Mail from Prague: Faculty Profile – Tony Ackerman

Tony AckermanMeet Tony Ackerman, a world-renowned American guitarist who has lived in Prague for over 30 years.   He has performed in thousands of concerts and recorded 9 albums with jazz pianist Martin Kratochvil.  Tony is now working for NYU Prague in a newly-created position– our first Faculty Coordinator of the NYU Prague music program.  The program, which was started by Dr Lawrence Ferrara from Steindhardt in 2005, has enticed hundreds of budding musicians from NYC to Prague.  We met with Tony to find out more about his plans for developing this highly successful program.

Tell us about some of the changes that you hope to bring to the music program.

Most importantly, I want students to get in personal contact with Czech artists– to play with jazz musicians, to work in studios … this has been happening organically, but hopefully we can formalize it, giving a structure to what is already happening.

One of the ways I want to do that is with a new course that all music students will take: The Collegium Seminar.  There is a course of the same name at Steinhardt, but the Prague course is quite different.   We want students to discover what is unique here, to find out what Prague has to offer. We’ll go to concerts, visit studios, invite guests here… in a few weeks we’re going to a Baroque music concert where the musicians play on historic instruments from the period.   Students will get to see Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni  in the same theatre where it premiered when Mozart lived in Prague.

What unique qualities do you think Prague has to offer NYU students?

Students sink into the rhythm of this cozy, welcoming, beautiful city.   It isn’t New York, and it isn’t Berlin – but it’s small size is exactly what makes it so accessible, with lots of opportunities to collaborate with top ranking musicians.    Musicians don’t need to speak Czech to integrate into the culture – they speak the language of music and can befriend Czechs through their shared passion.

Tell us about your musical background and what you specialize in.

In my life, I’ve worked in many musical areas.  I’m best known as a jazz musician, but recently I’ve started a career as a solo player –I take six of my guitars, line them up onstage, and play them – in fact in one of my new compositions, I play all of them, running up and down to pick up different guitars…  when I was doing my PhD at UCSB I did my stint as a university composer , writing the kind of music no one wants to hear…  At Harvard I got music theory boot camp in 1968 – when I teach oral comprehension, it’s all from that experience.  I was a rock musician in the late 60s.  I’ve played in contemporary music groups, playing premiers of pieces in NYC.  Playing many genres has its benefits – it’s given me a global view – but as well as perhaps its drawbacks.

You were one of the very few Americans living in Czechoslovakia under the Communist regime.  How did that happen, and what was it like?

I first visited Prague at the age of 15 in 1965, a rare American tourists brought by my art-historian father to see stupendous architecture behind the Iron Curtain.    Years later I married a Czech woman who I met in the USA, and because we were married, we could travel back and forth across the Iron Curtain.  On one of those visits in the 1970s, I met  Martin Kratochvil , a fantastic jazz pianist.  Then in 1983 I moved to Czechoslovakia because I got a fellowship to study Czech contemporary music – music that was virtually unknown in the West.   So I moved here with my wife and kids, and we lived in a tiny apartment for a year.  I stared playing jazz and performing with my friend Martin Kratochvil, and the work was really interesting – at the end of the year, I wanted to stay.  It was a horrible time for the country in many ways – the lack of freedom to travel, people were cut off from achieving their ambitions in the external world…     But the plus side was that the energy was turned inwards – it led to amazing jokes, people had time for hobbies, like raising bees.  They listened to music so much more – our concerts were packed in the 80s.  I wasn’t subject to the same repression as others – I got a job teaching music at the Embassy’s high school and because of our diplomatic license plates, we could cross the border to Germany whenever we wanted.    It was a bit surreal.

What has been most rewarding about teaching NYU students?

I love NYU students. – or at least the ones who have chosen to come here  There is something about the mysteries of Prague that brought them. They are very open and curious about the city.  They are amazingly well trained in music as well as being open and flexible.  And I like the smallness of the program –  it’s very family like.

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Mail from Prague: Karlovy Vary

Karlovy Vary, also known as Carlsbad – welcomed us with very sunny weather. We went for a tour to get to know the city, we took the waters from the famous springs, and some of us enjoyed the spa’s relaxing treatments.. . . The next day we visited the most famous Czech glass factory – Moser glassworks. We finished the day at the Tepla Monastery, visiting one of the most stunning libraries in the Czech Republic.

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Mail from Prague: “With Snack” Released their New Single in Prague!

With SnackUsually it takes NYU Prague music students a few months before they form bands and start having concerts.  This spring we were ahead of the curve.  With Snack – which plays a progressive combination of soul, jazz, and R&B – was formed by a group of NYU students in 2012 New York.  In the spring semester their members relocated to Prague (except for their vocalist, who was just up the road in Berlin), and on March 8 Prague audiences were the first to hear their newly recorded single at a local club.

With Snack quickly established themselves as a group to watch out for by winning the audience award at NYU’s UltraVioletLive talent competition in February 2013.  Since then they played as many shows as possible around New York, and in October they released their first EP.  Why Prague?  “We all came to get away from the distractions in New York City – hopefully by the end of the semester we’ll have enough new material to record an album,” explained keyboard player Aviv Goldgeier.  “I love getting away from the chaos of New York.   We go out jamming, and Prague has a welcoming scene with tons of amazing musicians.  Everyone here loves to dance to jazzy R&B, and I feel like I fit right in.”

With Snack was planning a month-long European tour from Prague to Lisbon once the semester ends in June – hitting about 12 cities, “centered around places where we have free places to stay.”    And maybe free snacks, too. . .

You can read more about  the band in an interview with Carolyn Boyce on Hive Mind, an NYU-based arts and entertainment blog, or go to

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Get Involved with TEDxNYU Prague

Studying Abroad? Get Involved!

In the past we have organized events at six sites across three continents, including Student Talks at NYU Florence, live stream events at NYU London, Paris and Shanghai, and a TEDxNYU Talk on the Future of Global Education by President John Sexton live streamed from NYU Abu Dhabi.

Are you passionate about TED(x) Talks, are you studying away this year and are you still looking for a unique leadership experience? We then would like to invite you to join our Global Operations team. We are currently looking for both Global Operations Site Liaisons and team members to help bringing TEDxNYU to your study away site.

Find Out More.

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Please Complete the Pre-Departure Survey

You should have received an email with access to our Pre-Departure Survey, and are now able to submit feedback regarding your experience.

NYU’s Office of Global Programs strives to provide students with the best possible experiences and services as they prepare to study away, and your input will help us tremendously as we prepare for future semesters. Please take a few minutes (really, it will only take a few minutes!) to the complete the survey before you depart.

Thanks so much for your assistance!

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Reflecting on your Experience Away

You should have now largely completed your study away to-do’s.  As one last recommended to-do, we would like to challenge you to think about how you will document and reflect on your experience away.

Your 3-4 month journey will go by with the blink of an eye, but you will create memories that last a lifetime.  Consider creating a blog, both for your own benefit and as a way to share the experience with your family and friends.  If you haven’t already, keep in mind joining the team of students blogging for ThisIsNYU throughout the Global Network.

Here is information on how to sign up.  (link to the previous post titled “Share your upcoming experience on THISISNYU”)

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Be GlobeSmart

In order to have a successful semester away, you should be prepared to experience different ways of interacting with the people and culture of your new city.  GlobeSmart is a web based tool that provides quick access to knowledge on how to communicate effectively with people from over sixty countries around the globe, as well as links to research about American stereotypes, cultural and ethical relativism, and tips for maximizing study abroad.

Learn more about creating and understanding your cultural profile here.  You can access GlobeSmart once logged into NYUHome on the left-hand side.


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