Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Friendships Through Old World Music

January was such an exciting month. I'm sure many of my Facebook friends reading this blog could tell you about the pictures and posts of the trips that my family and I made to see a Czech dechovka band play around Texas.  This band, Moravská Jedenáctka, was not just any other band. This band came on a concert tour from the Moravian region of the Czech Republic. Not only that, but many of these guys became my friends two years ago.

Moravská Jedenáctka-2014

It is a pretty funny story, how I became friends with the returning members. In 2012, I was waiting at the Czech Center Museum Houston for the concert to start when two of the men came up to me and said, "You are zpěvačka [singer] from YouTube!!" At that point, my Mom and I stood, looking at each other completely dumbfounded, and then started laughing because it seemed like the craziest thing to happen. I was completely surprised because I had no idea that people in the Czech Republic had even seen any of my videos.  That night made me realize that I had truly shared my heritage on a new level.  It was a special concert with new friends and I didn't want it to end!

Střibřnanka- Czech Cultural Museum Houston 2012

Here is a clip from when the band asked me to sing Červená Sukýnka with them two years ago:

Luckily, that was not the "end" and the dechovka band came to Texas a second time. As a vocalist for a dechovka band in Texas, I especially love to hear the music from the old country. I've been hearing it all of my life! It is still alive and vibrant in many of the towns in the Czech Republic. The fact that the Czech Educational Foundation of Texas (in partnership with University of North Texas) was able to sponsor many members of this group to tour for the second time is ASTOUNDING! Thank you, CEFT and UNT for making this happen! Also, thank you to all of the donors to this foundation. Without your help, this would not be possible. I know that everyone who saw the performances fully enjoyed the program. Many people danced and sang along to the familiar sounds of their childhood. At the end of some concerts, people would come together around the stage to sing the last song with the band. It was a sight to see and it touched my heart knowing that we all have the same love for our heritage. (If you would like more information about CEFT and their mission please visit their website: Czech Educational Foundation of Texas )

 I could not make it to every concert in the two-week time period, but I attended 4 different occasions (Austin, La Grange, Houston and Dallas). I also had the privilege to sing with them. Here are some pictures from their tour. (Thanks, Eddie Kosar!)

West, TX
Caldwell, TX
Austin, TX

Here is a video from the Austin Performance:
Dudacka polka

La Grange, TX
Dallas, TX

Here is a video of the last song of their tour, a crowd favorite: A Ja Sam

Tom Sovik is the Director of Central European Studies at UNT. He drove the band everywhere and was exhausted by the last day as seen in this photo. 

My wish is that this can happen more often in the future. It is something we should not take for granted. The Czech community is slowly fading and these types of events can help get the younger generation involved....I mean, look at me! ;-) On a serious note, I hope this blog encourages its readers to understand the importance and beauty of keeping culture alive. America is full of different cultures, why not celebrate yours?

S láskou,

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How it all began (Part 2)


 After returning from the second trip to the Czech Republic, I became Miss Czech-Slovak of Harris County and ran for Miss Czech-Slovak of Texas 2008. I was 16. I did not receive the title, but the pageant had opened a massive door because of my talent portion. I sang "Cervena Sukynka" and played a self-made Vozembouch (a folk instrument).  I was invited to many events to share my voice and this rare instrument. I was also invited to sing with Kovanda's Czech Band by the late Robert Ermis. I continued to do so and became apart of the band with Robert as my mentor.

This is my first video shared on YouTube in 2008. This was at SOKOL in Houston with Robert (playing accordion).
 From then on, I sang at many places around Texas....even in Libuse, Louisiana. 
 My pageant "little sister" Sarah! :-)
Talent portion of the pageant. This is my Vozembouch, Ferda (Fred) ;-) This lady inspired the idea on our way to the festival in Domazlice.  

Kroj modeling. All authentic and passed through my family. (Except for the shoes)

 My family's Chodsko kroj from Domazlice.
 I sang at Sengelmann Hall in Schulenberg with Kovanda's Czech Band. One of my favorite memories there was singing "Koline, Koline" with Caldwell's mayor, Bernard Rychlik. He passed away about a year later in a tragic car accident. Every time I hear that song it reminds me of that special memory.
This was at the Slavic Festival in 2009 at Houston's Polish Church. I was awarded Czech Princess of the Festival. These other ladies represent their Slavic heritage as princesses.
 I led the singing of "Kde Domov Muj"
 Robert teaching me a new song in Libuse, Louisiana. 

