Going on Assignment in Prague July 2024 – July 6, 2024

Eclectic musical duo Cricket and Snail has performed from Knoxville to Prague

By Shelby Wright

On the outskirts of the historic city of Prague in the Czech Republic, the sounds of a violin playing alongside an accordion reverberate off the crystal waters of lake Podleský Ribník. Jutting out into the lake lies MoLo Bar, floating atop a small pier where locals can grab drinks and sit at the docks to watch the setting sun, trailway bikers and wakeboarders across the lake. As they sit, many say the violin and accordion players’ musical tones ease the audience’s weary minds.

This is Jim and Lucie Carlson, a husband-and-wife eclectic musical duo that began in an unlikely place – Knoxville, Tennessee – compared to where they are now.

A love for all things music brought Lucie and Jim together after a friend prompted Jim to see one of Lucie’s violin recitals at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church in 2008.

After Lucie’s recital, Jim introduced himself to her and, as he now says, “The rest is history.” From then, the duo began as the one and only Cricket and Snail. They held their first performance together at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Knoxville, in the summer of 2009.
Why they are named ‘Cricket and Snail’
Cricket and Snail features music largely inspired by folk and the classics of Old Europe. They have an eclectic repertory of French songs, classical pieces, klezmer and Celtic music and original works. The combination of Jim’s accordion with Lucie’s violin makes their music original and reminiscent of the tunes heard on old European streets.

When asked about the origin of their duo’s name, Jim describes how they did not want to have the traditional cake toppers of the bride and groom for their wedding cake, so they found an artist on the newly formed (at the time) website Etsy, who sculpted two snails for their forest-themed cake to represent them. However, they did not just want their duo to be called “snails,” so they added “cricket” as a representation of Lucie because she is a violinist; violins are often compared to crickets because how a bow looks when playing the violin is similar to a cricket rubbing its legs together to chirp.

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As Lucie and Jim play, one can perceive their immense talent through their stylistic choices. As Jim’s fingers dance across the keys and buttons of his accordion, Lucie shows off her abilities with fast-paced melodic lines that soar. When they sing together, the harmonies of their voices complement each other nicely, further immersing listeners in the magical world created by their music.

Jim says, “Our music is whatever our imagination permits.” He describes his performance with Lucie as a profoundly spiritual experience for them, and they hope it also can be for their listeners. Their album, “Points on the Map of Heaven,” released in 2021, was primarily inspired by a spiritual dream Jim had of the night sky bending toward the earth, revealing each constellation to him. From this, Jim describes the stars as reaching down to him from above, revealing that “music can be, for all of us, our own constellations, pointing us to why we listen to it so we can create our own playlists and directions through it.”

Katerina Hojova, an attendee of Cricket and Snail’s performance at MoLo Bar, describes their music as “perfect and incredibly pleasing to hear after a long week.” She says Lucie and Jim are among the most talented musicians she has had the pleasure of listening to.

When the two play, Jim says, “something exponential happens that is incredibly transcendent, and it captivates the ears of anyone nearby. … It feels like we connect through this music and are petting each other’s souls.”

Lucie agrees with Jim and adds, “Especially in some moments, there is something more than music that happens between [Jim and me], and us and our instruments.”
Musical background
Jim Carlson is a self-taught accordionist, singer and composer from Seattle, Washington. He graduated with a doctorate in music composition from Duke University in 2000. In 2002, he moved to Monteagle, Tennessee, where he taught music theory composition at Sewanee: The University of the South for 14 years.

Lucie Carlson is a vocalist and acclaimed violinist born and raised in Prague. She studied at Prague Conservatory and played for Czech Radio before she moved to Israel for four years to study and accompany famous violinist Maxim Vengerov in his ensemble. In 2005, she moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, to continue her studies at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville as a violin performance major under former professor and Knoxville Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Mark Zelmanovich.

Prior to moving to Knoxville, Lucie had applied to several American universities, knowing nothing about what America looked like except what she had seen in movies. However, she says, when Zelmanovich called her, “it was like love at first sight,” and she came to study at UT.
‘We like the idea of being portable’
Lucie and Jim are both Unitarian Universalists and attended Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville for many years. Minister Chris Buice officiated their wedding in 2009 and said, “Jim and Lucie’s relationship gives a whole new meaning to the old pickup line ‘We could make beautiful music together.’”

“We sang before we spoke,” Buice added. “This makes music foundational to the human religious experience. Birds sing without formal theological training. So people made music before scriptures or dogmas or creeds. Maybe we do so for the reason Nietzsche suggested: ‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’” Jim and Lucie are the embodiment of this.

They have played at numerous Knoxville locations and churches, including Market Square and The French Market Creperie on Clinch Avenue. “We like the idea of being portable,” Jim says.

Before moving to Prague, the Carlsons spent their summers there to visit Lucie’s family. One summer, they attended the Telć Festival, a summer festival in the Czech Republic that features folk-pop music, and received an offer to fill the performance space of a group that had canceled.

From there, they gained popularity and have opened for several folk bands, including the Spiritual Quintet, and have been invited to play across various squares, bars and venues in Prague. They even have played on the Charles Bridge, which is very exclusive and competitive as many artists want to reserve spots so their music can be heard by Prague’s thousands of daily tourists.
Making the move to Prague
In 2017, Cricket and Snail, along with the couple’s two young children, decided to move permanently to Prague after Jim’s father’s death to be closer to Lucie’s parents.

Today, Lucie runs a yoga studio, and Jim teaches music and English at Magic Hill Elementary (grades 1-9). Still, they are looking to expand their horizons for Cricket and Snail by including more popular music with old classics. For example, Jim and Lucie incorporate Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” into the popular Maroon 5 pop song “Memories.”

Sometimes they perform with their children, who are also musically talented. Their daughter, Elise, 12, plays flute, while their son, Lukas, 9, plays bass guitar. “They are naturals,” Jim says.

Although Lucie and Jim love their lives in Prague, they miss life in Tennessee. “I miss the very hearty people and my friends,” Lucie says. Now, rather than taking their summer odysseys to Prague, they travel to Seattle to visit the rest of Jim’s family, but they hope to return to Tennessee and reconnect soon.

Shelby Wright is a University of Tennessee journalism student who reported and wrote this article for the Knoxville News Sentinel during a study abroad course in Prague.

University of Tennessee student Shelby Wright crafted this video version of her Cricket & Snail story for our Going on Assignment in Prague class, 2023. The print version appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel.