The Moravians: Aggie Polka Band Celebrates a Decade
It must be in the water. The North Central Texas town of Ennis keeps producing enduring polka bands. The first documented band played around 1915, the Martinek Orchestra, listed among its members, the names Kuban, Honza, Kriska, Kovar, and Slovak, which would carry the dance music over the next 100 years for their friends and family and polka lovers. Fifty and 60 years later Raymond Zapletal’s Music Masters, Frank Kuban Band, Eric Honza Orchestra, Jodie Mikula Orchestra, and Johnny Mensik and His Playboys led by DJ Johnnie Krajca, kept the music and dancing going in this town of 10,000.
The Mikula Orchestra continues this tradition today. In the late 1900s, the Lone Star Czechs, Slovak Family Polka Band, Sulak Brothers, and Ray Dlabaj and the Country Boys kept the dance halls (there is now three) of Ennis booked. Danny Zapletal (son of Ray) and family started Czech and Then Some with a group of somewhat youthful area musicians in 1997. Nine years later, a new crop of high school friends formed the Ennis Czech Boys.
In 2009, Th e Moravians formed and are now celebrating their 10th anniversary. The above listing does not include all the friends and family who play and sing well but are not in a formal band and form a reliable pool of high-quality musicians when one is needed to fill a slot in a current band. It ferments down to: too many quality musicians, too few places to play. A positive observation is that the latest generation of Czech musicians are carrying on the Czech language with the old-school arrangements of their forefathers.
LET'S FORM A BAND
The Moravians were founded in the spring of 2009 by Matthew Matous and Josh Goodwin along with some of their friends to compete in a high school talent contest. They seemed to click and they decided to keep on playing together. The original members were Matthew Matous, Zachary Matous, Chris Trojacek, Adam Rejcek, Joshua Goodwin, Tyler Novy, and Matt Zajic.
While they were finding their sound, they used the Vrazels, Johnny Mensik, City Polka Boys, Henry Rejcek Orchestra and the Ennis Czech Boys as patterns. When asked about the Ennis Czech Boys, they replied that the Boys were around the same age as themselves, believed in what they were doing, and had opened the door for younger musicians to be accepted.
The Moravians’ name and music go back to Adam Rejcek's family. The band used sheet music from his father, who once had a polka band of his own. Geographically, Moravia in the Czech Republic is where the Rejcek and other bandmember families originated. Moravia is also a well-known incubator of musicians in deep central Texas (see TPN April 2019).
As expected, getting started involved finding the correct musicians for the sound they were seeking, which generated several false starts and irregular bookings. Along the way Kaleb Trojacek and Chris Fullerton contributed to the development of the Moravian’s joyful sound. When they seemed to have a mixture of musicians who were on the same wavelength, their music started to click. After they graduated high school five of the Moravians headed to Texas A&M to continue their studies as several other area musicians.
According to an article published several years ago in the Former A&M Student magazine: “At Ennis High School, the Aggie War Hymn is the fight song, and maroon and white are the school colors. Sound familiar? Ennis is a very Aggie-driven community, so it was no surprise that A&M was a popular choice for college for the majority of the band members. Now a proud group of college-aged young men, the band includes five Aggies, plus two of their high school friends: brothers Matthew Matous ’15 and Zachary Matous ’17, Adam Rejcek ’15, Phillip Cryer ’16, Tyler Prasifka ’17, Josh Goodwin and Chris Trojacek.” Czech heritage in Ennis is similar to Aggie culture, in that they are both very tradition-based.
Adam Rejcek said his Aggie experience has been similar to his Czech heritage because it had the same type of immersive feel. “Coming into A&M was a very easy transition,” he said.”
ON TOUR WITH MOLLIE B
The potential for becoming the outstanding orchestra they are today was recognized by none other than Mollie B six years ago. She picks up the narrative: “This whole idea started when I heard the Moravians for the first time at the National Polka Festival in 2013. I had an idea, shared it with Ted (Lange) and my parents (Jim and Mary Lou Busta). Everyone was on board. I approached them and asked if they’d be interested in shadowing both the Jim Busta Band and SqueezeBox starting in early July, for I felt this band had a good start and good potential. I felt we could help them by sharing our 'ways' and giving them exposure up north. It didn't take long before they said, 'Yes!'
