Vilém Spilka: We want to give an alternative to conservative music teaching

2 May 2019, 1:00
Vilém Spilka: We want to give an alternative to conservative music teaching

This year’s eighteenth JazzFest Brno will exceptionally not close with a concert, but rather a unique (though not unusual for world festivals) series of musical and dance workshops, centred on children. On Saturday 4 May, in the pleasant environment of Café Práh, near Vaňkovka, the children students will be taken on board by the significant young personalities of the jazz scene: Beata Hlavenková (pianist and composition lecturer), Dano Šoltis (leader of the drum class) and the multi-instrumentalists Jiří Slavík and Marian Friedl (conductors of Wandering on Jazz Paths), who will be accompanied by Kateřina Hanzlíková with the Tancohraní lectures. With the exception of composition, where it is necessary for the participants to be older than twelve, all the other “classes” are open to everyone, including the youngest. We asked the co-author of the idea of the children’s workshop and director of JazzFest Brno, Vilém Spilka, for further information.

Which of you came up with the idea of a festival activity aimed solely at children?

The main inspirators and pushers for the activity were mainly our wives. We had the idea in our heads for several years, since we have small children, but they pushed us towards it. And our female colleagues of course also contributed in abundance.

Is this idea in any way connected with the fact of having children of the age when they start being interested in music?

Certainly. But the members of our team have children of many different ages, just as our workshops are aimed at all the age categories from three to fifteen – with the top age limit not being set: anyone who feels like a child is free to come without age mattering.

Workshops are a common component of (not only jazz) festivals – the Summer Bluegrass Workshop came to us from the USA in much the same way thirty years ago. Where were you inspired?

We have had workshops since the start of the festival in 2002, so we have quite a lot of experience with this. Workshops for children are mainly a natural extension of the current activities. Our inspiration was in the aforementioned world festivals, which are run on the same philosophy as ours, that being that a festival needs more than just concerts. We regard workshops as an important accompanying programme of the festival, since they teach new generations of viewers and musicians, at the same time introducing the festival performers to the audience. Considering the connection of our festival with the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno, it is only logical to add children’s workshops into the long-term concept.

The main motto of the workshops is “we play the music without a score”; so, your main point is to stimulate children’s imagination without borders and limits?

On the one side imagination, on the other the stimulation of natural musicality, which can rather suffer when forced to work from a written score. Everyone’s limits are different, but all children can learn to perceive and play intuitively, just as African American children do. Then we can see and hear the results of both educational systems at festival concerts and objectively compare them.

Is it in any way connected with a certain conservativeness of teaching in traditional musical schooling, to which you would want to create an alternative?

We certainly don’t live in the illusion that a one-day workshop could change something in the system, but we do want to offer through our activities an alternative to conservative music teaching and highlight the fact that there are other ways.

Besides journeys on “jazz paths” with the multi-instrumental duo of friends Jiří Slavík and Marian Friedl, lectures are offered by drummer Dano Šoltis and pianist Beata Hlavenková. Is it just a coincidence, or did these two instruments seem key to the journey to music?

One side is the key function of these instruments, which cannot be disproved – percussion due to rhythm and piano because of the elementary ability to create harmony, melody and a clear definition of pitch. The second is the skill of our lecturers when effectively working with children. That really is a rare ability.

Kateřina Hanzlíková with her Tancohraní (Dance-playing) has experience with pedagogical education of pre-school children – what about the other lecturers? I can see in the offer lectures for children from three years old…

Dano, Marian and Jiří all have small children, so they educate on a daily basis. Beata has children a little bit older and that is part of the reason that her workshop is aimed mainly at older children in the 12 – 15+ age range.

The age range of 3-15 years seems quite loose to me. How will the lections adapt to this? Won’t the younger children be scared of the older, while the older ones get bored with the younger kids?

The workshops will be divided into much narrower age ranges and will have a length according to the children’s attention span. The exact schedule can be found at the festival website and on Facebook. 

Do the lectures have any point for those who already have something to do with music and can play something? And on the other hand, can someone with no active connection to music come?

For music practitioners, there is the song-writing workshop with Beata Hlavenková, but the other workshops will also be conceived for children of all the different skill levels. It is a principle tested by many traditional and alternative educational systems.

As the culmination of the workshop, I can see here there will be the afternoon theatre performance Velký uši (Big Ears). This is planned as some sort of a blend of what the children learn during the day? How rigid is the framework of this performance?

Velký uši is more of an enjoyable culmination, since we want children to primarily enjoy the music. Velký uši is the story of two girls, who meet in the forest and set off for an adventure after a secret hidden in a cave. On the way, they are accompanied by the old lady owl, meet a greying pixie, give each other Indian names and learn many things from each other. Each of the girls is scared of something and must fight this fear on the adventure. The main acting and production instruments of this story are music, rhythm and noises. It is through these that the children get to actively join in the storytelling. On top of this, they create in their imagination their own image of the story thanks to the sound, rhythm and melody.

Is this a one-off experiment, or will the children’s workshop be repeated in the following years of JazzFest?

We firmly believe that we will manage to not only keep this activity in the future, but also to expand on it.

Are there any free places left?

We still have free places, the entry fee is symbolic, so we invite everyone.

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