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On music, passion and motherhood

Fast Confession - organist Katta: I play barefoot even in the winter, it became a habit

Karolína Lišková
16.Dec 2019
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8 minutes

You don't have to believe in God to enjoy the sound of an organ. What Katerina Chrobokova aka Katta can coax out of the instrument is literally breathtaking. Not only does she compose her music herself, she also conveys it to the audience so intensely, that when the concert's over, you can't be certain whether you're still on Earth or whether you have crossed over to the other side. Moreover, she plays without shoes, even if the church isn't heated. In an interview for, the artist, niece of the well-known actress Pavla Tomicová and daughter of the famous neurosurgeon Jiří Chrobok, confided how she handles not only the demanding life of an artist but also that of a mother of a small baby.

You're a beautiful woman, why exactly an organ? It's a man thing…

Mostly yes. I started playing the piano as a child and music completely absorbed me. Ever since I was born, I was fascinated by everything that made sounds. First I fell in love with the piano and then my mom took me to an organ festival. I was about five, the organ fascinated me, so I started playing it later.

What did your parents say when you informed them that you wanted to play an organ at the age of five?

The piano was my main instrument at first. I knew I wanted to go to the conservatory, because my mother had studied acting at the conservatory. I knew it was an art school and I wanted to go to there. Then it developed gradually.

We attended an organ concert, the instrument completely blew me away. And it was a female organist playing at that particular concert. I couldn't get the experience out of my head. We lived in Olomouc at that time, where the largest organ festival in the Czech Republic is held, so my mother took me there regularly. I was more and more interested in it until it turned into a kind of love, passion, obsession. And that has never changed.

Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 5 – 327m2
Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 5 – 327m2, Praha 5

There is one horizontal keyboard on a piano. An organ must be much heavier, it has several keyboards and, in addition, you have to coordinate it all with the movements of your feet.

It is difficult. Sometimes we jokingly argue with colleagues who has it harder, organists or flutists. Of course, everyone says that the hardest instrument to master is the one they play themselves, because each instrument has its own specifics. Playing the organ, especially when it comes to coordination, is challenging, but everything can be mastered and learned. It is a question of training, drill and technique.

How many hours a day did you practice?

It was hours at a time when I was at school. At first I had a terrible problem with it, as a fourteen year old who'd just started studying at the conservatory. I had a terrible problem with concentrating and sticking with it for a longer time. Then I got to the other extreme when JAMU was about to close for the evening and the porter came to tell me I had to finish. My record is nine hours.

When did you find out it was better to play barefoot?

Over time. Organists often have special organ shoes that have soft leather soles, just like dance shoes, so as to provide the most sensitive contact possible with the pedal keyboard that we play on with our feet. Naturally, I was wearing different types of shoes in my civil life, often with a high heel, and it's impossible to play in those. When I didn't have the special organ shoes with me, I always took off my civilian shoes. And suddenly I found out that playing barefoot was very comfortable and gave me excellent contact with the pedal keys. It's like playing the piano with gloves on your hands and then taking them off.

But churches are cold.

They are cold, it's terrible. I used to play barefoot like this mostly in the summer, but it became a habit. I also have the advantage of having my own instrument, my mobile organ, which I can play barefoot at home. When I play at a concert, it is often even in spaces that are heated in winter and suchlike. But it's true that it has already become a part of me, that I can no longer imagine not playing barefoot.

I was barefoot even when performing at the Advent concert that was broadcasted on TV, and that church was crazy cold. Luckily it was just one song, I managed to stay barefoot for those five minutes.

You have to break a sweat while playing, right? It's hard work.

That it is.

Your mobile organ is not that big, but hearing the word organ, everyone imagines the huge one in a church. Does it have the same sound?

The sound is the same because the principle of my organ is that it has the most beautiful sounds recorded from the most precious historical instruments inside. The organ can produce an incredible sound-tibre spectrum, I find it to be an absolutely fascinating instrument.

I wanted to transfer this potential even to places, where it wasn't possible. This organ that was custom made for me offers sounds of various organs, the huge instruments, of my choosing. Jiří Žůrek's team Sonus Paradisi travels around the world, recording rare and notable organs. They put together a variety of sounds that is absolutely perfect for me.

How much did it cost?

It was created for me as a sponsor gift from two companies. At first it was more of an experiment and eventually it turned into my beautiful white concert instrument, which fulfills all the parameters for my playing as well as for easy transport. The company Shan made the body of the instrument for me, and Sonus Paradisi added these sounds to the organ.

In that case, you must have it insured as if it were a house.

I should have it insured, that's true. (laughs)

How many female organists are there in the Czech Republic?

That changes all the time. Students are one thing, active players another.

Are you making enough for this be your main job?


Prodej luxusního domu, Praha - západ - 414 m2
Prodej luxusního domu, Praha - západ - 414 m2, Okolí Prahy

I can't imagine how much organists make.

It is a specific field. Especially in Western countries where there was no communism, there is a tradition that the organist is employed by the church. It's a normal job with a fixed salary, even a flat. The organist, or Regenschori, leads the church choir and is in charge of the church's music activities, which are an every day matter in Catholic churches.

