The Village Folk Orkestra, featuring George Kreshka will perform music from East Europe and nearby regions Friday in Nevada City. Friday’s event will include music from East Europe, plus nearby regions. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., then from 7 to 8 visiting dance scholar Toba Goddard will teach a few dances. Live music starts at 8, and there’s room for both listeners and dancers in the “Fellowship Hall” around the side/rear of Nevada City Methodist Church, 433 Broad Street.
He’s sung in concerts in European churches and halls, and at hootenannies with American folk music’s big names. He sang professionally for San Francisco’s Russian church, and as a volunteer leading singalongs for foothills folks from toddlers to Alzheimer’s patients. That still isn’t enough music, so for 20 years George Kreshka’s been singing with “Village Folk Orkestra”, which plays Friday in Nevada City.
George’s professional music career started in the 1950s.
“My voice coach in Prague, who taught the opera and classical singers, said ‘always keep your head and your feet warm, and have a small glass of schnapps before bed.’ My voice is still strong, so I guess it works. I don’t usually have the schnapps,” he said.
Shortly after George moved to Nevada City in the late 80s, a musical friend told him he would enjoy Richard Geisler’s Village Folk Orkestra.
“Richard developed sheet music for this rich vein of folk tunes. A lot of them were in languages I was comfortable in, and I was delighted to sing with them, and play guitar and autoharp. The rhythms were a challenge at first. They are for most musicians. Our current lineup is very solid, very tight doing the odd Bulgarian rhythms,” George said.
The six-person band rehearses most weeks, and performs five to 10 times a year, including Friday in Nevada City.
Kreshka was raised bilingual in English and Ruthenian—“it’s a mishmash related to Polish, Slovak, and Ukrainian”--by immigrant parents in Pennsylvania. After duty as a pilot and flight instructor in World War II, he hoped for a career bridging the Iron Curtain, and got a graduate degree in Slavic languages, also becoming proficient in Czech, Russian, and Serbo-Croatian. “But thanks to McCarthy, all the colleges and corporations didn’t want to seem friendly to Russia, so there the jobs involving Slavic languages disappeared.”
He instead taught elementary school in the East Bay, adding plenty of folk music to the curriculum, and singing more in his spare time.
“A Russian Orthodox church in the city wanted to stabilize their choir—many of the older immigrants drank a bit before they came to choir practice--so they hired several experienced singers. It was a lovely setting. The whole service is sung and chanted, and the religious music is complex and inspiring. On Easter they cooked us a big dinner, including six kinds of vodka,” he said.
George continued crossing borders and building musical bridges. He lived in Prague, singing classical music and sharpening language skills. Later, for four years, he taught English for part of the year at a university in China. “Each class, they learned an American folk song, and each week we reviewed all of them. That’s the best way to teach.”
Friday’s event will include music from East Europe, plus nearby regions. George sometimes adds explanations of song lyrics, since none are in English. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., then from 7 to 8 visiting dance scholar Toba Goddard will teach a few dances. Live music by Village Folk Orkestra starts at 8, and there’s room for both listeners and dancers in the “Fellowship Hall” around the side/rear of Nevada City Methodist Church, 433 Broad Street. Nevada County International Dance hosts, and accepts a donation at the door. The band will play there again May 16. For questions about this and other folk music and dance events, call 272-4650.