’m getting too old for this,” a man chuckled as he wheeled in what looked like a bass violin through the glass doors. A few students trailed along behind him as the doorway to Gibble Auditorium grew closer. Instruments were being tuned, laughs and conversations were shared. Then, Chair of the Music Division of Elizabethtown College’s Fine and Performance Arts Dr. Douglas Bomberger made his way to the podium and took the microphone. His words shed light on the upcoming Eastern European trip for Elizabethtown College students who wish to learn about the music and culture of Croatia.
On Tuesday, April 16 the St. Lawrence Adult Tamburitza Orchestra from Steelton, Pa. performed under the direction of Mark Kresho Jr. at the College. The group is associated with the St. Lawrence Croatian Lodge No. 13, part of the Croatian Fraternal Union. As the final saxophone note faded away, the 28 members of the orchestra stood upon the small stage, their instruments gleaming in the light as they prepared to perform the folk music found in different regions of Croatia.
The first strums of the tamboura, an instrument originally made from a tortoise shell, struck a chord and the others followed along. Within an instant, feet and fingers began to tap the carpeted floor and the contagious smiles of the instrumentalists reached the audience. “By no means are we able to give you an in depth [feel] in an hour,” director Ivan Hrabric said, but he did proceed to explain some of the Croatian songs played as well as a bit of history of the country.
The country of Croatia is located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Its neighboring countries, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia, contribute to its music and culture. Due to many invasions by the Turks, Italians and Venetians, Croatians had to adjust to new rulers; thus, separated families became common. The rousing voices of the singers and the deep bass described an orphan singing to the mountains and the mountains negatively responding to him; this dark humor is another common theme in the folk songs of the people.
The audience was transported elsewhere, this time to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia and its largest city. During a break, Hrabric described his time working as a translator and trying to translate a conversation between a friend and his relative during their first meeting. Because the relative and Hrabric both spoke different dialects, the word “what” became common among all three present.
The fourth song described a passionate feeling towards a village and the approximately 500 people remaining, after the intense summer tourists have long gone. Though the villagers may be poor, their love for their land is rich, and it burst through the thumping beat and cheers from the orchestra during the song.
The country of Croatia is very festive in their gatherings, songs and instruments. All the way back to Slovenia, the tamboura went through many adjustments but its traditions still hold deep within the orchestra members. The common variant that night was the prim tamboura or “bisernica” meaning “pearl,” referring to the pearly design on the sound box of the tamboura. Other instruments used are the bas-prim or brács, with two double and single strings and bigger than the bisernica. There is the cselló, with four strings, the bugarija, which is similar to a guitar, but has five strings best used for the chords of a song. Remember the “bass?”Turned out that it was a bas, spelled such, and played just as a double bass would be: standing up.
The final two songs with a much faster pace reflected the traditional street parties held in Croatia. It was the final song that flew the audience into a mood that could be found at such an actual Croatian gathering. A mood of joy, appreciation and a true sense of community.