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Listen, Dance, and Learn
I recently went to a National Polka Festival 2022 in Ennis, TX, in order to meet a greater audience for The Labyrinth of the World, and network. This effort worked on many levels. I also received an education on several points. What stood out to me was the difference between American Czechs and the Czech-Republic Czechs. I also picked up a bit of understanding of the different regions of the Czech Republic, specific to Moravia and Moravian distinctives.
Undoubtedly, there is a significant difference as separation, a memory of the past, and ways of commemorating those memories take on a life of their own. The adage “we never did it that way before” becomes creeping incrementalism that shows up big time when the former “orthodoxy” appears next to a memorializing crowd of descendants that have been totally separated for decades. This is not a condemnation of the latter or even a criticism. It’s merely an observational fact that is common in almost any group. My observations proved true at the National Polka Festival.
Listen, Dance and learn
The event was huge, with several halls (KJT, Sokol, and the SPJST) featuring numerous polka bands as well as food, a parade, and a car show. It was all about Czech Heritage, and everything is bigger in Texas don’t ya know. Texas does have the largest population of Czech immigrant descendants, of any state in the US, at more than 110,000 souls. Polka music is as fundamental to Czech society as is klobásy or koláčes. It’s all part of the territory.
One of Ennis, Texas’s National Polka Festival features was a Czech Republic polka band, Pardubická Muzika Brass Band, from Pardubice Conservatory, Czech Republic. As a conservatory, you know they would adhere to the artform’s original or historical orthodoxy. True to form, this band played a brass-band style that is old and cherished. This represented both the Czech Republic and its origination in the art form.
Other local and regional bands also played at the festival. I noticed that bands from Texas and most other places played new forms, including different instrumentation and mixed music forms (country, bluegrass, techno) with certain polka sensibilities. This is all fine. The music was stupendous. A band from Nebraska, the Leo Lonnie Orchestra, played in a style much akin to the Czech Republic band. One lady, attending the event, commented to me in passing, “I don’t like the older forms, with just horns and accordions; like they do in the north,” apparently this was in comparison to the new sound of all the mixtures I just mentioned.
I’ll bet you’re wondering at my point…
The Czech Republic people are “the contributing cultural originals” in this setting—no disrespect to our Czech American counterparts. As I visited with the former, I discovered that they had reverence and thorough knowledge of Comenius and Labyrinth of the World –or Labyrint světa a ráj srdce as it is written in Czech. Even though Czechs are predominantly Catholic, and Comenius was part of the Czech Reformation—and thus non-Catholic—it is interesting that after 400 years, he is celebrated in the Czech Republic with no distinction on this point.
The Czech band members were not readers of English per se. But after having worked with foreign students for many years, I know to be readied with helps in order to foster comprehensive understanding with whoever I am trying to talk with. So, I had the Czech title loaded on my phone. As they looked at my smartphone, they lit up with total familiarity. I shared the new English adaptation with this band and told them of my reverence for this devout piece of Czech literature and its impact on my life. They were a bit surprised because it was so usual to them, and not “a find” as it was for me. They were even more astonished that American Czechs (and American’s in general) have little to no knowledge of Comenius or Labyrinth.
The governor of Pardubice region of the Czech Republic, Martin Netolický, (all Texafied in the photo on the rigt) explained to me that in the Czech Republic all secondary education students—that is junior high to high school in America—have a list of works they must choose from as a requirement in reading, of which Comenius’s The Labyrinth of the World -and- The Paradise of the Heart is one option. Therefore, many are familiar with this book. However, most Czech-Americans know nothing of Comenius or The Labyrinth of the World in this country. Of the 100s of Czech-American people I spoke to at the National Polka Festival, many of whom are highly educated and accomplished people, only two knew of Comenius. Only one of those two knew of Labyrinth of the World. I found this fact sad.
I find it fascinating that there is a significant disconnect between Czech-Czechs—if you know what I mean—over and against American Czechs. Just as with the music, old forms and old things pass into obscurity for new things, adaptions, and/or just overload of a new context play into this reality. The National Polka Festival is a chance to “get back to the roots” and celebrate what differentiates Czechs from non-Czechs. Folks do achieve a level of remembrance and Czech heritage celebration at these events. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if many more Czech-Americans discovered more of their heritage and the contributions of guys like Comenius to education and faith? I realize not all Czechs are devout people. But maybe they are but have not discovered it yet. Perhaps the work of Comenius would stoke an innate desire within humankind to know of a transcendent purpose and read of one who found it in a way that isn’t religious, stuffy, and static.
I know many people who are tired of “belief in a belief”—that only warms pews and throws money on the weekend, which otherwise has no practical life or substance to it. Even so, society remains littered with people who spout all sorts of high-minded ideals while they practice lower-nature attitudes and actions on a daily basis.
While not even close to perfect, Comenius offers us both in life and allegory a reality that is not pie in the sky religious imagination. But rather a hard-fought life of practicalness that is worked out amidst an impractical and caustic world. I find much inspiration and encouragement in this volume because it speaks to the world I live in and ties what I read in the New Testament to a lived reality.
What did you learn about the Czech Republic, Czechs, and Czech heritage? Get your copy and find out the excitement: