In 2018 our community was honored to award scholarships to 25 individuals for the summer Balkan Music & Dance Workshops. Scholarship types included the EEFC's Dick Crum/Kef Scholarship and the Vassil Bebelekov, Stefni Agin and Lillie Cooper scholarships. Scroll down to read their reports.
Mendocino: Sevi Bayraktar, Nathan Bernacki, William (Billy) Giaquinto, Kat Kinnick, Jonathan Kipp, Shireen Nabatian, George Parisis, Katheryn Petersen, Char Rothschild, Willo Sertain, Derek Shaw and Kira Weiss. (Nicholas Caputo was awarded a scholarship but was not available for a report.)
Iroquois Springs: Nicholas Athanasatos, John David Eriksen, Ani Garaventa, Nada Khodlova, Ariane Morin, Terra Nonack, Hinako Sato, Matthew Schreiber, Tin Skorić and Emrah Yilgen. Timea Kasa was awarded a scholarship but was not able to attend camp; Karla Garza was awarded a scholarship but was not available for a report.
To learn about applying for a scholarship for a future Workshop, visit the scholarships page on the EEFC website.
Location: Los Angeles, Calif., and Istanbul, Turkey
Occupation: I’m a Ph.D. candidate in culture and performance at UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance (formerly Dance Ethnology).
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I'm a professional dancer specializing in traditional dances of Asia Minor, Turkish Roma, and Flamenco. Parts of my work and dance research can be seen on my blog, www.terraroman.com
Number of times at Balkan camp: One.
Studied at camp: I have learned new instruments like tapan, practiced singing Albanian songs and I joined almost all dance classes as my main focus. I enjoyed everything that I newly practiced in the camp and these new experiences surely fed my artistic approach and practice.
Memorable moment at camp: The camp was a fantastic experience in its entirety. Living for a week in a beautiful natural forest with no internet was tough yet emancipatory.
Because this was my first time in the camp, I did not know many people before I arrived; however, from day 0 (I mean, even before the camp started, the days during which I was trying to figure out how to go to the camp) until the very last day campers were extremely accommodating, helpful and friendly. Their kind and humble being provided a neophyte camper with the warmest environment, besides the fire set every night outside of the kitchen.
One thing that I would not forget is the deer family accompanying our drum classes and everyday life in the camp. This lovely family composed of parents and little deer kids were very curious about our studies in the camp and showing up particularly in tapan and doumbek classes. It was delightful watching them as they came and went. Their elegance, curiosity and unity as a family were sparking inspiration.
Location: Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria.
Occupation: I am a student at the American University in Bulgaria. I came here because I want to learn Bulgarian music. Outside of school I am studying with some players from the Pirin Ensemble. I also have a teacher in Sofia at the National Folk Ensemble.
Connection to Balkan music/dance during the year: There are not too many music-related events in Blagoevgrad. I go see the Pirin Ensemble when they perform and have been to a few mehanas [taverns with folk decorations and sometimes folk music]. It’s not like Balkan camp where there are parties with folk music every day. In Plovdiv things are little more musically active, but it is four hours away by bus. I have been to a few events in Plovdiv and Sofia.
Number of times at Balkan camp: Five years.
Studied at camp: Gudulka. I didn’t go to the gudulka classes because the teacher there was using the same materials that my teacher developed, so I asked him for private lessons in his free time. We did that every day.
Memorable moment at camp: Playing a kafana set with Eleni and Bobby Govetas, Nick Maroussis and Benji [Rifati]. That was probably the thing that stuck out to me. Most the time I don’t get to play with people my age. I grew up in Durham, N.C., and my mother was a folk dancer, and I’ve always been surrounded by people significantly older than me. Playing with talented people close to my age, like those guys, it brought a different feeling that I hadn’t had before. It was really satisfying.
Location: Santa Fe, N.M.
Occupation: I work as a general music teacher for grades K-6 as well as a freelance trumpet player and vocalist.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I currently perform with the Sevda Choir run by Willa Roberts. I also have recently started a Balkan brass band in Santa Fe with Char Rothschild.
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my second year coming to camp.
Studied at camp: My main focus at dance was trumpet playing in the brass band and studying with Nizo Alimov.
