Saturday, July 16, 2011

U STUDANKY - In the Spring

For most young people in Texas in my youth, the age at which you began to drive a motor vehicle was 16, it still is.   In our town, you got a Texas Driver's Licence shortly after your fourteenth birthday. There was an exception in the law for people engaged in agriculture. We were a farming community so we all qualified for the exception in the law.  It mattered not whether you were a boy or a girl, sooner or later, most likely sooner, you were going to be driving a tractor on the highway and you had best know the rules of the road and have a licence in your pocket.  That's how it was.  

The school system provided Driver's Education free of charge for everyone.  At the end of the course we all took our Texas Driving Examination and  everyone was legal to drive that tractor or pickup truck on the road.   A few of my buddies actually had their own automobiles soon after they were licenced to drive.  

One of my buddies who had gotten a car right away sometimes came by to say for hello.  One day he needed three dollars for gas money and he had a small  bed-side type radio he was willing to trade for that three dollars.  I didn't think twice, I dug out the three dollars.  Our family had had a radio once.  It had been a grand radio in a polished wood cabinet that stood about one meter high. When you turned it on there was a yellow light in the front that flickered somehow with the  sound. Sometimes father would turn it on and the whole family would sit around and watch the radio.  

I remember one particular day sitting in the living room watching the radio with my father.  We were listening to the live broadcast of some rich dude's wedding. I broke out laughing. The guy on the radio was very seriously intoning "Hail Mary full of grapes."  Well, that's what the six year old me heard anyway.  Father patiently explained that the priest had said "Hail Mary,  full of grace," and that this was a prayer, but he never let me live that moment down. But alas, somewhere along the line, that radio had stopped working and it moved out to the shop where it never managed to  repair itself.  I still have it in my little building at the "farm." In all the years since it still has not repaired itself and the once beautiful cabinet has become faded, dusty, and sad.  

My "new" radio had an indelible cigarette burn on the top of its blue-green plastic case but that didn't matter.  It opened a whole new world to this 14 year old boy. I was no longer confined to a handful of scratchy old 78 LP records. No sir!! I could listen to all the latest music now!  Mother and Dad were frightened.  They didn't want to say I couldn't have the radio but what kind of music was I going to listen to?   "Something dreadful on english like Elvis Presley, probably", I'm sure they thought.  "Keep it soft and keep your door closed when you have the radio on," mother cautioned.   It was only a day or two when mother was knocking on the door saying "son, please turn your radio up so we can all listen too."

In those days, if you got up just before sunrise, Radio Stanice KFRD from Richmond-Rosenburg came on the air "Dobre den, jak se mas, gutten morgen" and the  "Peanut Polka" came on followed by an hour or so of good old down  home country music ,,, uh by country music I mean from Czechoslovakia, from Croatia, from Poland, from Texas ,,, you know - those countries. As soon as KFRD resumed English language programing, KULP from over in El Campo, owned by the then State Senator John Kulp came on the air with the same kind of music. Later on, on a Saturday, if the weather was good, there was a broadcast from the Baycity area, and if the weather was really just right, after  that, there was another broadcast from somewhere near Austin I think it was.

We got to listen to Lee Ilse, Adolf Hofner, Joe Patek, the Bill Mraz Orchestra, and oodles more I can't think of right off hand.  There were always plenty  of songs like "A ja sam (All by myself)", "Louka Zelena (Green meadow)" and "Na Bilej Hore (On white mountain)" which you could pretty well make out whether you spoke Czech or Slovak or Polish or some kind of Croatian.

Through the woods, past a creek or two, step over a few copperhead snakes,  there was another small town.  Boling, Texas.  Home of the Boling Bulldogs.  Home of the Boling oil dome. It was a boom town when I was a kid. I can't tell you how many times I walked over to Boling through the woods, past a creek or two, stepped over a few copperheads to see a friend and then walked back home the same way.  It got to where the copperheads pretty well hid out when they heard me coming.  It was  only eleven miles away on the path.  A bit longer if you drove.  Any able bodied man who wanted to work could go to Boling and get a job  at least as a roughneck in the oil fields.  Over in Boling there was a  little kid who would grow up to be my favorite, bar none, Texas Czech singer/performer.

After playing with the Bobby Jones Czech Band from Wharton for a spell, in 1994 Dennis Svatek formed the Dance Hall Boys with some other excellent musicians.  In 1999 the Dance Hall Boys morphed into the Czech Melody Masters.  Here is a quote from their  website:  "Since their formation, the band has always strived to emulate the classic brass band sound of such beloved Texas bands as the Bacova Ceska Kapela, Adolph Pavlas, and the Joe Patek and Lee Roy Matocha Orchestras.  In addition, the Czech Melody Masters strive to push their music back in time as well.  Rather than use the standard repertoire of most bands, the band tries to present songs in their original, full format, often using old faded music scores or scratchy 78 records as a guide.  The result is a book full of songs the way they used to be played, yet performed with today's energy."  That about says it. I listened to Dennis and the fellows on the radio and was at a few of his performances here and there.  Then came the internet which opened up a whole new world for all of us.

Dennis Svatek opened the first Czech Polka Band website on the internet back in 1997.  He's on YouTube now and on Facebook too.  It funny now to see how all the Klapa groups and bands from Croatia and Central Europe hopped on the band wagon after he was on the internet.  I remember when Dennis came on youtube.   Svatek searched on YouTube for Dance Hall Boys  and came up with "U Studanky" for which I had made a little video without telling him. I think he was surprised to find his material on a Youtube channel whose audience is primarily in deep eastern and southern Europe.  He might have been even more surprised to see that I had borrowed his "preservation project" theme and turned it into "Stari Teksikanski Očuvanje Projekta" (Old Teksikanski preservation project). Dennis was gracious indeed  to tell me that I could use any of his material which he has posted on the internet and have fun making videos.

Svatek has the most complete lyrics I've seen or heard anywhere for the ever popular U Studanky.  I can't find exactly what his lyrics are anywhere. I think he has a source that's not available widely.  This I also  know, U Studanky has become a folk song. Folk songs tend to have a life of  their own depending on who is singing and where they are singing.  The words change from place to place, from time to time.  In almost any place in europe where there are a group of Czech singers though, when the singers begin U Studanky, the audience will sing along for a little while. 

On English, here is about what they are singing about

At the spring she was sitting ,
into the water she was looking .
She spotted a little fish,
and how it was swallowing water.

Little fish, you are a silent face,
I heard that you know magic tricks.
You know what is bothering my heart,
you know where my darling is.

U Studánky - In the Spring, like you will likely not hear it anywhere else:

do sljedeći put, blagoslov - until next time, blessings,

Canovals a.k.a. Slavonac


  1. We are all learning a bit about the Croatian/Slavic culture and music and enjoying every minute of it.

  2. thank you very very much. I want you to have a good time learning about a fun culture