Singer Ida Kelarová gets her Romany children’s choir to the most prestigious concert venue in the country –Prague’s famous Rudolfinum where they will perform with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
Ida Kelarová is a Romany singer, musician and choirmaster, sister of the country’s best known Romany singer Iva Bittová. Both sisters draw inspiration from their Romany roots and culture but ironically it was some time before they found out they were Romanies and were able to fully connect with their legacy.
Their father Koloman Bitto was a Romany from southern Slovakia with an incredible musical talent, their mother a kindergarten teacher. Because of the prejudices against the Romany minority Koloman Bitto took the drastic step of covering up his family’s origin. He believed he was doing the right thing for his three daughters and giving them a better start in life. Since the girls were light-haired and Ida herself was a blond baby the deception went undetected for years.
Ida studied piano at the Music Conservatory and got a break as an actress at the Divadlo na provázku theatre. On a trip to Denmark she met her future husband and left to Czech Republic living abroad in Wales, Denmark and Norway. On one of her visits back home she finally discovered her Romany origin but it was not until her father’s death that she fully connected with her legacy, recalling the Roma songs from her childhood that she had heard her father sing. In 1995 she and her husband broke up and Ida returned to the Czech Republic permanently. Here she fell in love with and married a Romany musician – Desiderio Dužda. In addition to singing she increasingly felt the need to help talented Romany children. Five years ago she established a Romany children’s choir and started organizing concerts with the philharmonic orchestras in Hradec Králové, Zlín and Brno.
This year she is preparing for a very special event – a concert in Prague’s famous Rudofinum where her Romany children’s choir Čhavorenge will perform together with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. In an interview for Radio Prague, Ida Kelarová explains how this cooperation came about.
“Last year I was contacted by Czech Philharmonic Orchestra’s creative director in charge of cooperation with children’s choirs, workshops and so on and he asked if we could do something together. Most of the children they work with are from well-off families and he wanted a broader scope of young talent. So I said well so come with us on tour around Eastern Slovakia next year and fully expected him to refuse. But Petr Kadlec is a brave man and said YES almost right away.”
So in August of this year members of the Czech Philharmonic went of a tour of some of the poorest towns and villages in eastern Slovakia –not only wowing local audiences – but building up a strong rapport with the children of the Čhavorenge choir. Ida Kelarová says that music broke down not only cultural barriers but the prejudices that some of the professional musicians may have harbored.
“It was an incredible experience. We all connected through the music and shared experiences and I think it was an eye-opener for the professional musicians who joined us and who soon realized how great these kids were. And I think they passed the message on because when they left on the trip some of their colleagues joked about keeping an eye on their instruments since they’d be travelling with Romanies but the reality was entirely different and I think that events such as these help open doors because we need to overcome the wariness that the non-Roma have of Romanies and vice versa.”
Ida Kelarová says the string of concerts in Eastern Slovakia was special in more than one way. Playing with members of the Czech Philharmonic was obviously a huge treat for the Romany children’s choir but Ida says that the professional musicals were also transformed by the experience.
“I studied music and the academic world is not new to me. of course it gave me a love of classical music but the academic approach was not something I could embrace. I sought my own path and found it but it was always my wish to link these two worlds – the perfection achieved by professional musicians and the emotional charge of Roma performances. And I saw that happen. After two days on stage the musical greats of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra tossed away their notes played from memory and some of them even danced on stage. The musicians even secretly memorized some of the verses of the Romany songs and surprised the children’s choir by joining in. It gave a whole new charge to their performance.”
Ida Kelarová says that one of the things that keeps prejudices alive is the fact that the non-Roma and the Roma have very few “meeting places” and common platforms, so to speak. She also blames the media for not balancing out the negative reports about Romanies with reports on some of the wonderful things they do and the wonderful music that they have. Each occasion where the Roma and non-Roma cooperate on something good is an important message to the public she says.
“It was an inspiration not just for the performers but for the audience. When they saw us on stage together as one big family, linked by our emotions, singing in one voice and bringing these deeply moving Romany songs to life - it was a true celebration for everyone.”
The Čhavorenge choir is one of five children’s choirs scheduled to perform at the Rudolfinum together with the Czech Philharmonic on November 17th. The concert will offer both classical and Romany music. Ida Kelarová says she is immensely proud to have brought her children’s choir so far.
“The truth is I’m really proud of what we have achieved with these kids. It has been a long road and lots of hard work involved but I have now managed to get the Čhavorenge children’s choir as high up as you can go. There no more prestigious stage for a musician than the Rudolfinum and performing there with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra is the ultimate honour. I am very grateful to Mr. Kadlec and the director of the orchestra for having helped to bring this about and I hope that this door will remain open.”
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