Polka Pageant - Br 5

CODE: AP-03160


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POLKA PAGEANT is a medley of Czech popular melodies arranged by Joel Blahník. Excellent for High School and Community Ensembles. Mixed Brass Quintet (Bb Trumpet 2, French Horn, Trombone, Tuba). Grade: 3 Duration: 4:30

Background Notes are in the Resources tab.

Polka Pageant (score6301.pdf, 182 Kb) [Download]

Background Notes
Polka Pageant is a tribute to the historical development of the polka dance-form which originated in the mid-19th century in the kingdom of Bohemia, the western-most part of the Czech Republic.  The original name was "pulka" which comes from the Czech word "pul" meaning "half," and "ka" which is the feminine suffix referring to the young Czech lady who invented the step, indicating that "it takes two to tango!" Almost overnight, the dance caught on fire throughout the ballrooms and dance halls of Europe, as a formal couple dance, paralleling the elegance of the "Viennese waltz."  In France, the dance was extremely popular and created a "craze" with a tempo of 104.  Picking up on this new energy, the Czech composer Bedrích Smetana crafted marvelous classical piano compositions for the concert stage with this new dance-form.  These salon polkas are very sophisticated classical works requiring the highest piano technique and musicianship.  In like manner, Smetana used the polka in chamber music, full orchestra, opera, etc. 
At the same time in the mid-19th century, the dance was brought to America by immigrants from Central Europe, who in carving out a new American way of life, primarily in the Upper Midwest, danced the polka in their small settlements and cities.  It was a "social mixer," composed and performed by small folk bands from 5-16 members in their communities.  The American popularity of the dance exploded and it began to take on a character different than from the land of its birth,  becoming a folk dance with more explosive energy and faster tempos, created by amateur musicians of various nationalities throughout the nation, who loved the fun spirit of the dance.
Since the 1970s in the Czech lands, the polka folk bands have experienced a resurgence or a new renaissance.  Focus was on changing it from a strict dance form to a more serious concert form of music.  Professional musicians from symphony orchestras and graduates of music academies/conservatories have embraced the polka band medium with diligence, craftsmanship and performance raising it to a high musical level. Audiences now attend a polka event not only to dance but as a concert experience, listening to what is musically happening and enjoying singing along. 
The question now arises, "What is the difference between a polka and a march since both have the same tempo and are in duple meter?"  Marches were created to move people in a strict straight-forward manner in military parade fashion, and for the most part, marches did not have text.  Polkas do have text, generally a poetic folk text about love, horses, towns, nature, the military, etc. Polka texts tell a story and people love to dance them according to "the story." Take for examexample, the "top popular 20th century song", Czech polka (Skoda Lasky) (Tis a pity, Love), written by Jaromir Vejvoda.  The German nation knows it as "Rosamunde" and the Americans as "Roll Out the Barrel." The music was given its American title by the American GIs when they ended the European Theatre of WWII  in May 1945 near the famous beer brewing city of pilsner beer, Plzen.  Because so many Czech men were lost during WWII, the brewery had a shortage of man power and needed laborers who could perform heavy-duty tasks.  From the deep limestone cellars of the Plzen brewery, the American soldiers volunteered to "roll out the barrels." As a token of appreciation for their donated efforts the GIs were given ample supply of the splendid liquid of that world-famous pilsner beer.  Listen to the American text of this wonderful polka and it tells it all!!
So, it is in the spirit of Smetana and the resurgence of the "artistic" or "concert polka" that this arranger has created Polka Pageant.  I wish to recognize other composers as Stravinsky, Weinberger, the Strauss families, and other composers who used the classical concert polka as a serious concert musical form.   
Having been to the Czech Republic about 40 times, teaching there, becoming absorbed in their musical society, mixing with relatives from my 15th century roots, and musicians in all facets of life, it has been interesting for me to take on the polka form with a sense of honoring its musical integrity.  I wish to recognize Bedr“ich Smetana and all those wonderful musicians in the Czech lands with something uniquely theirs, but also to share something newly created here in America.  
Polka Pageant is a medley of well-known Czech polka melodies originally created for dancing and singing:
     • Zeleně haje, Jaromír Vejvoda
     • Hajá, hajá, Jaroslav Marek
     • Včera jsem Tě čekala, Václav Bláha
     • Přes dvě vesnice, Josef Poncar
     • Pod jednou střechou, Karel Vauldauf
This arrangement is well-suited for outdoor performances or for folks who wish to dance.  For the concert hall stage, the conductor may wish to do some "thinning" of the instrumental textures. When I first crafted this work, the scoring was much more transparent.  This being the case, the varying levels of dynamics are very important for shaping the sound with musicality.  The original Bohemian polka tempo is slower than 2 beats per second (108).  For the style to come out, play in a relaxed tempo, keeping a "tight grasp on the reins!"  This edition incorporates elements of Czech humor with "sonic booms" from the bass drum (to be played in a delayed manner), minor "tickling" dissonances, inversion.