I think that I was in the 3rd grade when the teacher asked me to go to the 5th grade classroom and read aloud something. I always loved to read, but I had never thought of “performing.” The real beginning, however, was when I entered a poetry reading contest in high school at Adelphi University and won 2nd prize for my reading of a D. H. Lawrence poem. I also won a prize for reciting Prospero’s farewell speech from the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. My mother had been an English teacher and I remember that she coached me on it.
Do you find lecturing at the university is a dramatic art?
As a professor you do have a captive audience, but you need to keep the students entertained if you want them to come to class and also not to fall asleep, but seriously, if you want them to learn something. Although I hate the word, it is “info-tainment” in my classes.
How did you get the name Yadu?
Some of my students were Google-ing me the other day; they came to my office and asked the same question. I was close friends with the conductor, Stephen Simon, and his wife, Bonnie Simon, and when they had a son, Basil, since he was a little over a year old, he could not pronounce my name. We began with Konrad; he couldn’t say that. He couldn’t say my childhood nickname “Radek.” Finally, he solved the problem and decided to call me “Yadu.” No one ever knew why. However, when I was asked to narrate at the Kennedy Center, it was clear that few people would have an easy time with Konrad Czynski (“chin+ski”), so it was decided that perhaps Basil had been right after all, and I became Yadu, the famous narrator.
Were you surprised when you were invited to narrate with a full orchestra on the stage of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall? Were you nervous?
I think that I was given an audition without knowing it. The year before I was asked to narrate Peter and the Wolf and Juanita the Spanish Lobster at the Kennedy Center, the Simons invited me to be Santa at the Annual Holiday Sing-Along concert. I had a speaking role and I guess that I must have been a success because the following year, I was invited to be the narrator for the first Stories in Music concert.
As to the second question: Of course I was nervous!
Do you need to be musical to narrate these stories that go with music? What is your musical background?
I think that you need to have a musical ear. My father was a professional organist, so I had the genes. I have always been a music lover and an avid listener. When I get the chance, I go to concerts, but I listen to a lot of classical music.
How do you rehearse being a narrator?
I always rehearse the text alone at home before arriving for the rehearsals. With works like Peter and the Wolf, I listen to all the available recordings. I narrated the world premieres of some of these works - Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Tortoise and the Hare, for example – and the music had never been performed, much less recorded. I would arrive in Washington, DC, stay with the Simons and rehearse intensively for a few days with Stephen at the piano. Bonnie was always on hand to tweak the text here and there and offer suggestions. Often I had a small tape recorder and I would tape our piano sessions and then go to my room afterwards and listen to them. These sessions were critical because I had only one rehearsal with the orchestra before the performance – there was no time to make mistakes!
Which is your favorite of all the Maestro Classids recordings that you have done? Why?
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. I never read the book as a child – I was born in Scotland and lived there until I was five - and Mike is an American children’s picture book. Also, I love Stephen Simon’s music; it is so evocative and I liked working with the Irish bagpiper. Years later, I was invited to perform Mike at the Eric Carle Museum for the Virginia Lee Burton (the author and illustrator for Mike Mulligan) retrospective art exhibit. It was a beautiful fall day there on the Hampshire College campus where the museum is located and it was a great success.
Click here to watch a fun video about Dr. Konrad Czynski created by students at Minnesota State University Moorhead.