Gifted Romani musician succeeding brilliantly in USA
"In my career as a teacher of more than 20 000 students from 94 countries, Tomáš clearly belongs in the top 10," said Professor Pratt Bennet on 30 August when he was interviewed for the Czech Television program "168 Hours". Bennett teaches at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, which accepted Romani musician Tomáš Kačo from the Czech Republic last year.
The musician passed Berklee's entrance exams without any problem, becoming one of 700 students accepted from among 8 000 applicants. Despite his acceptance, however, in the beginning it seemed he might not get the chance to study in Boston after all, as he didn't have the equivalent of one million Czech crowns (USD 42 000) for tuition.
Ultimately the money was given to him by sponsors, both firms and individual donors. Speaking on Czech Television, Kačo said, "This still feels like a dream to me, a dream that isn't real yet, I believe I won't realize it until I am sitting in the airplane on the way to Boston, then I'll tell myself: 'There's no returning now, it's clear, you've absolutely won.'"
A keyboard marked with lipstick
Kačo began his musical training on a broken-down old piano left by an uncle in a room shared with 10 other people. He comes from a big family who frequently had to rely on welfare when his father was out of work and his mother was pregnant, and they lived in a ghetto.
His father, however, dreamed that Tomáš would grow up to be a musician. "Dad isn't a musician, he can pick out maybe two Romani songs with one finger. He does know where 'A' is on the piano, though. Once he took Mom's lipstick and marked it for me on the keyboard. That helped me orient myself," Kačo told Czech newspaper Mf DNES last year.
When Kačo applied to attend music school in the Czech town of Nový Jičín he played the famous "Für Elise" piece for a teacher there. He could not read music at the time and didn't even know how to use the pedal on the piano.
"She came over to me, right, and pressed on the pedal so it would sound more beautiful, right, so it would resound... Suddenly I heard what it means to use the pedal, how beautifully it resonates," Kačo told Czech Television.
Dreaming of Carnegie Hall
When Kačo's talent was given the chance to connect with professional instruction, his path opened up for him - he first made it to the Conservatory in Ostrava, the famous Romani musician and teacher Ida Kelarová chose him for her summer musical workshops project, and he studied at Prague's Academy of Performing Arts (AMU).
He then passed the entrance examinations for Berklee College, which were held in Paris. "Ever since I was a child I have felt something inside that drives me. When they asked me at the audition in Paris where I see myself in 10 years, I told them that I know precisely where I will be: Onstage, in a white suit, at the grand piano, playing to a sold-out Carnegie Hall in New York," he told Mf DNES.
Music as a weapon
Kačo has now completed two semesters at Berklee and his results are excellent. "Tomáš is a first-year student who is mastering what fourth-year students cannot," Professor Bennet says.
Besides his dreams of a sold-out Carnegie Hall and creating his own musical style, Kačo also has other considerations for his musical career. He remembers how he frequently felt as a child going to the store in the Czech Republic, how the eyes of the sales clerks were constantly monitoring him in case he might shoplift.
"I know some Romani people deserve that view of them, but we are not all the same. Every night, before I went to sleep, I used to think about what I could do so that people would stop pointing the finger at Roma, how to overcome prejudice," he told Mf DNES.
He soon arrived at an answer. "To use music, my music, as a weapon, basically a weapon to destroy prejudices against Romani people, that is basically the broader, like, the broader purpose of why I am doing all this," he told Czech Television yesterday.
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