Last month’s trip to the Czech Republic by the Peninsula-based Tam O’ Shanter Scottish Country Dancers and the Crescent Beach Pipe Band was one for the memory books, according to Tam O’ Shanter member Cheryl Jorgensen.
“It was amazing,” she told Peace Arch News of the week-long stay, which started on June 9. “It exceeded our expectations.”
Not the least of the experience, she said, was discovering what she describes as “a country frozen in time – a fairy-tale land steeped in history and a rich culture that was unchanged through the centuries.”
Historically known as Bohemia, the region was formerly an important part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
“We found out that Good King Wenceslaus was a real person.
“King Charles IV built the gothic Charles Bridge in 1357, and Prague was already the richest trading city in Europe by 965 A.D., although its original roots date back to Roman times,” Jorgensen added.
Undamaged during two world wars, the terrain and architecture was also largely preserved during the period of Russian occupation from 1947 until 1989, she said.
“All the cathedrals, chateaux and castles, which date back to the 11th and 12th centuries, and all of the Baroque architecture of the 17th century, still stand in their glory,” she added.
Also impressive was the cleanliness of both cities, she said.
“The food, beer (pivo) and wine (pino) were all very good and quite inexpensive – we made their delicious ice cream a daily staple!”
Every weekend from May to September, there are numerous choices of folk festivals to attend in the Czech Republic, Jorgensen noted, adding that the Tam O’ Shanters and the Crescent Beach Pipeband were there to participate in two four-day festivals.
The first was in Melnik, a city of 20,000, also known as the ‘Queen’s City’, an hour’s drive northwest of Prague, she said. The second city, Lazne Belohrad, is a resort spa city of 4,000 in the mountains along the Polish border, two hours northwest of Prague.
“Also participating in these folk festivals were groups from Korea, India, Puerto Rico, Hungary, Georgia Russia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovakia, as well as many local folk groups from within the Czech Republic.”
Participation of children in their folk dancing is an integral part of the performance, Jorgensen noted.
“Every school has an extensive music program with a qualified music teacher who must be proficient at conducting choirs, orchestras and ensembles, and choreographing dances, composing music and songs,” she said. “It greatly enhances and promotes the culture which is so rich in their music and dance,” she added.
“Music is everywhere, violinists playing on street corners, jazz groups on the Charles Bridge, concerts in cathedrals featuring music of Dvorak and many of the world’s great composers, plus the Marionette Theatre, operas and much more.”
Jorgensen said the two Peninsula groups were pleased to become part of the cultural mosaic during their stay.
“When we performed Mairi’s Wedding accompanied by the pipe band, the audiences were so very appreciative,” she said.
“Word went through the city – ‘did you see and hear those Canadians yesterday? You have to see them today.’ It was a very proud moment for us as Canadians,” she said.
“Our goal for performing at international folk festivals is to bring our Scottish-Canadian culture to people who have never seen this before, and we felt that we had accomplished our mission in the Czech Republic, just as we’ve previously done in our performances in Hawaii, Cuba and Mexico.”
The last day in Lazne Belohrad was a fitting climax to the trip, Jorgensen added.
“We were asked to sing a short song at the mass in one of the cathedrals. The dancers sung the first verse and chorus of Amazing Grace, accompanied by a lone piper – and then the rest of the pipe band joined in.
“It was another very proud Canadian moment,” she said.