Christmas time - the choirs' harvest
The weeks before Christmas may symbolize to some people hasty shopping in crowded stores or the rush to get the Christmas preparations ready. But others try to get away from the rush by attending various concerts and events related to Christmas. Many of these events are staged by amateur choirs. There are literally hundreds of choirs in the Czech Republic, and Christmas is their peak season.
This is confirmed by Jiri Kolar, chairman of the Czech Choirs Union.
"I think the non-professional choirs have two basic targets Christmas and Easter or rather the end of spring when their season is coming to an end. Christmas is the choirs' biggest harvest, and I can't imagine that any choir would not have at least one concert at this time. If I had to visit all the concerts I've been invited to just in Prague, I would have to go to at least at three concerts every day."
But why is it that the choirs' concerts are so popular, especially at Christmas time? As Jiri Kolar says it is thanks to the great popularity of Czech Christmas carols and Christmas music in general.
"Of course, I think Czech Christmas carols are beautiful but it's necessary to say that carols from other countries are beautiful as well. And they are getting popular here. They are usually about 150 years older than the Czech ones which mostly originated in the beginning of the 17th century. Because people at this time of year have a bit more goodwill and cheer than at other times, it has become a kind of fashion to go to Christmas concerts and hear the popular Jan Jakub Ryba Christmas Mass."
The Charles University Choir is a large and settled ensemble which organizes up to 30 performances a year. But as its conductor Jakub Zicha points out the program of Christmas concerts differs from the rest of the year.
"Our stable repertoire is very broad, from old 15th century songs up to the most modern music; some pieces were composed directly for us. Now at the pre-Christmas time we have a special repertoire. For this year we've prepared a project called 'European Christmas' which includes carols from all European Union countries."
The Charles University Choir keeps going thanks to the efforts and enthusiasm of its members who are willing to give up a piece of their spare time. Petr Dyrc, the choir's manager.
"We prepare the concert ourselves, from the beginning to the end. It's necessary to arrange everything from hiring the concert hall to printing the notes, and to organize everything what is necessary. I think the time before Christmas is really tough for us."
Is it also an occasion for you to make some money or you are only voluntary choir that never makes money on concerts?
"Just on the contrary! We never make money from Christmas concerts because we want our parents, our friends to come to the concert, and the money they pay for entrance ticket is quite low. We pay more than we obtain."
Another member of the choir Dagmar admits that the Christmas season is sometimes tiring but she adds that it pays off.
"I think in the end there is a very special atmosphere at the concert. So we all enjoy it very much in the end. I hope singing Christmas carols belongs to Christmas and this year it is very special because we are singing Christmas carols from various countries."
But apart from a few large ensembles like the Charles University Choir there are dozens of small choirs which came into being quite spontaneously when a few friends got together. Laura sings in two of them.
"The first one is called Imbus, the second Octopus. With Imbus we sing more popular songs for example by Suchy & Slitr, and by traditional Czech composers like Dvorak or Janacek whereas with the Octopus we sing more religious songs."
Although Laura enjoys signing very much, she admits that it can wear you out if there is too much of it.
"I am looking forward to the Christmas Eve and I enjoy singing in choirs but sometimes I feel that there is too much of singing Christmas carols. Sometimes I wish I could just listen to the carols instead of singing them."
Her two colleagues Vojta and Jana see Christmas concerts as an opportunity to meet people and have fun with friends.
"For us musicians it is always an occasion to present our work. I think people are more receptive during the Christmas time and more able to come and listen to the music."
"It is of course very important for me. I like singing in this choir very much. I have lots of friends there. I don't like the busy time, the shopping, all the things about housecleaning etc. So I think it's good to celebrate Christmas this way."
So in the end, Christmas concerts by amateur choirs are not just about music. Their atmosphere full of spontaneity and sincerity hardly compares to most of the professional events. They are a place where friends meet friends, parents meet their children, teachers meet their students, and they all end up singing together no matter whether standing on the stage or being part of the audience.