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Jitro Czech Girls Choir closes WMPAC winter season



By John Zirkle WMPAC Artistic Director

The girls choir Jitro, which means “daybreak” in Czech, is an extremely successful and world-renowned arts organization that has no single “leading player.”

The international touring act will perform at Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m. This is the final act of the 2015-2016 WMPAC winter season and the choir will perform pieces from the contemporary, classical, and folk repertoire of the Czech Republic.

For more than 40 years, the choral institution has successfully nurtured thousands of Czech girls to become expert musicians before they’re 20 years old. There are comparable organizations that focus on youth and music education around the world, like the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Venezuela and the Vienna Boys Choir, but Jitro is truly unique. When you experience the group’s sound you find yourself caught in an almost paradoxical combination of simplicity and complexity, levity and density, clarity and awe.

The formula is simple, but the dedication to that formula over multiple decades is what makes this group so special. Every August since 1976, Jitro’s conductor Jiří Skopal has traveled to all the primary schools in Hradec Králové, the choir’s hometown, and surrounding villages, to listen to every new kindergartner and first grader sing Czech folk songs. He and his wife Květa then invite the best singers from each class to join the choral organization.

Once they sign up, the girls begin rehearsals and work their way up the ranks for up to 14 years. They sing with the same girls, under the baton of the same conductor, and tour with the same red costumes the entire way through.

As the singers grow, they pay constant attention to negotiating the territory of finding balance, correct intonation, and mature interpretations of phrasing. Over the span of 10-plus years, they learn to sacrifice the individual’s need to shine and instead master what it means to be a part of a greater whole.

It’s an oddly socialist sentiment – benefit the group before yourself – that rings especially true for a group from Eastern Europe, but that’s how great choral music works. If the girls make it to the top 25 in the choir – out of about 350 girls – they get to spread the Czech gospel of choral music around the world. For the Montana tour, they are bringing their top 17 singers.

As the WMPAC artistic director, every now and then I get to reach within my own personal networks to bring artists to our community. That was the case with Antonii Baryshevksyi, the Ukrainian pianist we presented in our debut season, and I had the opportunity to meet and work with Jitro nearly a decade ago on a Watson Fellowship.

When I heard the group for the first time, my life was changed forever in an instant. When they sang their first chord, I became fully aware of the potential of youth and their ability to bring something to light that was not merely excellent, but heart-shatteringly inspiring.

My journal entry from that day in Czech Republic sums it up perfectly: “… Today is the best day of my life.”

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