Memorable moment at camp: This year I had learned enough material to be able to play a bit in the kafana for a large brass band jam. It was an incredible experience to take what I had been working on throughout the year since my first camp experience and apply it to collective music making. The feedback was positive and I felt embraced by my new family. I was encouraged and elated. This was the night that I felt as if I had solidified my newfound relationship to the music and the wonderful brass musicians in the EEFC community. Because of these new deep connections forged by the experience, I am already planning and looking forward to next year’s camp.
Location: Santa Fe, N.M.
Occupation: I work at an art gallery and also teach art to preschoolers once a week
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I’m a member of Sevda Choir. We’re a group of about 14 people and meet every Sunday from 4 to 6. We’ve had several concerts since our group formed about three years ago and mostly perform at the San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe.
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my second year!
Studied at camp: Serbian singing with Svetlana Spajić and Albanian singing with Merita Halili.
Memorable moment at camp: One scene or experience?! There are so many! Possibly my favorite was after our Serbian singing class performed, a few people came up to me and said, “Wow, I had never heard you sing before. You sounded great!” I felt so grateful that this time around at camp, I became more a part of the creative community and my singing was heard and seen by others who loved it!
There were moments in Svetlana’s class which still stick with me. One time she stopped me mid-singing, and told me to move around the space to become more comfortable, take a few seconds if I need it, look at a fellow singer in the choir for information (aka Bluetooth transmission as she would call it, we had just learned the songs and weren't using notation), and then trust that I knew what to sing and do it! It was a powerful experience. One of the takeaways was realizing that the most important thing for a voice to come across as authentic, is to be grounded, connected to the place and especially connected to the other people you are singing with, and singing for.
I LOVED camp. There were so many wonderful, creative and supportive people.
Location: Arcata, Calif.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I play in the accordion duo Balkan Bellows with Linnea Mandell, and the Macedonian village ensemble Muglagrad with Linnea, Craig Kurumada and Randy Carrico. We usually gig once or twice a month, both to sit-down audiences and to dancers.
I recently did some gigs on tupan and doumbek with the Bay-Area group Arcana, with the likes of Greg Jenkins and Joey Friedman.
I have begun teaching a beginning doumbek class in Arcata that is growing!
I have been the stage manager for Kolo Festival in San Francisco. I have played with the international dance band Chubritza at Veselo Festival in Eugene, OR; and at the Tamburitza Extravaganza in LA.
In the last couple years I have spent every free moment of my life practicing accordion, tupan and doumbek, and learning Balkan languages.
Number of times at Balkan camp: I have been to camp three years.
Studied at camp: My focus this year was all things accordion.
Memorable moment at camp: By far the best thing that happened to me at camp was when Milen Slavov took me aside one day and had me play a little for him. He told me my biggest weaknesses, and charged me with working them out by next year. I can think of no greater gift (aside from a new accordion).
Location: Vancouver, B.C.
Occupation: I am a full-time music student! It’s the best thing ever!
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I sing and play violin with Zlatna Mountain. Our repertoire is mostly Macedonian. I also play occasionally with Grupa Dunbarov, the Vancouver Balkan folk dance band that Kate and Erika Gerson started over 20 years ago.
Number of times at Balkan camp: 2018 was my 6th year.
Studied at camp: I always take a mix of violin, singing and ensemble classes. Whenever Jessaiah [Zuré] is teaching I try to squeeze in a couple of her classes too.
Memorable moment at camp: I passed a lot of milestones this year: leading my own kafana set, singing with the brass band in the dance hall a couple times; and I helped out with the auction, which was way more rewarding than one might expect.
I also collaborated with a couple very special people I met for the first time this year. Finding new music buddies at camp is like discovering treasure. Those moments of open-hearted sharing are so very precious, and for me I think that’s what making music is all about.
Location: Hayward, Calif.
Occupation: Teaching Credential Candidate at Cal State East Bay and Middle School Science Teacher
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I have been involved with Greek folk dance from a young age—performing at local festivals as well as the national Greek folk dance and choral competition known as FDF. As a college student, my involvement with Greek dance continued when I prepared a youth group for FDF. Furthermore, I have played the Cretan laouto and mandolin for over 10 years now, performing at FDF and various other occasions throughout the year. In the near future, I plan on learning to play the askomantoura (bagpipe).
