April 2, 2012
I am so pleased to be writing to you from the Czech Republic. It is very Dvořák and Smetana-like here, with views of small villages and broad-spanning, gently rolling countryside. I was told by a Czech that this country’s citizens are known for their hospitality to visitors, and their jealousy of one another! Only a Czech could see that… or say it! Today’s schedule included a master class at Charles University in Prague. The city is decorated for Easter, with birch trees laden with ribbons and balloons.There is a strange Easter tradition here. The women are symbolically “whipped” on Easter Monday!
On that morning (any time from 8 a.m. – noon) children and men go from house to house. At each house, children may choose from an assorted basket of hard-boiled, decorated eggs, and the men get a shot of plumb vodka, as well as a ribbon for the end of their whip. (The idea is to get as many ribbons as possible from as many “whippings” as possible). The whips are made of freshly-cut, braided willow branches, tied on either end; they are sold at the market. Everyone is also served chocolate treats (see right). All of these gifts after given to the men after they have recited a poem of greeting, during which the women are “whipped” in order to give them energy for the coming year. As soon as the greeting or poem is done, so is the whipping. The other part of the tradition (that is seldom practiced) is that the women then throw a bucket of water over each man’s head. The addition intention is for friends and neighbours to visit with each other for an hour or two. The master class at “Univerzita Karlova” was meaningful and fun. There were about 20 singers in the class, and I worked with a soprano and then a tenor, for about 90 minutes.
The instructor for the class, Mrs. Vulova, remarked on how similar voice issues are around the world. So true! I was impressed with the capacity of all the students to understand English. My corny humour was appreciated with quick laughter, and it was rewarding to hear how the singers improved by hearing my telling of the basic principles we all teach and share. I was pleased to receive a return invitation, and I’d certainly like to return! After the class there was time to visit nearby, at Prague’s famously beautiful “Old Town Square. It was especially interesting to see it dressed for Easter.