The worst summer of my life was 1990. I had recently been dumped by a long-term boyfriend. I was bored. The school year had ended and I was missing the kids from my choir. My band had no upcoming gigs. A sexy guy yelled at me. Nothing was going right and, even though I had all my arms and legs and wasn’t languishing in a hospital bed, I was miserable. I would go to sleep each night wishing I could wake up dead. And in the middle of it all was this nagging voice that kept saying, “Go to Czechoslovakia.”
I shushed that voice, but it came back over and over. In the fall I enrolled in a Slovak language course and one of the other students brought a list of people running tours to Czechoslovakia (for all you nitpickers, it was still Czechoslovakia), and specifically to the Slovak part of the country. I filed it in a folder and forgot about it until one day at work when I had finished all my tasks and was sitting there bored. I pulled out the folder and thought, I’m going to close my eyes and stick my finger on the page, and whomever it lands on, I’m going to write them a note asking about their tour to Slovakia. When I saw the name my finger was on, which was Helene Cincebeaux, I thought, no way! The name was French, not remotely Slovak, but then I heard my Spirit say, “Write to her.” So I wrote to Helene, telling her that I was very interested in Slovak folk music and if her tour included any concerts of cimbalom bands or folk festivals I might consider going.
A couple weeks later I got an 8-page letter from her, inviting me to travel with her and her mother for six weeks and then join the two-week tour. She promised to introduce me to the musicians I had been slobbering over for years and that we would attend at least three folk festivals. I was ecstatic!
Helene turned out to be Moravian Slovak, and she and her mother Helen were wonderful to travel with. She was as good as her word, and better. I met all the musicians whose recordings I had been listening to for the past 10 years, we attended four folk festivals, and I sat there with my little Sony tape recorder and my music notebook sucking up the culture like a vacuum cleaner. I made new friends. I came home with dozens of songs and recordings.
An unexpected by-product of the trip was that I learned to speak Slovak fluently. It took about two weeks. I already spoke Polish, and one day at the market square in Piešťany, a city in Western Slovakia, a gentleman approached me speaking Polish. I thought, “What a relief! Now I can speak in a language I really know,” but every word came out Slovak. If you had put a gun to my head, I could not speak Polish!
If this story has a moral, it’s listen to your Spirit. It will always steer you in the right direction, and it knows more than your ego.