Then there is another thing, and that's a concert organist, an artist. With other instruments you can be a freelancer, performing in different music halls. But organs usually aren't present in concert halls. Because of that, it is quite difficult to make a living as a performer. Either you play in a church, or you teach. Or both. That was one of my motivations for obtaining my own instruments. So that I wouldn't be confined to one place and limited to the locations that have an organ. So, just like musicians who can carry their instruments with them, I now have more opportunities.

Your dad is a doctor. Wasn't he disappointed that you didn't follow in his footsteps?

He wasn't, because my brother is following in his footsteps. Coincidentally, his name is exactly the same, Jiří Chrobok. He's a surgeon, and he even works at Na Homolce, like my father.

Your aunt is the actress Pavla Tomicová, you must have inherited a lot of talents.

Yes, and I chose to follow my mom's branch, with the acting, and pursue an artistic career.

You can sing, too. Did you learn it at the conservatory?

That came somehow naturally when I started composing my own songs. I wanted to get out of the box of classical music, even though I still love it and will never stop playing it. But at the same time, I felt the need to add something else. It is related to the impulse of having my own organ so that I could not only play in more places, but also for a different audience, reach out to other music platforms than the churches, even though they are the most beautiful.

That was the first thing, to play in a different context. And so, naturally, it developed into me thinking about the style of music I would like to play. Suddenly I started to compose my own songs, and from there, I naturally progressed to using my own voice, I felt the need to use it.

The organ is amazing, but when you sing, you have the closest contact with the audience. I hadn't experienced it until then, only when I started using my voice in my compositions. I felt as if a wall had been torn down between me and the audience, there was a much greater flow of energy. I found it to be the greatest self-expression of myself, through my own music and voice.

Do you play more in the Czech Republic or abroad?

That changes depending on the season. Sometimes I happen to play more abroad, sometimes here. Last year it was more in our country, now it's more abroad. I've just had my debut on the German market. I am very happy that I started working with the excellent IMG Artist agency, which arranged a tour in Germany for me, so I'm currently traveling with a baby.

How do you manage it, having a four-month-old girl?

In the beginning, I was hit by a postpartum depression and thought there was no way I could manage it. It was when they brought me my little one for the first night. Fortunately, it only lasted one day. I slept on it a few times and calmed down.

The great thing was that I only got back into the concert life three months later. I had time to put myself together and get back in shape, at least to some extent. Another big advantage is that I am a freelancer, so I can choose my concerts, make it two or three per month, so that I could manage it with the baby and have time to practice. Not only do I need to have time for the shows, I have to prepare for them too. Like an athlete, I also have to train every day not to fall out of pracise. So when I have babysitting, I make the most of it and play. And I spend the rest of my time with my little one, because she's amazing.

What do your neighbors have to say about you playing an organ every day?

I have the opportunity to regulate my dynamics, so I try not to make it extremely loud. But the lady living under us said she loved it when she opened her window. She asked me if she could buy my CD when she met me in the hallway.

Do you do sports?

I used to do a lot of sports and swimming because of my back. Now, with the baby, I try to go to physio training at least once a week, for which I have a special trainer.

Your husband is also a musician. Does he help you with the baby?

He was originally a drummer by education, then he got a degree in management. Already in the times of Václav Havel, he founded the multi-genre festival Strings of Autumn at Prague Castle, which he has been organising for 23 years. He was also artistic director of the Dvořák Prague Festival for six years, so he is also active in the music business.

Since he knows it from both sides, he helps me a lot. But he helped me the most by going with me on my tour in Germany, so that he could keep an eye on our daughter. The most beautiful experience for me was when my husband took Anička to my concert.

Does it bother the baby? Isn't it too loud?

They were downstairs, it wasn't so loud, it's loud upstairs. When I started singing, she started laughing and humming for herself. She knows it from when she was in my tummy, I had concerts when I was pregnant with her. My husband made a video for me. I was completely moved by that.

When can the audience see you in the Czech Republic in the nearby future?

I've just finished a tour in Germany and Austria. Now I'm on a break so I could compose new songs and record. And I start again in the spring. You can find the information on my website

Do you have any goals regarding where you would like to perform with your organ? Or for whom?

I don't have a specific goal regarding where and for whom I would like to play. Rather, it is important for me to have concerts where I can play mainly my own songs. The most beautiful thing for me is sharing them with the audience. When people are moved, that brings me the greatest joy. That is my goal.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Fast confession:

Do you believe in God?


Will your soul go to Heaven or Hell one day?

To Heaven.

Which was the most beautiful church you've ever played in?

The most impressive for me was St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

Why is it good to be barefoot?

Better contact with the pedal keyboard on which we organists play with our feet.

An organist's nightmare?

Being locked up in a church in the dark.

Who is the sexiest organist in the world?

Ask my husband.

How much did the most expensive organ you've ever played cost?

I don't know, but I played at the St. Vitus Cathedral at a benefit concert for the new St. Vitus organ, which, I think, is supposed to cost eighty million.

Who do you become when you start playing?

More myself than ever.

Where do you want to go with the organ?

As far as possible.

Your life motto?

Live to the fullest, time flies.

The greatest joy of an organist?

When people at my concert are happy and leave with a smile.

What kind of music do you not find attractive?

Probably a brass band.

What was the worst injury you've sustained while playing the organ?

I snapped my fingernail on a key and was dripped blood while playing, so I actually played as far as blood.

How does sacramental wine taste?

Like wine.
Question by the interviewee for the editor:

Why did you choose me?

Because I like organ music.
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