The Chief Firefighter in Kraków is advertising for a new hejnalista – a bugler who plays the trumpet call or hejnał from the top of the tower of St Mary’s Church (kościół Mariacki).
If you ever been to Kraków or listened to the Polish Radio at 12.00 midday you are familiar with the trumpet call called hejnał mariacki [hey-naw mar-yatz-ki] – a tradition which is about 700 years old, and Kraków is the only city in the world where a medieval custom of playing bugle calls from the top of a tower has survived. Historically, the hejnał was played to signal the opening of the city gates in the morning and closing of them in the evening. You can watch and listen to the hejnał being played here
Any potential candidate must meet the following criteria: must be Polish, educated to the A-level standard, be of good character with no convictions, and able to play a trumpet. For the first time hejnalista will not be recruited from amongst serving firefighters as has been the case for the past 140 years. The successful candidate will have to undertake the 177 day firefighters training though, which will include abseiling.
He will join the team of seven buglers who are on duty for 24 hours (from 8.00 to 7.00 the following morning). There are always two buglers on duty at the same time. Hejnał is played every hour on the hour towards the four corners of the world: first time it is played towards the south (direction of Wawel castle) for the king, to the west (direction of the Cloth Hall) for the Mayor, to the north (towards the Barbican) for the visitors and the fourth time it is played towards the east (direction of the Small Market) for the Chief Firefighter. Each of the two buglers on duty will play it 48 times during a shift.
The place of work is a small room at the height of 54m close to the top of the St Mary’s tower (the taller of the two towers of St Mary’s church in Kraków). Hejnalista has to climb 271 steps (on average it takes about 3 mins). The tower is called hejnalica. This section of the tower has two levels – the lower level contains a small kitchen, a sofa, a table, a bathroom with the toilet and a shower. There is also a tube for broadcasting – since 1927 Polish Radio broadcasts hejnał every day at midday. You may also notice a rope to be used in an emergency e.g. a fire when the hejnalista will abseil from the tower to safety. Finally, there is a clock – to make sure the call is played on time. Being late is not an option.
The duties of hejnalista include playing the hejnał as well as playing other important pieces of music, for example, a religious song “A Mother’s Tears”, on the days of the official national mourning – over the past twenty years it happened twice – on 3rd April 2005 at 12:00 midday after the death of Pope John Paul II, and on 11th April 2010 at 12:02 – after the crash of the presidential plane at Smoleńsk. Hejnalista also acts as a guide to tourists visiting the tower.
Apart from the Polish national anthem, the hejnał mariacki is just about the most recognizable and nationally important melody. It accompanied Poles in the most important historical events, not just in Poland but wherever they happened to be – as on 18th May 1944 at midday on the top of Monte Cassino – Staff Sergeant Emil Chech played the hejnał announcing the victory of the Polish soldiers at the battle of Monte Cassino.
Death in the tower
The most popular legend about hejnał comes from the children’s book “The Trumpeter of Kraków” written in 1929 by an American journalist and professor of English at the Jagiellonian University, Eric P Kelly. It tells the story of a brave bugler, who in 1240, while keeping watch in the tower, spotted the hordes of the Tatars approaching and about to attack the city. The bugler played the tune to raise the alarm but was shot by an arrow which penetrated his throat. That’s why, the tune ends so abruptly.
On the side of the Mariacki church you will find a plaque which commemorates Antoni Dołęga, the bugler, who on the 3rd July 1901 suffered a heart attack and died whilst on duty in the tower.
Occasionally, other musicians are invited to play from the top of the tower with the hejnalista – on 29th October 2015, the American jazz musician, Chris Botti, played hejnał – watch and listen here
So, next time you are in Kraków watch out for the golden trumpet appearing in the small window of the tower of St Mary’s church and listen to the sound of the bugle call.
If you can’t wait that long you can always download a free app –Play the Bugle Call (Graj hejnał) and play the tune yourself by blowing into your phone.
Polish tutor tips
You can see what the inside of the tower looks like here
Make sure you understand the meaning of: hejnał, hejnalista and hejnalica – which one is a person, a trumpet call and the tower?
Why not research the history of St Mary’s church – one of the most important churches in Poland.
Watch a bugler playing the hejnał here