By Gary E. McKee
With flood threats and warnings abounding, this writer questioned the wisdom of attending a function being held in a basement. But this wasn't any underground shelter, it was the Texas Capitol Extension Auditorium in Austin. Descending into this secure, dry, beautiful labyrinth, it was surprising the number of tourists visiting this hallowed building on such an ominous day.
The reason for this journey was to attend the presentation of Varied and Vibrant Sources of the Czech Song in Texas – a lecture/demo by accordionists and music scholars Frances Barton and Dr. John Novak in support of their forthcoming book. Frances and John have been compiling a collection of folk and popular songs of Czech Texas for several years and are nearing completion of their project. The finished songbook (late 2016) will contain 90 songs familiar to most people in the Texas Czech community and will include the music, chords, Czech lyrics, English translations, English lyrics if there are any, and historical and folkloric information on each song.
The presentation, attended by over 125 enthusiastic souls, featured the origin of six popular songs, Julida Polka, Shiner Song, Wedding Song, Beer Barrel Polka, and two others. After a history of each song, Frances and/or John would perform the song on their accordions with the audience chiming in singing in either Czech or English. Those needing a little help on words could read the lyrics from a huge screen in the back of the stage. On several selections, Frances' daughter, Jubilee, accompanied Frances and John on the singing of songs in Czech. The mother/daughter harmonizing spellbound the audience.
The event was offered in conjunction with the multi-media exhibition Texas Czechs: Rooted in Tradition, which is currently on display at the Capitol Visitors Center (112 E. 11th Street in Austin ) in Austin through June 11, 2016. It was produced by the nonprofit organization PolkaWorks and co-curated by Texas Czechs Lori Najvar and Dawn Orsak. It is being presented at the CVC by the State Preservation Board.
Mark your calendar for Saturday, June 11, for Big Czechs, Little Czechs, an afternoon of family activities that features food, language, kroj, music, and dance. The event will be held from 1-4 pm.