In 2012, I had a study abroad opportunity in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the best experience. While overseas, I decided to celebrate Christmas in the Czech Republic. It had been 5 years....it was definitely time to go back! :-) Prior to this trip, Tom had notified me that I had been on Televizni Noviny (a Czech news station).  One of my YouTube videos had made about 5 seconds of fame during a special program dedicated to the anniversary of the Czech anthem. It was such a shock but really cool! That Christmas, I spent most of my time in Plzen visiting Marie, Jiri, Tomas, Katka and her family. We also took trips to my favorite places- Prague and Cesky Krumlov. Katka, her husband Bob, and the children even took me to their house in Germany near the Sumava Mountains! Matyas and Viktoria were so grown up now with the best personalities. I enjoyed getting to know them all over again. For Christmas, I helped pick out the perfect Kapr (carp) and decorated gingerbread cookies. Our family also showed me many different Christmas traditions. It was a very sad good-bye especially with the children. It reminded me very much of when Katka came to visit me. To Matyas and Viky, I was (as Katka was) like a big sister and new exciting friend visiting from across the world. We all shed many tears. I miss them so much!

 Matyas and I
 On Charles Bridge
 Viky and I
 Matyas, Marie, Viky, Katka and I
I was having fun making cookies :-)
 With Jiri and Marie in Cesky Krumlov

I thought the family resemblance was pretty cool! Katka (21) and I (6) on the left. Viky (6) and I (21) on the right. 

After returning home, I was set to sing with Kovanda's Czech Band at an event. Two weeks prior to the occasion we received tragic news. Robert Ermis had passed. It was unbelievable. I think everyone was in shock. He was one of the best Czech singers and musicians. He taught me to sing with all of my heart, how to sing with better pronunciation and to not be afraid of the stage. I still continue to sing with the band as well as sing solos at other events. Because of Robert, I have mastered "Kde Domov Muj" (The Czech National Anthem) as well as over 25 Czech folk songs.   May God bless him for the hard work he put into sharing his heritage and showing me the same. For that, I am so very thankful.
Robert and I at my high school graduation dinner.

The following summer, Marie and Tom came to visit us once again. This time we had a big surprise for them. We went to Las Vegas! We all had a wonderful time going to different sites, such as the Grand Canyon. I also experienced watching my favorite singer, Celine Dion perform! Ever since I was 6, I loved listening to her music and always wanted to sing like her. She's the perfect role model. Anyways, this trip for Marie and Tom was very special in another sense. It was their first time to see me sing live and to meet so many proud Texas-Czechs. Many of you might remember the tragedy that occurred in the small town of West, Texas (near Waco). The town's fertilizer plant exploded. Many homes were destroyed, lives were lost and numerous people were injured. Kovanda's Czech Band was asked to sing at the West Fundraiser Benefit. It was an honor to be at this event. You could feel the spirit of the Czech people come together for this town. One of the attendees was Governor Rick Perry.

Marie and Tom with Retta Chandler (President of the TCHCC), Clarice and Raymond Snokhous (Honorary Consul General of the Czech Republic).

 For more pictures, please visit my album:
6 years of sharing my Czech Heritage

 With all of the events that happened in 2013, I decided it was finally time to get back into the pageant competition. Today, I am Miss Czech-Slovak of Fayette County and will be running for Miss Czech-Slovak of Texas on April 26 in Flatonia, TX. I have the sweetest "Little Sister," Saylor Robinson. Even she is excited to be participating.  I couldn't be more thrilled to extend sharing my Czech heritage. I thought I would give it another try in hopes to make it to nationals in Nebraska. I am excited to see what this year will bring! Thank you to all who have supported me and watched me grow over the years.

S laskou,

Saturday, January 11, 2014

How it all began....(Part 1)

Have you ever wondered where exactly your ancestors came from, what types of people they were or hardships they endured? This is something I often think about. Throughout my life, I have found some of the answers to these questions.
     Ever since I was a small child, I have been exposed to my Czech heritage. My maternal ancestry has been a huge part of my life and is something I truly care about. Call me a nerd, but I think it is quite interesting. I think it made such a great impact on my life when my distant cousin, Katka from Plzeň came to America in 1996. I was only 6 years old when the unafraid 21 year old came to see the other side of the family that had been a mystery for years.
Christiana (me), Katka, & Jon (my brother)

You see... this whole genealogy thing is an intriguing mystery. My great grandmother, Barbora Kuglova, left Bohemia when she was 18 (around 1912). She left behind her father, 4 sisters and 1 brother. Barbora kept in contact with her sisters-Magdalena, Anna and Marie. Anna is Katka's great grandmother. Katka's mother, also named Marie, found numerous letters that  Anna had written to Barbora over the years. The realization that some family resided in America caused Katka's mom to search for us. Marie wrote a letter to the same address that was used about 100 years ago which was still in the family. After passing the letter around, my mom received it and wrote back. That reply changed all of our lives. 

