The IBMA Foundation proudly supported Kindergarten Bludovice, a bluegrass educational program for kindergarteners, with a 2020 Project Grant. Organized and presented by veteran bluegrass musicians Ondra Kozák and Petr Brandejs, the project began with extensive preparation: the creation of a website for the new program, posters, fliers, an online promotional video trailer, and detailed scenarios tested “in the field” and then carefully adjusted.

Ondra and Petr created detailed methodological materials to help kindergarten teachers prepare children for the bluegrass programs. Follow-up activities included the creation of games, bluegrass instrument pictures to be cut out of paper, and an online recording of  Slunce za hory“ (translated as “the sun has disappeared behind the mountain“).

The bluegrass programs have been presented to seven kindergarten classes in the city of  Nový Jičín, and also at the 43rd Banjo Jamboree Festival in Čáslav, Czech Republic. With the challenges created by COVID-19, seven presentations were considered a great success. Additonal programs and negotiations for more in the future are planned for after the virus has subsided.

The programs included demonstrations of banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, Dobro and bass played in the bluegrass style, using simple Czech folk songs and bluegrass songs written by Ondra and Petr for a children’s bluegrass CD they recorded a few years ago. “Most bluegrass instruments are new to the children and the primary aim is to stimulate curiosity,“ Brandejs said. “Along with that we included some activities suitable for kindergartners, such as syllable-based clapping, singing in tune, repeating the melody, distinguishing between high and low, slow and fast, quiet and loud, and more.“ There are 20-50 students in each kindergarten group.

“Thanks to the support of the IBMA Foundation,“ Brandejs said, “there is one more, previously missing tool that has been prepared and is now working to promote bluegrass music in the Czech Republic.

In the project grant application Brandejs noted that bluegrass music is very popular in the Czech Republic, but most fans and attendees at workshops are age 50 or older. So their aim with this project was to target the youngest audiences.

The Czech Republic has a network of Primary Art Schools (ZUŠ) financed by the state. Children ages 6-18 go there in the afternoons to be taught how to play instruments, sing, paint, and dance. All teachers must have a university (or secondary art school – conservatory) degree, and the fees are very affordable. These schools concentrate mostly on classical music, and there were no mandolin, banjo, or Dobro classes until 2020. The only similar project in the Czech Republic is a series of educational concerts done by the Poutníci band, presented to students age 12-18.

Both Brandejs and Kozák have dedicated decades of their lives to bluegrass music. Petr Brandejs played professionally with the band Poutníci for 7 years and has played bluegrass for 35 years. In addition to participating in dozens of educational bluegrass programs for secondary schools with Poutníci, he has organized more than 60 bluegrass workshops in the Czech Republic, Norway, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Petr is the first European Wernick Method-certified teacher and has volunteered weekly as a musician at the local kindergarten for five years. His day job is teaching English at a secondary school.

Ondra Kozák is a professional musician and tutor with classical violin training and 20+ years of experience in bluegrass. He sings and plays several bluegrass instruments, both solo and in a band, organizes seven bluegrass workshops every year (instrumental, vocal, and band coaching), and runs an online education platform called “ATAmusic” (TABs, videos, monthly challenge, podcast, etc. – He is the father of two children aged three and five, so he is especially interested in introducing children to roots music.

Petr and Ondra recorded and released a CD of children’s songs called Pro děti (For kids). They played together in the Petr Brandejs Band for five years, and have taught and played together at many workshops and concerts.

Return to the November issue of The Cornerstone.