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time at camp.
Studied at camp: Since I arrived at camp later in the week, I was not able to regularly attend a specific workshop.
Memorable moment at camp: The entire experience was overwhelmingly inspiring. The vast amount and diversity in musical abilities and types surely broaden my scope. Being surrounded by so many wonderful people and soaking in the music played by so many talented musicians was so inspiring.
Location: Vancouver, B.C.
Occupation: I am a professional musician, plus I work several part-time jobs to fill in the blank in my income stream.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I perform with several groups that have varying levels of Balkan content:
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first
Studied at camp: Accordion and voice.
Memorable moment at camp:
Practicing with the Albanian orchestra ensemble in the woods
Sleeping in the beautiful old historic cabins
Deep conversations with new friends over beautiful food
The campfire late at night with impromptu music by the uber-talented teenager/young adult players
Becoming hypnotized by the power of the circle dancing at night
Location: Santa Fe, N.M.
Occupation: I teach music K-6 at Turquoise Trail Charter School, and perform in a few bands around Santa Fe.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I play with the band EVET with Polly Ferber, Melinda Russial, Paul Brown, Willa Roberts and Nick Kunz. Last summer, after Mendocino, Billy Giaquinto and I started playing in a small brass band in Santa Fe also, which we call Korvin Orkestar.
Number of times at Balkan camp: I first came in 1999. It was a year that Esma Redžepova brought her band.
Studied at camp: Instruments—Thracian and Rhodope gajda, Macedonian Roma trumpet with Nizo Alimov; and Albanian accordion with Raif Hyseni.
Memorable moment at camp: I was very touched to be able to be included in the Rhodope set with the Gajda Mafia. It was the first time I had been to camp since Vassil Bebelekov passed away, and we had a little circle for him. I was struck by the spirit of playfulness that continues in his memory. I worked hard to learn the melodies at Mendo, and now continue to work on learning the intricate ornaments of the kaba gajda. Thanks to Craig [Kurumada] I was able to purchase one and bring it home!
Location: Portland, Ore.
Occupation: Full-time musician
Connection to Balkan music/dance: A lot of the Balkan music I have learned over the years I have been able to integrate into current working repertoire with my band Three for Silver. We mostly focus on original composition, but my style of writing and playing is heavily influenced by traditional world folk music. We have recorded a few of these traditional pieces on past albums and plan to do the same on our next album (release date set for Jan 2019).
Before Three for Silver I worked with the band The Underscore Orkestra for eight years. The focus with this ensemble was primarily traditional folk music of Eastern Europe and the Balkans as well as klezmer and swing manouche. There are links to their music on SoundCloud via www.theunderscoreorkestra.com.
Balkan music has played a major role in collaborations I have done with many musicians around the world, in professional settings and casual.
Most recently I have been able to integrate my love for learning and performing Balkan music with the U.S. Embassy Arts Envoy Program, a U.S. State Department cultural promotion program through the Media Relations Department, and the Portland–Khabarovsk Sister City Association. With these programs I have been able to perform in official settings for city officials, in classroom settings for music students in grades ranging from elementary to high school seniors, in college auditoriums, as well as in more typical music venues, and in doing so demonstrate how the integration of folk music with original contemporary composition helps to preserve the relevancy of musical heritage in today’s professional music scene.
Number of times at Balkan camp: My first year at camp was in 2007. I was not able to return until this past year.
Studied at camp: My main focus was accordion and vocal technique.
Memorable moment at camp: For me there were many moments at camp that left a strong impression. I'm not sure how best to single any one of them out. I will say that at the time I was going through a really difficult moment in life, experiencing a lot of doubt about my career path as a musician and was feeling a lot of heartache. The interactions I had, the conversations, the insight and encouragement I received, all of this was immensely validating. And inspiring.
One of the most memorable and joyful moments was being present from start to finish for Raif [Hyseni] and Svetlana [Spajić]'s spontaneous performance at the smokers’ table on the night of Raif's birthday. That was pure joy. It's amazing to me the extent of these teachers’ repertoire, that they can pull songs out of each other's heads and play for two hours straight with barely a break between songs. They all know so much, it's just incredible.
