The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

Young Children and Improvisation

Posted in Eliška_Cílková by iawmblog on May 6, 2010

My musical career started when I was four years old. I started to play piano because I loved listening music and we had an instrument in our living room. I played by ear before I learned to read music. I played anything I heard and enjoyed.

At the age of five, my mother took me to basic music school to hone my skills. This was shortly after the fall of Communism in the Czech Republic. I had to play Czerny’s Etudes, and Baroque and Classical works: boring pieces I didn’t like as a five-year-old. Several times I wanted to quit but fortunately, I came in contact with new instructors who nurtured my love of music.

When I was fifteen I entered a music school in Prague that included composition and improvisation in the curriculum. I was quite surprised at the difference! I loved it. Nowadays, improvisation is a part of curriculum at most music schools in the Czech Republic.

Improvisation has become an important component of music lessons. And what’s more, it’s very helpful. My friend is a teacher of improvisation. She told me there many ways to teach improvisation. For example, she paints pictures and then shows it to the students (5-6 years old) and says, “Play, play, what you see”.

She told me a story about a very talented seven-year-old girl. She improvised a thunderstorm. She started to play the deep tones: that was thunder. Next, she moved to the right part of the fingerboard and she quickly played high tones: that was rain. Than she started to add more and more tones and used the whole fingerboard. Finally she played a C minor chord which resolved to C major: that was the sun.

Parents of my friend’s students children have said, “Our children are better at classical piano than before and it’s because they do not only concentrate on reading notes and moving their fingers. They listen to what they play. That’s thanks to studying improvisation.”

Improvisation is very beneficial for everyone, for every instrumentalist or singer. It develops color imagination. I’m very happy that improvisation is more readily taught in music lessons.


Eliška Cílková recently moved to Bratislava, Slovakia where she is in her first year studying composition at Academy of Music. She blogs about her experiences as a student at the Jazz Conservatory in Prague.


Early Czech Jazz

Posted in Eliška_Cílková by iawmblog on March 23, 2010

As my third report to the IAWM blog I would like to introduce you to the early history of Czech Jazz. We all know that Jazz originated in the early 20th century in African American communities in the South of the United States. Its evolution in the USA was different from Europe. I come from the Czech Republic – the small state located in middle of Europe whose population is only about 10 million people.

Czech jazz also began in the early 20th century. Its most significant early proponent was Jaroslav Ježek, “JJ”. Ježek was born on 25/09/1906 in Prague and he died on 01/01/1942 in New York City. He was almost blind from a young age and he had chronic kidney disease. He studied composition at the Prague Conservatory under Josef Suk. He began studying at the Conservatory when modern dances and American jazz music were first becoming popular in the Czech Republic. Ježek worked with the rhythms and instrumental features of jazz. He also collaborated with Voskovec and Werich, and thanks to them, he performed in the Liberated Theatre. This theatre performed original and lively revues filled with topical political satire against Fascism and social injustices. I could write thousands of words about Jaroslav Ježek, but I just want to say that he left a large catalog (orchestral, chamber, piano works, and songs) and he is regarded as the founder of Czech jazz and popular music.

Nowadays the Conservatory in Prague is named after him. This Conservatory has been existing only for 19 years. For 33 years before that, it had been basic school of arts. The school attracted many excellent students, but in the communist state there was ideological opposition to granting it the stature of a conservatory. The Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory officially opened in 1991. It is hometown of important Czech jazz musicians and is very proudly named after JJ.


Eliška Cílková recently moved to Bratislava, Slovakia where she is in her first year studying composition at Academy of Music. She blogs about her experiences as a student at the Jazz Conservatory in Prague

The role of virtual musical instruments in our music

Posted in Eliška_Cílková by iawmblog on February 19, 2010

Everyone of us has surely encountered computer music. Whether are we singers, composers, instrumental players or theoreticians, we listen to artificially-created sounds every day. We only need switch on the TV to hear the stream of signature tunes and music from advertisements. But the question is: what role do these sounds play in our life?

I’m a composer; computer technology is very important for me. Everyday I work with software to notate my music and I listen the notes played by virtual instruments–but just for a reference. I really think it is important to be aware of the influence of virtual instruments and to keep hearing your own natural sound ideas.

Even thought most people would expect that every live performance will sound better than a virtual one, it isn’t always true.

Once I composed a work for woodwinds. The virtual flute sounded perfect with perfect technique and I got used to this. How I was later surprised! I got used to perfect technique and I expected that my musician would not only technically play as well as the computer but also have a better sound, of course. I found out that the technical aspects I had written were too difficult for the musician and therefore the piece didn’t work as well as the computer rendition had.

Nevertheless virtual musical instruments can be very helpful. Especially if we use professional high–quality musical instruments which work in software like Cubase, Nuendo or Logic. I know composers who write music for advertisements and documentary films by using only computer samples. It works quite well, and if you are not a professional musician you won’t recognize it. Composers can also afford to use special musical instruments (temple block, wind chimes, celesta, cymbalom etc.) without any problems–no calling to orchestral players, no matters about money.

Even thought I belong to the group of composers who compose music at a table or with piano and holding a pen in the hand, I sometimes use virtual musical instruments. For me it’s very helpful to send a MIDI recording to my musicians. It’s so easy to extract a .mid file from notation software and replace the sounds with high-quality virtual instruments. But sometimes, I just use my dictaphone and record a live piano version to send to the musicians.

So I’d just like to say at the end: virtual musical instruments can be very helpful for us but they will never be as rich and nuanced as music played by live musicians.


Eliška Cílková recently moved to Bratislava, Slovakia where she is in her first year studying composition at Academy of Music.

Studying at the Jaroslav Ježek Jazz Conservatory in Prague: An Introduction

Posted in Eliška_Cílková by iawmblog on January 25, 2010

As my first report to the IAWM blog, I would like to say few words about The Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic. I have been studying there since 2006. The Conservatory / Higher Specialized School is one of only a few schools of its kind, one which is focused on the field of jazz and other forms of nontraditional art. So if you study there you don’t learn only classical music, but also jazz. Actually you must study both – for example you should attend the music history course, but also jazz history course. You learn classical harmony and jazz harmony. You take private lessons in both classical piano and jazz piano as well.

I have been studying composition there. In addition to composing classical music, I have composed a lot of jazz. My teacher has taught me a lot about jazz music and that has been very interesting for me. I have learned big band instrumentation, arranging for a jazz combo, jazz improvisation and more. I really like it.

The school doesn’t have its own symphonic orchestra, but it has an excellent big band. This big band is directed by Milan Svoboda and it is very successful. In 2007, the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory Big Band took part in the Next Generation Festival in Monterey, California. It was the only big band from Europe to reach the finals and it placed as one of the six best big bands.

The school also offers a lot of interesting international courses with foreign guest lecturers. I clearly remember the visits of Maria Schneider and Skip Wilkins. They were fantastic.

Even thought I am in Bratislava more than in Prague now, I really appreciate the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory. I had many important experiences and learned many skills there.

If you are interested in the Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory, you can visit its website:


Eliška Cílková recently moved to Bratislava, Slovakia where she is in her first year studying composition at Academy of Music.