, fan of Americana, Mirko Čermák, reproduced the instruments from a black&white photo he took at the concert, and the first bluegrass festival in Czechoslovakia was in 1965. Since then the Czechs have been one of the biggest exporters of banjo (Prusa banjo, Capek banjo), and the Czech Republic has the most bluegrass bands per capita after America!
The folk songs came next, I sang several czardases, a Hungarian/Moravian/Slovakian slow- to- fast dynamic songs, named after "czarda" - a pub in Hungarian where the dances were danced and sang. As the Czechs had been under the foreign rule most of their history, especially the uninterrupted rule of Habsburgs from 1526-1918, a time when only German culture and language were tolerated, the Czech folk heritage was very important as the only way to define our identity, preserving our language and heritage.
After the WWI we finally had our first state Czechoslovakia, established with a great help of President Wilson, who was in charge of post-war Europe affairs. We built one of the most effective democracy in the world along with one of the leading economies,
only to see Hitler to snatch our land in 1939. After we kicked the Germans out in May of 1945, the Commies came in 1948 to continue the torture! The bold Czech yearning toward freedom was harshly crushed by the Russian invasion of 1968, but the Velvet Revolution of 1989 brought in the long-longed freedom and democracy at last! And that Velvet Revolution of 1989 was a theme of my shared short story, my personal account of the Revolution, my most important social and political event of my life.
The Czech school "Little Sunshine" aka "Sluníčko" performed several Moravian
dances, skids and poems in Czech and English, and had to survive a test of knowledge right there on the stage! But they passed, guessing that all of those inventions in questions were the work and talent of the Czech inventors; like contact lenses (Wichterle 1961), blood types (Jansky 1907), finger-printing (Purkyne 1823), foundation of genetics (Mendel) 1863), and such. And of course, they also had to be asked who brews the best beer in the world, and yes, you guessed it right: Pilsner Urquell!
Well, the girls got into almost unstoppable laughing fit towards the end of the performance, but laugh is contagious,
benign and fun to watch, as long as you are not that teacher! :) :) But, even that is an experience and a platform to learn from!
All in all was complemented by a Chopin piano piece, sensitively played by one of my piano students Noemi Moran, and a fun banjo solo presented by Pavel Chvistek. We ended the evening with one last czardas with hopes to make everyone tap their feet and leave with a smile.
What a beautiful memorable evening it was for us! We were touched by the library interest in our culture and by the cheering and absolutely superb audience.
I believe that sharing one's heritage or a world view, peeking into our differences, understanding our ways of life is the most effective road toward a peaceful and joyful world.
Thank you, Friends of the Point Loma library , namely Martha White and Christine Gonzales, and your
amazing fun audience, for giving us an opportunity to show you a sliver of the Czech culture!