Location: Eureka, Calif.
Occupation: I teach part time at Humboldt State University, in Sociology and Politics.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I am involved with Balkan music in a couple of ways. For the past couple of years I have been attending the Balkan meet-up hosted by Craig Kurumada and Linnea Mandell in Arcata, Calif. Craig and Linnea generously host this meet-up to introduce and teach Balkan folk songs to interested musicians and singers. When their teaching meet-up is not happening, I host a weekly Balkan meet-up in a yurt in my backyard. I also occasionally play with a local group called The EthniKs. This group plays mostly Balkan folk songs and once every couple of months we play for the local folk dance group. There is a pretty consistent group of local musicians who are interested in Balkan music and so I hope to continue to play with and learn from them.
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my second time at Balkan camp and I definitely plan to keep coming if at all possible. This past year was marked by some financial disasters for me, so it was very helpful to have a scholarship to Balkan camp. I hope to be in a position to pay my way next year.
Studied at camp: My main focus at camp this year was Macedonian tambura and the Greek strings and rebetika groups. I also play Bulgarian tambura and I intend to take classes in that at future camps. I am also interested in drumming and singing classes, and possibly other instruments, if I have the time.
Memorable moment at camp: The opportunity to play in ensembles for dancers is really a highlight of Balkan camp, especially because there are so many enthusiastic and talented dancers and musicians. But I have to say that for me the most amazing part of camp is the sing-alongs. Particularly the one led by Michele [Simon] and also the one led by Christos [Govetas]. Perhaps is the simplicity of people singing together, or the intensity of the camp experience, although more likely it is the combination of these along with the pure beauty of the songs that make the group sings so moving. Michele is an excellent song leader. She divides the group into parts for harmonies or diatonic parts and with so many voices the room resonates with sound like a rung bell. Bringing those songs to life through our singing is the heart of Balkan camp for me.
Location: Goleta, Calif.
Occupation: I am a first-year graduate student in ethnomusicology at UC Santa Barbara.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I’ve been playing in a Balkan music meet-up group this year led by Chubritza members Linnea Mandell and Craig Kurumada. Once a month, musicians and dancers unite for a night of Balkan music and dance in Arcata!
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time at camp. But most certainly not my last. Studied at camp: Gudulka and Bulgarian music in general.
Memorable moment at camp: I was impressed by people’s willingness to step outside their comfort zones and into their alter egos. Everyone was encouraged to try everything. Musicians could dance. Dancers could pick up an instrument. Gudulka players could even try their hand at Albanian music! It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that the same Ruth Hunter of Dromeno doubled as the diva lead singer of The Fetatones. But when I put two and two together, it made complete sense: Balkan camp is a place for experimentation, more importantly, FUN! As a first-time camper, I felt instantly at home because of this supportive and fun-loving environment.
Location: Tarpon Springs, Fla.
Occupation: Student of microbiology at the University of South Florida
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I am part of Levendia Greek Folk Dance Group of Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, where I co-direct the high school/college group. I also now have six students for Greek folk violin as part of the Greek Folk Music Ministry I started last year.
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my second year at camp.
Studied at camp: My main focus was on learning a greater repertoire with the violin, as well as increasing my ability to play it. I also branched out with the gajda this year.
Memorable moment at camp: It is highly difficult to choose just one experience, but something that felt different this year was my kafana experience. If one stays up late enough, they are able to experience all the great performances that take place in the kafana, as well as enjoy the fun and relaxed environment. The environment this year especially felt like I was back in a taverna in Greece.
Location: Gainesville, Fla.
Occupation: Professional musician and music teacher and software developer.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I am working on putting together a Balkan brass band. Our first songs will be a few of the songs I learned in Eva Salina's Romani singing class. I also play the davul in non-Balkan settings but I do get a lot of questions about it and let people know of its origins and connections to music in Turkey and the Balkans. I am also learning Turkish makam, integrating concepts from Christos Govetas’ improvisation class and Adam Good's makam theory class. I have been performing Rast taksim at my weekly cello solo gig. I perform regularly for a yoga class at Flow Space in Gainesville, Florida.
