It was another cold, grey morning for the thousands of commuters who passed through the city’s crowded metro stations making their way to work on Wednesday morning. But on this particular day the mood in Prague’s busy subway was different. An all-day musical happening put a smile on people’s faces and many stopped to listen, even if it meant missing their regular train connection.
Jazz, swing, rock, pop, funk, folk, baroque and renaissance music – 16 ensembles took turns to perform in 14 of the city’s busiest metro stations from 6am to 10 pm. The happening which brightened the day for millions of passengers, was organized by the Prague Public Transport Company in cooperation with the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory. Klára Malíkova from the Prague Transport Company says the event was even more of a success than they hoped.
“We were approached by the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory with the idea of letting their students perform on the premises and although our main purpose is to transport passengers we thought - why not give them a little bonus. People need cheering up – especially if they are on their way to work at six am. So we planned to have hour-long music performances – covering 13 different genres – at our busiest stations throughout the day. I have seen several so far and the response from the public is even better than we hoped. The student Jazz Quartet first played at 7 am and I was amazed to see what a crowd gathered –many people stood and listened for the entire 45 minutes that the performance lasted, and give them a loud round of applause –which is pretty good given how early in the day it was!”
At Muzeum – the station at the upper end of Wenceslas Square – passengers were treated to hits from famous musicals, jazz and soul; Mustek - on the lower end of the square resounded with swing, jazz and funk; Malostranská station –leading to the Lesser Town had been selected, appropriately enough, for Baroque and Renaissance music while stations further from the centre offered bebop, folk music and Latino.
A string quartet of 18-year-olds played a selection of jazz and swing melodies at Florenc.
“I am Anna. I play the violin and I am really glad to be able to do this. I have played in the metro previously but not with an orchestra and conductor. We are all glad of every opportunity to perform in public now that we have been given approval to do so and you don’t get that until you reach a certain level of proficiency. So this feels really good and the audience here has been great.”
By the time the performance was over the small group at the beginning had swelled to around 80 people – a most unlikely concert audience – mothers with children, students, tourists who were trying to figure out what they had come across, people on their way to work and even a class on an outing. An elderly couple had nothing but praise for the musicians.
“We loved it. We really did. Such young kids and so good. We knew about this event and specially picked the jazz and swing concerts and we weren’t disappointed – these kids know how to play. It gladdened our hearts to see them. You can tell that these young people are really into this –and so is their class teacher obviously.”
František Štěrbák, the group’s class teacher, set up the ensemble two years ago.
“We were quite surprised that so many people stopped to listen and that many stayed through the entire concert which lasted all of 50 minutes. They must have missed a lot of trains and quite a few appointments I’ll wager. We perform wherever we can –but this is a most untraditional place for a concert –so you do not expect proper attention. Half a year ago the ensemble played this repertoire at the Rudolfinum where our students pitted their strength against students from the State Music Conservatory and of course we try to find as many opportunities for them to play in public as we can. They have been playing together for two years and have made huge progress –so as you can imagine – I’m very proud of them.”
By the late afternoon news of the happening had got around and the crowd around the ensembles swelled as they got into the swing of things. At Mustek where an ensemble played popular Czech Hasler songs and then swung into Glenn Miller – the lobby was quickly transformed into a dance hall.
The director of the Jaroslav Ježek Music Conservatory spent the entire day in the metro – going from one station to another and beaming like a proud father as he watched his students perform. The music happening in the metro is just one of many events he organizes to help bring his students into the public eye.
“The enthusiasm this event generated was considerable and our students are grateful for the opportunity. They know how important it is to be seen in this profession and we try to make sure they get a lot of experience playing in public even during their studies. We have over a dozen ensembles and they perform at jazz clubs, special events such as this and even abroad on riverboats and ocean liners. I would say that in their second year they perform like professionals.”
As I left the subway, Prague’s Mustek metro station was resounding with Cole Porter’s 1948 hit Too Darn Hot – on a day when students from the Jaroslav Ježek Music conservatory made a trip on the metro a treat.