Written by Caul Poates
When the International Choir of Prague takes the stage in Old Town Square at 7:00 p.m. on Dec. 8, their show will represent the culmination of months of work by the 50 children and adults from 15 countries that make up the group´s three different choirs.
Christmas songs such as Amy Grant´s “Breath of Heaven” were being prepared even when the choir was still decked out in short-sleeves and shorts and the sun didn´t set until 8 p.m. Now, with the roads slick with ice and stores deep into holiday-sales mode, it is crunch time.
“All of our groups seem to get the music together at the last possible moment,” says Sarka Coleman, who has directed the choir since she and her husband, Brendan, created the group last year to bring a committed – but seriously fun – approach to singing and dancing to Prague. “Three weeks before a show I usually think nothing will ever go right and then at the last moment it just works. It does make for something of a nervous thrill ride.”
For Sarka and Brendan, getting a show together does not mean dragging out a tinny piano and getting kids to half-heartedly memorize standards such as “Frosty the Snowman” or “Vaya Con Dios” before herding them out before a handful of sleepy parents. The International Choir of Prague shows are big-budget, featuring a quality jazz band and complex arrangements and harmonies that even pro singers might find challenging. There is also dancing and short, spoken-word pieces that might not be out of place in a Performance Art piece.
“I love my flower pot! I don´t know what it is about my flower pot,´´ announces 13-year-old Anna Gabalova in one of the spring concert´s spoken-word interludes. “It makes me happy and I just know that I am not complete without it. But I would give the world for a Sweet Soul Dream.” Anna steps back into the shadows and the Concert Choir digs into a cover of Karel Wallinger´s “Sweet Soul Dream,” complete with two children adding violin runs over a wall of layered voices and the jazz band.
There are now three separate groups within the International Choir of Prague – the Developmental Choir for children ages 6 to 8 that focuses on budding talents, the Concert Choir with more experienced and older kids, and the Adult Choir. All three will be performing in Old Town Square on Dec. 8 and again on Dec. 15 at Divadlo Minor.
The International Choir of Prague, which practices out of a Gynamsium located in Andel, evolved from Brendan and Sarka´s work with children at the British International School of Prague and other international schools here. Rehearsals are held in the late afternoons and early evenings to best accommodate hectic lifestyles.
“We wanted a place of our own where we could teach without compromises and pursue the kind of music we love,´´ says Brendan, an American from Minnesota who developed his piano chops playing reggae music and touring the U.S. with stars such as Judy Mowatt. “Like so many things in Prague, the Choir is a work in progress as we are still expanding our range and we have so many projects we want to pursue.´´
While the need to focus and work hard is central to the choir´s twice-weekly rehearsals for the children, “the emphasis is on fun and feeling the spirit of the music,” says Sarka, whose musical roots go back to her childhood as a member of the world-renowned Czech choir, Bambini de Praga. She met Brendan while studying and working in the U.S. and later convinced him to move to Prague in 2001.
Sarka, whose musical interests are drawn from classical music, and Brendan, who is widely schooled in jazz and complicated polyrhythms, compliment each other by bringing their own strengths to the choir. A constant is their energy and great taste in choosing material that is not often typical for choir repertoire, including songs such as James Taylor´s “Shed A Little Light”, “Route 66” and Billy Preston´s “Nothin´ From Nothin”. Because the choir is currently made up of 15 different nationalities, space is given to featuring music from other cultures, especially African, Latin and Caribbean countries, to present the very best of music from around the world.
Children in the choir are given solos and a moment in the spotlight alone to develop their own voice and performance skills. The children also work on dance – everything from African rhythms to modern rock – as part of the classes to help add movement to the singing.
In the spring, the Adult Choir debuted, singing songs on its own and with the children and bringing the Colemans´ ideas together for the first time.
“The adult choir not only brings together people of different cultures and nationalities, but also varying professions and experiences,´´ says Brendan Coleman. “The adults provide a mature example to the children. It fills out the overall voice of the choir.”
Sarka and Brendan´s group will be presenting the best of Christmas and Holiday themed music this month with the International Choir of Prague.
You can see the choir perform on December 7th in Old Town Square at 7:00 P.M., or at their annual Christmas Concert on December 15th at 7:00. P.M., Divadlo Minor, Vodičkova street, near Karlovo Námestí.