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my fourth year.
Studied at camp: I wanted to focus on using the upright bass in as many ensembles as I could but I could not find a good setting for it. Ultimately I ended up playing Macedonian tambura more. I prioritized taking Eva Salina's class because I enjoy her teaching.
Memorable moment at camp: This was my first year traveling without friends from my hometown and I was afraid that I would feel lonely. However, I had made so many connections at camp the previous years that I actually felt quite connected, welcomed and included.
Location: Oakland, Calif.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I’m from Bulgaria, so I grew up immersed in Balkan music and culture. There are also a lot of Balkan music events in the Bay Area so there are lots of opportunities for me to be around live music and dancing.
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my second time at East Coast camp. I am a lifetime West Coaster.
Studied at camp: My main focus was to play the trumpet, which I did in Nizo Alimov’s class. I also didn’t know until getting to camp that the Bulgarians did a class for youth teaching the traditional Bulgarian instruments, which I went to. It was a really amazing class to be a part of.
Memorable moment at camp: One really cool thing that East Coast camp does that Mendocino doesn't, is the grill. On any given night there would be spontaneous music and things that happened. One night there was a rebetika jam, which was awesome, and the blender bands were super fun to see. (I didn’t even know this was a thing.)
A lot of nights I found myself bouncing back and forth from inside the kafana to the grill.
Another really cool experience was listening and dancing to Zlatne Uste and Nizo Alimov in the dance hall. I came to learn trumpet, and to see him with the rest of the band playing live was really amazing.
Location: Beacon, N.Y.
Occupation: Dance/Movement Psychotherapist; Herbalist
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I facilitate Women's Ritual dance circles, Sacred Circle dance circles where I include Balkan music and circle dance. www.thedancingweb.com
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time.
Studied at camp: Dance was my main focus—all types, with interest in singing, too.
Memorable moment at camp: I had many scenes and experiences that touched me and deeply impressed me:
Dancing a pravo during the second night of camp; two young girls were comfortably dancing freely in the middle as we spiraled in and out. They were dressed in their finest, happy and confident in their bodies and with each other. The lead was then given to a teenage girl who shyly, yet comfortably, took it. A few people down from me was a young woman on the autism spectrum who squealed on and off in pure joy and delight.Next to me, I was holding hands with my dancing “sister” Gwyn [Peterdi] and I was so struck by how perfect the world seemed at that moment; if only our world could be held and led like this by girls, by women, by those in touch with pure delight, who sensed and understood the safety, freedom, joy and power of a spiraling dance circle. May this manifest 1000-fold.
During the first few days I felt waves of touching and being a dream. It was a dream I don't remember dreaming or felt I had dreamt a long time ago...maybe my ancestors’ dream? It wasn't an extraordinary dream but one that held an extraordinary feeling of comfort and content. A dream of arriving into a reality of home that I never have experienced before.
A heavy rain fell as I comfortably lounged on our porch hammock. Next door Christos [Govetas] and some of his students were playing Greek music. My dear friend Indira [Skorić] brought me a glass of wine. The sound of rain, the delicious playing next door. What bliss!
Going to sleep and waking to not thoughts in my head but music that had become a part of me.
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Occupation: I am working (at least trying to!) as a professional musician.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I am an active saxophonist specializing in Balkan and Turkish music (and Klezmer). I have a few projects, my main ones being the Turkish-Bulgarian creative duo IHTIMANSKA and a Turkish trio/quartet LOTI.
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time at Balkan camp.
Studied at camp: I was mostly taking instrumental class in my fields such as Bulgarian clarinet, Greek improvisation, brass band ensemble and Bulgarian kaval. But I explored some new ones as well, where I would drop in for a day with Bulgarian singing, Greek singing and tapan.
Memorable moment at camp: I was mostly impressed by the presence of so many passionate dancers, unlike other camps that are more focused on music. That was bringing a new depth and whole new experience to the music we were learning. And a great opportunity to do a few dances steps during the evenings made me definitely grow much more as a musician. I was also impressed by the advanced level of the attendees, some of them were absolutely amazing and it was great to be surrounded overall by so many inspiring musicians and dancers.