Mollie continued, "I contacted all the promoters for our upcoming performances in which the Moravians would also be attending. They were all open to having the Moravians performing to some capacity, as well. For the most part, the Moravians were the opening act for the Jim Busta Band or SqueezeBox. Additionally, I added two performances in Czech communities in Iowa for them. The boys stayed at my parents’ place in Minnesota and at friends’ homes in Iowa and Wisconsin.”
Mollie concluded: “We had two sessions of instruction, question-and-answer, and discussion - one in the beginning and one in the end. Of course, throughout the nine days there was plenty of time to talk, learn, and have fun, as well. On our days off we went tubing down the Upper Iowa River and provided a pep band for my brother’s softball team for a night. Matthew and Zach’s parents and grandparents joined us in Iowa.”
It was a kind of “Playing Live Music 101” for the members. They were taught stage positioning, sound tips, and other vital lessons to give the audience a memorable show.
Chris said they were very nervous at first. "After our first gig or so, we became real close with Mollie and Ted and much of the Busta family. After that, everything was enjoyable," he recalled.
Chris said Ted mentored them on stage presence and musicianship. "We feel we improved greatly after that trip," he said. The group's biggest takeaway from the trip? "Have fun on stage and enjoy making music," Chris said.
The band members realize the importance of traditional polka music because older generations are the ones who brought it here and kept it going. A lot of their drive comes from wanting to keep the tradition alive and not let the music dissolve into an anachronistic or “oldies” type of music. They understand that their music is widely listened to by those older generations, but along with their traditional Czech music, they will cover familiar contempory country songs by bands such as Randy Rogers Band, Pat Green, and Eli Young Band to keep their shows feeling current if the situation warrants it.
"People like the different pace (of country music) than polka and waltz, because they go along together well,” Phillip said.
The Moravians have played at the National Polka Festival in Ennis to people of all ages celebrating Czech tradition. But they also found a wider audience, performing in Wisconsin, Idaho, and Illinois, thanks to Mollie B, and at The Princess Ball in Dallas, church picnics, and other Texas festivals.
The guys also jumped on board when other Ennis Czech bands created the Ennis Czech Music Festival held each February the weekend after the Super Bowl. Mark the date for the 14th annual event set for Feb. 8, 2020. All members of the five featured bands - Moravians, Czech & Then Some, Czech Harvesters, Ennis Czech Boys, and Jodie Mikula Orchestra - participate in the logistics of the family-fun event, from selling admission and raffle tickets, to getting Grandpa Matous to donate some of his homemade sausage for a raffle prize, to mopping up spills.
CZECH SPIRIT LIVES ON
In 2018, Joshua Goodwin stepped down and Nathan Matous, a senior at Ennis High School and the youngest of the Matous Brothers, was brought in to take Joshua’s slot. This youthful band's current band members are Matthew Matous (trumpet, sax, accordion, vocals), Zachary Matous (keyboard, bass), Chris Trojacek (trumpet, sax, accordion, guitar, bass, vocals), Adam Rejcek (drums, vocals), Tyler Prasi›a (trumpet, accordion, vocals), Phillip Cryer (sax, guitar, vocals), and Nathan Matous (trumpet, keyboard). They recently played at the Ammannsville and Moravia Church Picnics, and brought the Czech music heritage to the Bremond Polish Festival, spreading their fame into Central Texas.
The band has recorded three CDs, one of them named The Czech Spirit Will Live On, which well describes their attitude toward the roots music. All of the band's CDs, including the latest Našich Deset Let (Our Ten Years) are available in the Polka On! Store at polkabeat.com.
“Ennis is very fortunate to have two good young bands like the Ennis Czech Boys and the Moravians," said Czech & Then Some Band Leader Danny Zapletal. "It is amazing the amount of bands that have come from Ennis and the surrounding area. Hopefully we can keep the good Czech music going for a long time in Ennis, which benefits the whole Texas polka scene."