Back in Prague

Saturday, August 25, 2007

It is now Saturday, late in the afternoon, and we are now at the Cloister Inn in Prague. Prague is a very beautiful city, especially in the old section near the Charles Bridge. We left Frydlant this morning. It is hard to describe the many emotions that leaving the workshop brings:

1. Pride at the students' acclompishments
2. Camaraderie and friendship among faculty (as well as students and acquaintances from the town)
3. Sadness--especially when contemplating 'when we will meet again'

The students were BEAMING after the concerts the past two evenings! You could easily see and feel their pride of accomplishment for their fine performances. They are so excited when they come off stage: they want pictures of everyone in the band (especially with their directors) and there is much exchanging of congratulations.

As an instructor I was immensely proud and elated to see the progress the students made in one week in both my saxophone class and the student ensemble. For example, there was the 15 year-old trumpet player in my band (a young lady) that refused to take a solo when the workshop started. She looked apathetic and uninterested in rehearsals (now I know this was more due to age than to actual interest--she didn't want to look TOO eager--typical of many teenagers). By the concert on Thursday, she was smiling, having a good time and played a great solo at the concert. The picture is of Gary, myself, and the students in the band we led.

The feeling of camaraderie and importance of purpose among the faculty helped to forge some very deep ties and friendships. Parting was difficult last evening with many promises of "Next year again, in Frydlant!" E-mails and contact information were exchanged and students asked teachers to autograph copies of the jazz workshop poster/flyer.

It was great to see the students' progress, but also bittersweet to realize that of the many friends and acquaintances may be short lived. Who knows if circumstances will allow us all to reunite again next year?

Tonight, we play at another jazz club in Prague. Students and faculty from the workshop that live near Prague promised to come out and listen to our performance.

Some of the final "good-bye's" have been put off--at least for now.

Doctor Neil

Special guests

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dobre Den!

Yesterday (Thursday) we had a chance to meet the American Ambassador and his wife. They were in the next city, Liberec, and were invited (by the Mayor of Frydlant) to visit this town. The Ambassador told me that this was the first time an American Ambassador had visited Frydlant. We met him and his wife and were given a tour of Frydlany Castle. The castle was built around 800-900 years ago. But now it serves as a museum. We were treated to a nice reception with coffee, tea, and traditional Czech pastries in the castle's renovated kitchen. The picture is of Ambassador Richard Graber, his wife Alexandria, Skip, Gary and myself.

That evening, Gary and I led our student group at the students' concert. Eight bands played, and ours was very well received. Most of the bands play traditional jazz tunes, while some played Czech jazz tunes based on Czech folk tunes. It is very different from jazz workshops in America: most of the students drink alcohol (the concert is held in a bar/night club) and the drinking age is 18 (a law that is not strictly enforced). It creates quite a different environment.

It is also interesting to ask students to tell us their opinion of the US. One student felt that, generally, America is much more 'Puritanical' than Europe, especially compared to the Czech Republic. Generally, the feeling is that they like Americans, but are not enamored with the current administration in Washington. They ask me when the next election will be and who will be president. They are interested in the US and have met several students that have been to America through student exchange programs.

Tonight is the last student concert and concludes the 2007 Jazz Workshop in Frydlant. Tomorrow we drive back to Prague and play in another jazz club, Agharta jazz club in downtown Prague. Then Sunday we fly back to the US. This may be the last time I post an entry from Europe, but will definitely add one or two concluding entries--with pictures--very soon.


Doctor Neil

New students and experiences

Thursday, August 23, 2007

It has been a busy couple of days here at the jazz workshop in Frydlant. Last evening we had a faculty concert--it lasted for over four hours (with no intermission)! The Frydlant Castle was a beautiful setting for a concert. Here is a picture of Rosta and I rehearsing at the castle and another of the castle couryard.

Most of the students are in the 16-24 year-old range. There are some adults as well, such as the drummer in my band, Igor, who is the same age as me, and Kristoff the bass playuer from Berlin who is also my age. Some of the students are still in Gymnasium (the Czech equivaloent of high school) while other have begun college or technical school. Some of the students are studying to be doctors, civil engineers or economists. Some are going to attend (or are already attending) conservatory (studying music). There are even a few students in the workshop that are professional musicians in orchestras. I have a saxophonist in my class who is principal clarinetist in a radio orchestra in Poland, which is a very prestigious job here. And last night I met a bassist with the Prague symphony. They have come here to learn to play jazz.

The students vary in level--all are very proficient on their instrument, but their experience in jazz can vary greatly. They are all very hungry to learn and are excellent students. They pick up ideas very quickly and those students that are in conservatory work very hard and are very excited about the things I have shown them.

I must tell you about a new experience for me: the other evening the drummer in my band, Igor, and a couple of other students took me to the Czech Tea Room in Frydlant. There were raised platforms (about a foot off the ground) with low tables where people sat around on pillows and blankets. We were served special teas (I had green tea with jasmine) and a Turkish waterpipe was prepared with flavored tobacco (fruit and peppermint). We sat around and talked about how popular teahouses are in the Czech Republic. Igor's wife then disappeared into a back room and re-appeared a few minutes later in a belly-dancing costume. As she dance, I sipped my tea and took my turn with the others using the waterpipe. I thought to myself: "I am not in Bethlehem anymore!" It was an amazing experience and one of the highlights of my trip so far.

Tonight, the student band that Gary and I direct will play on the student concert. We have three numbers prepared. I am confident that they will play well. But before that, the American Ambassador to the Czech Republic will be visiting Frydlant today, we will have a small reception with him and the tour Frydlant Castle.

More on that later.