Location: I currently reside in Pittsburgh, Pa., in Manchester's North Side neighborhood.
Occupation: I have been taking care of my little ones at home for the past few years and in that time have re-immersed myself back into Eastern European folk music, particularly the tamburitzans.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I grew up in a tamburitzans group in Southwestern Pa. and we focused on only Croatian music and dance. I was always very passionate about my heritage, the music, and folklore associate with it, but I also chose to do a lot of traveling later in life, not necessarily related to my Eastern European roots, and had stepped away from the music for several years for personal reasons. I am now in my second year as Assistant Music Director for the Trafford Junior Tamburitzans. We perform songs, music and dance from all of Eastern Europe, not only Croatia, and I knew I had a lot of catching up to do (and still do). My inspiration for wanting to attend Balkan camp this year was to expand and build my musical knowledge of all things Balkan and to bring that back to the kids I teach and the community I live in. Our group practices weekly and we perform several shows and venues throughout the year. We do our best to keep music and dance as close to original as possible, while injecting our own creativity.
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time at camp.
Studied at camp: Coming into camp, I wanted to keep my options open as far as choosing classes. I wanted to get a well-rounded experience in dancing, singing and instruments, since our tamburitzans group does all three. I found myself being very attracted to the sounds that were coming from the Greek ensemble, so I jumped in with my tamburitza (prim). I also gravitated toward Albanian singing and makam theory, but also found myself sitting in on improvisation classes, Albanian dance, and more, and I loved it all. However, I would say I mostly focused on playing music.
Memorable moment at camp: After having some time to reflect on my experience, a few key moments stand out for me. Being invited to play with the tamburitza orchestra for the sing-along was special. I grew up with many of these old-time songs, listening to my grandpap and his friends play music on his porch while they drank his homemade moonshine. I had a strong feeling of nostalgia and pride at camp playing these songs; being one of the only members of my family keeping these traditions alive, it was a tear-jerking moment for me. Another fantastic moment was the Greek ensemble student performance. Again, being part of something bigger than myself, hearing the ensemble together and people dancing around and everyone enjoying themselves, is just a wonderful feeling. So many times at camp, I felt a sense of overwhelming happiness in being a part of it all. I was humbled to the core and could not have ever dreamed up the experiences I had there. A sincere THANK YOU to everyone at EEFC who makes Balkan camp possible and such a huge success.
Location: Boston, Mass.
Occupation: I'm a multi-instrumentalist (primarily keyboard instruments) mainly working as a performer, piano accompanist, session musician, educator and events coordinator/curator.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I have been a pianist for an international vocal ensemble called Women of the World, with whom I play various traditional and folkloric music from around the world, which naturally includes some pieces from the Balkan region. I have been playing with a couple of Turkish music groups in town. Now learning Balkan-style accordion, makam theory, and in the process of acquiring a gajda...
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my very first time!
Studied at camp: To try and learn how to play Thracian Gajda, and to learn the Balkan-style accordion.
Memorable moment at camp: The euphoric feeling I got whenever I was dancing in circles while cheering for awesome music or whenever I was surrounded with new and amazing friends and teachers sharing so many laughter and delicious food/drinks, I will remember and carry with me dearly going forward. I am sincerely grateful to have found this incredible community of people with common threads!
Location: Rhinecliff, N.Y.
Occupation: I am a musician and doctoral student in ethnomusicology at the City University of New York.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I play Balkan music with musicians in the Greater NYC area and in the Hudson Valley, where I live. I usually update my website with performances: matthewschreiber.net
Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my fourth time at Balkan camp since I first came in 2010.
Studied at camp: This year I focused on the oud and makam-based music.
Memorable moment at camp: I hope he doesn't mind me relaying this story, but in Christos Govetas' Greek singing class, he played the group a recording of a song at the end of class as people were packing up. It was about a shepherd whose sheep were roaming the hills but he was nowhere to be seen. As Christos described the meaning of the lyrics and revealed that the sheep were roaming the hills because the shepherd had died, he started to tear up, overwhelmed with emotion. That was a striking moment because it showed how deeply he feels the music and how important he felt it was to share that song with us. What a gift to be able to learn from musicians with not only an amazing sense of craft, but an intense emotional commitment to the music.