Since then, we have found our other distant cousins (Magdalena's family) in a small town called Milavče near Domažlice, CZ. We have kept in touch with our family over the years and continue to visit one another.

      My first trip to the Czech Republic was in 2003. My mom and I stayed a month  with our family in Plzeň and toured the country. I was 12 years old. This was a trip to remember for sure! Excited and nervous, I had not seen Katka since I was 6. She had gotten married and had her first child, Matyas. We had a fabulous time meeting more of our distant cousins-Katka's parents (Marie and Jiří) and brother (Tomáš). 
     On our generous tour of the country, Marie, Jiří and Tom took us to the most beautiful cities-- Prague, Karlovy Vary, Domažlice, Český Krumlov and numerous small towns. As a small child, one of my favorite activities was visiting many castles. It was fascinating- like I was living in one of my fairytale books! We also went to the Chodsko Slavnosti which is a 3-day folk festival in Domažlice. I fell in love with the entire show. From the women and men dancing in their bright and beautiful chodsko kroje to the singing of old world songs.  Another highlight of our road trip was finding my great grandmother's and great grandfather's birth homes. It was a fun adventure. It was a matter of talking to our distant cousins in Domažlice, going to the courthouse there, and looking at archives in Plzeň. My mom also acquired her great uncles' journal which listed information about where my great grandfather's ancestral homes were located. The journey seemed much like the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Katka and I
Katka, Matyas and I

 Marie, Matyas, Katka and I

                          My Mom and I with Magdalena's daughter- Marie Coufalová, with her daughter, Marie and great grand daughter.
My great grandmother, Barbora Kuglova's, birth home in Starý Klíčov. A new house was built there.
 Barbora's second home and possibly last home before coming to America in Stanetice.
A small church in Mrakov where Barbora went to church.
  All of the "babičky" (Grandmothers) still wearing their kroje

It was a wonderful first time visiting. We were all sad to leave each other....we just knew we would see each other again. So... In 2004, Tom and his mom, Marie, came to Houston for the first time. In return, we also gave them a tour of our country! We took them to all major cities in Texas, ventured into Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.

In 2007, my mother and I returned to the Czech Republic to visit the family again. Over the years, Katka had a second child, her name is Viktoria. We met her for the first time. We also visited the Moravian side of the Czech Republic and took a night train into Slovakia. Mind you, this was only two weeks after I saw the horror movie, "Hostel 2." We made a few jokes during the night trying to spook each other.  Since I was older, I was more eager to go hiking. We spent the day hiking up part of Vysoké Tatry and took a cable car to one of the peaks. At a beautiful restaurant on the way up, I had my first taste of "Dršťková polévka" aka tripe soup. ha!!! We also revisited our family in Domažlice and once again went to the Chodsko Slavnosti.
 Matyas, Marie and I
Katka, Viktoria and I
Before we started hiking up Vysoké Tatry

 The restaurant where we ate lunch.
Going up!
 Almost to the top

My mother and I at one of the peaks in the clouds :-)

Marie Coufalová, and her family in Domažlice.
Assembly of the head dress before the parade of costumes at Chodsko Slavnosti
One of the many performances. All men and women in Chodsko kroje. This is the kroj I wear at different events. Great talent! My biggest dream has been to sing with a group some year. :-)
Little did I know, the next 7 years of my life, I would look much like a performer at the festival....

S laskou,


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Personal Golden Lane

As the first post, let me start by telling you the meaning of this blog.

In Prague, Czech Republic, there is a street called "Zlatá Ulička." In the English translation it means "Golden Lane." It is an ancient road within the Prague Castle complex. It dates back to the 15th century, which is shown by the old world architecture. Legend states that during the 16th century, alchemists lived in small houses along the road. They were on a journey to find gold. That is how the road received its name. This reminds me very much of  the famous "yellow brick road" in The Wizard of Oz. The tale of the alchemists' journey to find gold can be taken literally or figuratively.

In a figurative manner, life is a journey and we are all trying to find where we belong or search for our "gold." Looking at my life, I feel considerably blessed. I have had some wonderful opportunities being involved in my heritage and have met so many people. I feel like my "gold" is and has been all around me. I don't need to search for it because I am living it! I think sometimes we search for something that we may never find, but if we could only open our eyes to see what defines us as a person, then we can realize what our "gold" really portrays.

For about 7 years, I have religiously shared my Czech heritage with the community. I have always been interested in my heritage, but my voluntary work as a Czech singer started back in 2007 in Houston. I love keeping the Czech culture alive and well. It is one of Texas's most beautiful treasures. Not only Texas's treasure, but mine as well.

I'm starting this blog to bring you along on my personal "Zlatá Ulička." I plan to share about past experiences and events coming up this year.

S láskou (with love),
Christiana Gentry

Zlatá Ulička. Praha, CZ