Doctor Neil

In the "Swing" of things

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I know...I know...that was REALLY bad pun and totally unhip for a jazz musician to say things like that.

Last evening we visited the workshop/factory of a local artist: he works in glass. He works in an old factory that he has rebuilt for his use as studio/workshop and gallery. He makes everything from earings, to vases, to ornamental items, to large wall hangings. He also is an amatuer jazz musician. In the middle of his workshop he had a Hammond B3 organ and vintage Fender Rhodes electric piano. He was playing 'Blue Monk' as we walked in.

He also served us his own recipe for Goulash, my first serving on this trip. He also served various cheeses, lunchmeats and fruit. He also served fine wine and limited editions of local beers. It was a wonderful time. He has invited the jazz faculty from this camp before. He was a wonderful host.

The classes are going very well. I especially enjoy working with the students in my saxophone class.

I don't know if you are aware, but the workshop here is very close to Moravia (here they call it Morava). I have had several conversations here with other faculty about the "Moravian Brothers" (the Czech version of the Moravian Church I assume). One of the other saxophone teachers recommended I visit Herrnhut--the town where the Moravian Brotherhood is based. I don't know if it is possible since time is short and I must relt on other people for a ride.

I have been VERY BUSY writing out parts for my band and preparing materials for my classes. Every night we have jam sessions but I don't get the chance to practice and I really miss my workouts on the horn.

I have to go now, but I will try to write again tomorrow.

Dobre den! (Good day!)

Doctor Neil

Finally Here

Monday, August 20, 2007

I apologize for the delay in posting a new entry. This is due to two things:

1. Lack of access to a computer.
2. Technical difficulties (how to make get the computer I am using to use English typing system instead of Czech).

A quick synopsis of our trip so far:

Thursday into Friday we traveled to the Czech Republic. All three of us (Gary, Skip, and I) really did not sleep on our overnight flight. We are still catching up on our sleep. On Saturday night we played at the 'U Mehalo Glena' jazz club: the smallest jazz club in Prague. We had a great crowd (it was packed). We played with Rosta Fras (who led the band) playing tenor sax and Josef Feco on bass. These two are outstanding jazz musicians. The picture is of Rosta and I playing at the club.

On Saturday morning we traveled to Frydlant, checked into our accomodations (the Daniela Motel) and played in a faculty jazz group that evening. There are about 15 faculty members at this workshop and about 160 students. The faculty are all outstanding musicians--as good as any in the US.

Yesterday (Sunday) we began classes. In the morning we divided the 45 saxophone players among the 3 saxophone teachers (including myself). We each had about 15 in our classes. The students in my class all spoke some English and I only had to ask someone to translate for me 2 or 3 times. Students are polite, alert and motivared to learn.

In the afternoon, we met our student groups (bands). Gary and I co-lead a group of student musicians (5 saxophones, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, 1 flute, piano, bass, drums, guitar, and flute). It's a little difficult providing music for such a large ensemble. I end up having to write arrangements especially for them.

It was great reconnecting with faculty, former students (from last summer) and friends that Gary and I met last summer. The food is good (and very inexpensive here) and the weather is much more comfortable than when we left Pennsylvania.

I must go and teach my saxophone class--goodbye for now!

Doctor Neil

Last minute details

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What to pack? What to leave home? What am I forgetting? What bills NEED to be paid before I leave? Who must I speak to before I leave for the airport?

Don't you love the last minute rush before a long trip? My thoughts focus on those things that I will need at the camp: manuscript paper, fake books, lead sheets, reeds, pencils, pens, books and magazines for the flight.

I've been in touch with some of the faculty and directors that I taught with at last year's camp:, like Lee Andrew Davison, an American jazz vocalist that now lives in Prague and stays very busy teaching and singing in the Czech Republic. Having moved from Boston around 10-15 years ago, Lee was a great help last year with the customs and language. I am looking forward to seeing him again. Also Rosta Fras (pronounced 'roshtya frawsh'), who lined up our gig this Friday in Prague, teaches jazz saxophone at the university level in the Czech Republic; he speaks English well and is a great player. He was a great help in the saxophone classes we led. It will be great to hear and play with these great players and teachers again.

Once in Frydlant, there are no mini-marts, and the primary mode of transportation is walking, or hitching a ride with one of the other faculty members like Lee, Rosta or Lubos, (pronounced 'loobowsh,' he's a terrific piano player). So I have to plan ahead to be sure I have everything I need for the next ten days.

It was interesting to lead a jazz workshop in a restaurant/bar. The Beseda ('besseda') restaurant is the camp's headquarters and main rehearsal/classroom space. And it seems as though everyone (even the younger, teenaged students) drink. There is no minimum drinking age like here in the US, and even 16-year-olds at the workshop were drinking beer and shots. This is quite a contrast to our jazz camps at Moravian ('July Jazz Getaway' and the 'Summer Youth Jazz Camp') which is held in Foy Hall, very formal and (needless to say) no alcohol is permitted.

By the way...the Czech language is very difficult!

Dr. Neil

Back to Frydlant

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

On Thursday, the 16th of August Gary, Skip, and I will fly out of Newark International Airport aboard a Scandinavian Air jet for Copenhagen and then take another that will take us to Prague.

I am looking forward to seeing friends that I made last year and to revisit Prague and Frydlant. Last year Gary and I were very impressed by the level of msuicianship of the other instructors at the Karel Velebny Jazz Workshop in Frydlant. They played at an extremely high level and were very welcoming to the two musicians from America.

The students were also very accomodating and enthusiastic. Fortunately, the students that signed up for the group that Gary amd I co-led last year could speak some English. I also have been trying to learn some basic Czech vocabulary and useful phrases.

I have also included some photos from last year.

Talk to you soon!