College of Music alumna Bree Nichols (’21 D.M.A.) will be working this fall to make Czech music more accessible to English-speaking singers and the community.
Nichols, who earned her Doctor of Musical Arts in voice performance in May, received a Fulbright Research Award to travel to the Czech Republic, where she will focus on compiling the first anthology of Czech art songs. These classical songs set to poetry are usually written for solo voice and piano and are traditionally performed in more intimate performance spaces such as recital halls and salons. She’ll work to translate and write phonetic transcriptions for each song as well as do research to put the music into a cultural context.
“I’ll be visiting libraries and archives to uncover these beautiful pieces that were once performed and treasured but often haven’t been touched, especially outside the Czech Republic, in decades,” Nichols says. “Then, I will bring those songs to audiences through the applied aspect of my project, which will be a recital series in the country.”
Nichols is multilingual, but before coming to UNT she had never sung in the Czech language. Her first UNT Opera role was the Fox in Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, a Czech-language opera that first premiered in 1924.
“I had never started learning a language and the diction of a language having no exposure to it whatsoever,” says Nichols, who also took classes in the Department of Linguistics during her doctoral study. “As a language buff, I was really challenged, but that was part of what excited me about it.”
To prepare for the role, Nichols and a few other UNT opera singers went to the Czech Republic for a short trip sponsored by the Czech Educational Foundation of Texas, which has supported, along with other donors, the Frank J. and Hermine Hurta Kostohryz Residency in Czech Music and Culture at UNT since 2006. Nichols says that while visiting the country, they learned more about the language and music they were singing in the opera. They toured Janáček’s hometown and saw the forests that inspired his composition.
After performing The Cunning Little Vixen at UNT and touring with the opera to Czech communities around Texas, Nichols continued to research Czech music. For her doctoral dissertation, she created an anthology of Czech opera arias for soprano that lack existing scholarship, a project similar to her forthcoming Fulbright one.
Nichols says through her study of Czech music history, she’s been struck by the sense of nationalism and pride of place that Czechs place in their culture.
“Music really encapsulates the heart of a culture,” Nichols says. “With vocal music in particular, you have the aspect of poetry, of text and language, that makes that cultural intersection even stronger than it is in instrumental music.”
In 2020, Nichols received the $10,000 Presser Graduate Music Award, which she hoped to use to travel to Prague for her dissertation work. Due to travel restrictions with the COVID-19 pandemic, she was unable to make the trip before graduating. However, she will finally be traveling to the capital city this August to enrich her scholarly work on Czech operas for publication prior to her nine-month Fulbright work focused on art songs.
“I hope to continue my research and promote the performance of Czech music for many years to come,” Nichols says.
The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 by Senator J. William Fulbright to increase the mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through international educational exchange programs. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Since 1949, there have been more than 40 UNT Fulbright Student Award winners.