The University Choir: Affair of the Heart

Photo: Gabriela Knýblová
friday 3. february 2017, 12:44 - Text: Milada Hronová

It is close to 6 pm and dozens of people are rushing through the gloomy streets. Many of them share a destination. They’re headed for the Palacký University Arts Centre. They run up the stairs to the third floor and enter the well-lit Baroque choir hall. They’ve reached their destination. They have come to the regular rehearsal of Ateneo, the university choir.

They greet each other, take out their sheet music, and start warming up. Among them is Michaela Rudolfová, a student of English. “I enjoy singing very much. It’s fulfilling. Also, I always have a good time with the people here. To be honest, none of us can even imagine what we’d be doing had we not joined the choir. Ateneo is an affair of the heart for everyone here,” she confesses. The slender brunette has many years of experience in Ateneo. She’s been singing since childhood. After graduating from high school, she left Ústí nad Labem to study in Olomouc, and despite being quite far from home, she never stopped singing. “Music is a sort of mental relaxation to me. And even though we all take it quite seriously, that doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of laughs,” says the university student, who is also the choir’s chair. Ateneo has its own student body. This allows students to have a say in what and how the choir is going to sing. “Our choir master has the final word, of course,” Michaela emphasizes.

Singing with a choir can unite people of various vocations and courses of study. While Michaela studies English, her choirmate Michal Koláček studies IT and music culture. “I’ve been singing from a young age but when I first met Pavel Režný and he had me sing the seemingly simple song ‘Já do lesa nepojedu’ (I Will Not Go into the Forest), I became a bit uncertain. He tested my ability to sing in different keys. The intonation was what was important,” the newcomer, who sings tenor in the choir, recalls. He considers himself to be more of a rocker. He plays the piano and also sang in several bands. And although the music he plays leans toward rock, he sings almost everything in the choir. “It’s excellent voice conditioning,” Michal adds.

The clock’s ticking, it’s a little after six. The rehearsal begins. The hall resounds with dozens of voices. Apart from students, I also see singers who don’t quite fit in age-wise. “Many members of the choir start out as students and stay even after they’ve graduated college,” Pavel Režný from the Department of Music Education, UP Faculty of Education, explains. This is the man who’s been leading Ateneo for fifteen years. He is the choir’s leading personality.

“We have a varied repertoire. We sing both old and modern music, from songs by Gioacchino Rossini to Jan Vičar or Antonín Tučapský. My favorite author is Jiří Pavlica,” Pavel Režný, the choirmaster-and-music-theorist-in-one explains. It was Jiří Pavlica and his musical ensemble Hradišťan that the choir performed with at the Alumni Reunion. “We were glad to be able to sing with both Hradišťan and Leona Machálková. The choir found it incredibly inspiring to be working with such professionals,” Režný adds. When asked whether he feels limited by his singers’ duration of study, he smiles. “The choir is being held together by the desire to sing, the atmosphere, and the company of like-minded folks. I’m convinced nothing will change on that front going into the future,” Pavel Režný believes.

Ateneo, the mixed choir of Palacky University Olomouc, is the recipient of a number of awards. Performing since 2001, it holds its rehearsals in a space provided by the Department of Music Education at the Faculty of Education. It represents Palacký University at conferences and concerts in the Czech Republic and abroad. The choir has performed in the Netherlands, Turkey, Hungary, Norway, and the United States. The concert ensemble consists of 35 singers.