Location: New York, N.Y.
Occupation: I attend Brooklyn Technical High School, N.Y., as a student.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I come from a Balkan immigrant, ethnically and religiously mixed family. My dad’s family is from Livno, Bosnia; Slavonia; Vojvodina; and Romania; on my mom's side I'm Albanian, Bosniak and Montenegrin. I’m proud of my diverse background, and like to talk with my peers about it. Mostly, people like to hear how this complexity enriches melodies, dances and people. So, generally, Balkan music and dancing is just a part of my life. My relatives are scattered around the world, so I don’t really get to see them often, although everyone plays or sings. But they are very far from NYC. People, peers and other campers are now a newly found family that likes my culture and heritage.
I am indebted to you for making it possible to study in classes, with lifelong friends, my age, experienced musicians and fabulous performers who are so kind and generous with their time. This year, I went to Kafana to volunteer, and to take part.
Number of times at Balkan camp: My first year at Balkan camp was in 2012 and I have been coming regularly part-time. Thank you so very much for making it possible for me to attend a full week of making Balkans music. It means the world to my family.
Studied at camp: My main focus to study at the camp was a Balkan, ethno-folk-orchestral-jazz as double bass player (8 years). I had a great time learning Greek dancing with Rena [Karyofyllidou], Serbian singing with Ljuba [Živkov], Bosnian singing with Mensur [Hatić], performed with Albanian ensemble, supported my friends in Čoček Nation, and learning to play doumbek in Polly [Tapia Ferber]’s class with friends from my cabin. I got to listen to famous musicians play, like, 24/7. Also, I met Melinda Russial, who kindly talked to me at length. Now, I check out some of those videos, and can hardly believe.
Memorable moment at camp: One of my most touching experiences at the camp, just like in years prior was, how kind and welcoming everyone was. Adam Good, Seido Salifoski, Merita Halili and other big-time musicians remembered my name. For instance, I was the youngest in the Albanian ensemble with director Raif Hyseni, and, early on I was a little nervous, especially in regard to my improvisation. I’m very grateful to Joe [Blumenthal], Raif, my peers who have helped me immensely over time, and thanks to the help and support of others in the group, I was able to play with confidence. It was exhilarating to perform with so many friends and musicians I now feel as my family. See you soon at the camp. In January, at the Golden Fest, I will play again with the same friends.
Location: Rutherford, N.J.
Occupation: I am a student. I actually have a music composition degree in classical music as well as Turkish traditional music; now I am studying in preparation for adding another profession: computer science. I teach music part time: piano and saxophone. Sometimes I do promotional work.
Connection to Balkan music/dance: I always listened to Turkish and some Balkan music as a kid, but I’m trained in saxophone—classical and jazz. Now I attend as many Balkan music events as I can and I play with Raif Hyseni’s Balkan-Albanian student ensemble at Montclair State University. We just learned that we will have the opportunity to play in Kosova this summer! I also play with Matt Moran’s band that is mainly saxophones and drum, Mountain Lions.
Number of times to Balkan camp: This was my first time at camp.
Studied at camp: I studied mostly improvisation. I attended Adam Good’s makam theory class. I knew the makams but hadn’t applied them to sax until recently. I also took Christos [Govetas’s] improvisation class; it was very helpful. I took Raif’s Albanian/Kosovar ensemble. I attended a couple of Nizo [Alimov]’s trumpet classes and brass band ensemble on other days.
Memorable moment at camp: I was struck by the people—how amazing they are, how welcoming, how helpful—despite their being so different ethnically and religiously and all that. Even though I’m from Turkey, before I attended the camp, my views about other cultures . . . I knew about them, but as a Turkish person, we had a lot of issues with Bulgarians, Greeks, so many wars between us. When I first attended the camp, I thought that Greek people would be hanging out with Greek people, Bulgarian people with Bulgarian people, and so on. It was not like that at all. Also, that first night I didn’t have a blanket and on the second day, literally at least five people said, “You got cold last night. I’m going to get you a blanket.” That changed me in the way I think about life. It was a life-changing experience.