Singer Ida Kelarová: Getting my Romany children’s choir on stage in the
Rudolfinum is a dream come true|
Singer Ida Kelarová gets her Romany children’s choir to the most
prestigious concert venue in the country –Prague’s famous Rudolfinum
where they will perform with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on the 25th
anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
Ida Kelarová is a Romany singer, musician and choirmaster, sister of the
country’s best known Romany singer Iva Bittová. Both sisters draw
inspiration from their Romany roots and culture but ironically it was some
time before they found out they were Romanies and were able to fully
connect with their legacy.
Their father Koloman Bitto was a Romany from southern Slovakia with an
incredible musical talent, their mother a kindergarten teacher. Because of
the prejudices against the Romany minority Koloman Bitto took the drastic
step of covering up his family’s origin. He believed he was doing the
right thing for his three daughters and giving them a better start in life.
Since the girls were light-haired and Ida herself was a blond baby the
deception went undetected for years.
Ida studied piano at the Music Conservatory and got a break as an actress
at the Divadlo na provázku theatre. On a trip to Denmark she met her
future husband and left to Czech Republic living abroad in Wales, Denmark
and Norway. On one of her visits back home she finally discovered her
Romany origin but it was not until her father’s death that she fully
connected with her legacy, recalling the Roma songs from her childhood that
she had heard her father sing. In 1995 she and her husband broke up and Ida
returned to the Czech Republic permanently. Here she fell in love with and
married a Romany musician – Desiderio Dužda. In addition to singing she
increasingly felt the need to help talented Romany children. Five years ago
she established a Romany children’s choir and started organizing concerts
with the philharmonic orchestras in Hradec Králové, Zlín and Brno.
This year she is preparing for a very special event – a concert in
Prague’s famous Rudofinum where her Romany children’s choir Čhavorenge
will perform together with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. In an
interview for Radio Prague, Ida Kelarová explains how this cooperation
“Last year I was contacted by Czech Philharmonic Orchestra’s creative
director in charge of cooperation with children’s choirs, workshops and
so on and he asked if we could do something together. Most of the children
they work with are from well-off families and he wanted a broader scope of
young talent. So I said well so come with us on tour around Eastern
Slovakia next year and fully expected him to refuse. But Petr Kadlec is a
brave man and said YES almost right away.”
So in August of this year members of the Czech Philharmonic went of a tour
of some of the poorest towns and villages in eastern Slovakia –not only
wowing local audiences – but building up a strong rapport with the
children of the Čhavorenge choir. Ida Kelarová says that music broke down
not only cultural barriers but the prejudices that some of the professional
musicians may have harbored.
“It was an incredible experience. We all connected through the music and
shared experiences and I think it was an eye-opener for the professional
musicians who joined us and who soon realized how great these kids were.
And I think they passed the message on because when they left on the trip
some of their colleagues joked about keeping an eye on their instruments
since they’d be travelling with Romanies but the reality was entirely
different and I think that events such as these help open doors because we
need to overcome the wariness that the non-Roma have of Romanies and vice
Ida Kelarová says the string of concerts in Eastern Slovakia was special
in more than one way. Playing with members of the Czech Philharmonic was
obviously a huge treat for the Romany children’s choir but Ida says that
the professional musicals were also transformed by the experience.
“I studied music and the academic world is not new to me. of course it
gave me a love of classical music but the academic approach was not
something I could embrace. I sought my own path and found it but it was
always my wish to link these two worlds – the perfection achieved by
professional musicians and the emotional charge of Roma performances. And I
saw that happen. After two days on stage the musical greats of the Prague
Philharmonic Orchestra tossed away their notes played from memory and some
of them even danced on stage. The musicians even secretly memorized some of
the verses of the Romany songs and surprised the children’s choir by
joining in. It gave a whole new charge to their performance.”
Ida Kelarová says that one of the things that keeps prejudices alive is
the fact that the non-Roma and the Roma have very few “meeting places”
and common platforms, so to speak. She also blames the media for not
balancing out the negative reports about Romanies with reports on some of
the wonderful things they do and the wonderful music that they have. Each
occasion where the Roma and non-Roma cooperate on something good is an
important message to the public she says.
“It was an inspiration not just for the performers but for the audience.
When they saw us on stage together as one big family, linked by our
emotions, singing in one voice and bringing these deeply moving Romany
songs to life - it was a true celebration for everyone.”
The Čhavorenge choir is one of five children’s choirs scheduled to
perform at the Rudolfinum together with the Czech Philharmonic on November
17th. The concert will offer both classical and Romany music. Ida Kelarová
says she is immensely proud to have brought her children’s choir so far.
“The truth is I’m really proud of what we have achieved with these
kids. It has been a long road and lots of hard work involved but I have now
managed to get the Čhavorenge children’s choir as high up as you can go.
There no more prestigious stage for a musician than the Rudolfinum and
performing there with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra is the ultimate
honour. I am very grateful to Mr. Kadlec and the director of the orchestra
for having helped to bring this about and I hope that this door will remain