Almost everyone at AAU has, at some point, paused while hurrying to class on Lazenska street, wondering what could be the source of that ethereal sound – a soprano aria or the trills of a piano arpeggio echoing off the baroque buildings around the university.
Many have a vague notion that there is a music school opposite the campus but few would guess what a remarkable institution AAU has as its neighbor.
The Jan Deyl Conservatory and Secondary School for Visually Impaired Students, once known simply as the Deyl Institution, was founded in 1910 by Czech ophthalmologist Jan Deyl as a charity. Deyl, who dedicated his life to helping the disabled and the blind, turned the building transformed after World War II into a music school for these students.
In late 1970s, it took on its current form – a special kind of place where people remain faithful to Deyl’s values, welcoming everyone, disabled or not.
Students come from varied regions and cultural backgrounds. Mario Bihari, a blind Slovak Romany musician and a graduate, reminisces about his years there, during which he says the school provided him with his first real opportunity.
In his home country, no such institution existed, according to Bihari. However, his parents wanted him to become a musician, so eventually he came to Prague.
Bihari spent a fair amount of time in the Deyl dorm, where he remembers the feeling of freedom and some close friends, including teachers who collaborated with students on music projects.
The instrument teachers, as opposed to the theory teachers, at Deyl Institution follow a one-on-one learning approach, which is common in music schools. The approach results in strong and positive relationships between students and teachers and maximizes students’ achievements.
Many music schools also employ the integrated model, where blind students sit alongside sighted ones. But Deyl remains specialized in teaching the visually impaired, making the school unique in Prague.
It takes seven years of study, instead of the usual six, to finish at Deyl because blind students must memorize vast amounts of information to play and compose music. Nor does Deyl have its own orchestra since the students can’t see the conductor and can’t be a part of any traditional ensemble.
Such students are always the first to take exams, among other privileges, but none of the school’s caring community seems to mind.
The conservatory is also a boarding school, which helps those from outside of Prague to arrange their free time activities, such as sports. “In addition to music, I like to go swimming,” said visually impaired student Michaela Malkova.
Bihari believes the Deyl music school still plays a critical role. “It is simply important to get an education,” he says, whether blind or not, “and music is a good choice.”