Cantoria Praha will pay tribute to its founder

The commemorative gala concert for the late 80th birthday of Professor Jaroslava Halamová, the founder and long-time choirmaster of the women’s choir Cantoria Prague, which was organized by the Prague 9 Municipal Council, will take place on June 13, 2023, from 7 p.m. in the Gong Theatre. This was also the reason to interview his current choirmaster Nora Michálková.

Your mother, Jaroslava Halamová, founded and led the Cantoria Prague Choir for thirty-three years. When she died suddenly five years ago, you took over the imaginary conductor’s baton. How is it?
I sang in Cantoria as a young member of the choir. And since I studied choirmastering, I suspected that I could take it over in time. But I didn’t expect it to be so soon. At first I took it as an unwritten duty, but the more I work with the ladies, the more this job fulfills me and I devote myself to it more than I would like.

How did your fellow choir members accept you as choirmaster?
In Cantoria, I not only sang, but sometimes I took turns conducting concerts with my mother, so it was not something completely new for them. The choice of who would lead the group was quite clear at that time – either me or my sister, who teaches solo singing, choirs and performs in the Musical Theater in Karlín.

Was your musical direction set from the very beginning?
My sister and I grew up in a musical environment. Although I flirted with the idea of studying psychology, in the end music won out, albeit with conditions. Parents insisted on classical education. That’s why I started studying popular singing at the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory after graduating from high school, and at the same time I joined the Faculty of Education at the Charles University to study choral conducting and music education.

So you are following in the footsteps of your mother, who studied music education at the Faculty of Arts at the Charles University and solo singing at the Brno Conservatory…
…and I have also been teaching music education for twenty years at the Botičská gymnasium, where my mother also worked. We were there together for a while. At school we have a mixed choir, Divertimento Chor, which I lead, and a high school orchestra. Its composition changes every year according to what the students are playing – trombones, flutes, French horns, violins… Sometimes these are diabolical combinations and it’s a challenge to control. And I also teach music education at an elementary school in Kladno, where I lead two sections of the children’s choir. I’m really following in my mom’s footsteps.

I assume that my father, as a man, had nothing to do with the all-female choir, which is Cantoria Praha.
That is a mistake. Cantoria was, he said, his third child. The idea of founding a women’s choir was inspired by his mother, who taught solo singing, for example, at the Basic Art School in Prosek. At that time, she really had a lot of female students, and dad said that she should start a choir. And since cantors from Prague 9 joined it, the name Cantoria suggested itself.

What is the choir’s current repertoire?
We sing everything from classical pieces by the old masters to folk songs, spirituals to musicals and popular songs or Christmas carols. I try to make the new repertoire that I choose every year suitable for the current composition of the choir, which today has the classic four voices – first, second soprano and first, second alto. And I’m happy that we’ve had a lot of new and young members recently. The choir already has more than forty female singers.

What skills and knowledge does a woman interested in membership in your congregation need to demonstrate in order to accept her?
Must have an affinity for music and love to sing. The audition song is Ach sonku, sonku. And last but not least, don’t be afraid of the first tests. Cantoria, although an amateur choir, is at a high level, we sing quite difficult pieces, and it can take a long time before a new member joins. There is a lot of work behind everything.

How often do you rehearse?
In Pavana’s garden on Prosek once a week on Wednesdays for about two hours. Moreover we have whatsapp groups by votes. I sing the songs we rehearse and send them out to the ladies so they can practice at home. This made me suffer, but it worked especially well when trying harder songs. Twice a year we have weekend training sessions and a number of performances at home and abroad during the year.

Don’t you ever hear: Oh god, forty women in one place…
When you like to go to choir and everyone is united by music, there is no room for conflicts. It’s harder for me to find songs that everyone will enjoy. In Cantoria, there are female members who come here “just” to sing because they enjoy it. But we also have ambitious singers who want to develop their voice and present themselves in the best light. Some are eighteen, others eighty. Someone has a gift from God, someone is a conservatory graduate with a trained voice. Some like classical music, others prefer musicals… Then when we win an award at a singing show or competition, it’s another great motivation for all of us to continue singing in Cantoria.

Which awards do you value the most?
A great success for me was the Romance Award from the International Choir Festival of Musical Romanticism in Vlachov Březí in 2019, as it was the first Cantoria award under my leadership. Then, for two covid years, the music at festivals stopped. In 2022, we won silver at the International Choir Festival of Anton Bruckner in Linz and also silver at the International Choir Festival Festival of Songs in Olomouc.

Do you ever feel like your mom is watching you?
He is with me at every concert and I think also at every rehearsal.

Author: Marie Kurková, photo: Cantoria Prague archive

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