On hand to welcome everyone were CFU Junior Cultural Federation president Donald Weakley, Zagreb deputy mayor Olivera Majić, and state secretary Zvonko Milas. Speaking on behalf of the host and event co-organiser was CHF director Mijo Marić. Also at the event and offering their greetings were W. Robert Kohorst, the ambassador of the United States of America in Croatia, and CFU national president Edward W. Pazo.
A reception was given at the main auditorium of the Croatian Heritage Foundation on the 30th of June for festival group leaders taking part in the 52nd CFU Junior Tamburitza Festival. The festival programme ran from 1 to 6 o’clock in the afternoon and kicked off with the introduction of programme MC and CFU Junior Cultural Federation secretary Ivan Begg. Mr Begg was introduced by CFU national vice president Franjo Bertović. The Sveti Juraj Culture and Arts Society of Ogulin then took to the stage of Vatroslav Lisinski concert hall to perform the Croatian national anthem, with the American Croatian Waukegan Junior Tamburitzans of Waukegan, Illinois performing The Star-Spangled Banner, the hymn of the United States of America, and the Canadian anthem O Canada. This was followed by a blessing and greeting from Roman Catholic Bishop Juraj Jezerinac, the former Military Ordinary of the Holy See in Croatia.
CFU national secretary and treasurer Bernadette Luketich-Sikaras introduced Marija Krpan Kuren, the guest conductor for this year’s festival. A lawyer by profession, Ms Krpan Kuren was born in 1979 to a family of immigrants from the Like region in central Croatia that had settled in Harrisburg, a city in Pennsylvania. The programme continued with the first group performance of all participating ensembles, conducted by Marija Krpan Kuren. It was a magnificent moment and received a standing ovation and great applause.
On hand to welcome the gathered participants and guests were Donald Weakley, president of the CFU Junior Cultural Federation, Zagreb deputy mayor Olivera Majić on behalf of the City of Zagreb and state secretary ZvonkoMilas on behalf of Croatia’s Government. Speaking on behalf of host and event co-organiser the Croatian Heritage Foundation was CHF director Mijo Marić. Also at the event and offering their greetings were W. Robert Kohorst, the ambassador of the United States of America in Croatia, and CFU national president Edward W. Pazo. Joining the large audience were CHF board of directors president Milan Kovač and former CHF directors Ante Beljoand Nikola Jelinčić.
1,222 participants from the United States of America arrived in Croatia to take part in the 52nd CFU Junior Tamburitza Festival, including CFU officials, members of the management of the CFU Junior Cultural Federation and its president Donald Weakley,seventeen ensembles with 308 performers, 48 group leaders, the familymembers and other members and friends of the CFU.
The greetings and welcomes at the packed Lisinski hall auditorium were followed by the performances of the eighteen participating ensembles following the rules of the CFU Junior Cultural Federation, the event schedule and the twelve minute allotted time per ensemble.
First on stage were the members of the American Croatian Waukegan Junior Tamburitzans (Waukegan, Illinois), conducted by music director Julie Hughes, choreographer Jason Ottmann and the sixteen members of the ensemble, cheered on by their parents, organisation committee members, relatives and friends.
The Jadran Beaver Valley Junior Tamburitzans (Aliquippa, Pennsylvania) were the second troupe to take the stage as proud representatives of the Beaver Valley area in southwest Pennsylvania. Jadran Junior Tamburica was founded in 1957 under the auspices of the Jadran Croatian entertainment and vocal ensemble in the city of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. Beaver Valley Junior Tamburica was established in 1995 in the city of New Brighton. The two groups fused in 2014. The group says its primary objective is to preserve the cultural heritage of the Croatian homeland and of neighbouring Slavic countries. The ensemble is led by its two directors Julia Knihnicky-Kordesich and Ashley Ellis-Spencer. The group celebrated its sixtieth year of culture activity in May of this year.
The third performance came from the SvetiLovro Junior Tamburitzans (Steelton, Pennsylvania). In the thirty-five years of their activities the SvetiLovro Junior Tamburitzans have performed and represented the Croatian community of central Pennsylvania, preserving and nurturing its heritage.The SvetiLovro Junior Tamburicaensemble is led by former member MarijaKrpanKurenand by Rick Vukmanić, who teaches dance.
The Hoosier Strings Junior Tamburitzans (Merrillville, Indiana) are headed by music director John Pruzin and his assistant and choreographer Brandon Miksich and Dave Strahonoski. Number four on the event schedule they showcased our wealth of cultural heritage through song and dance. The ensemble is made up of children and young adults aged between 4 and 23, most of who have ancestral roots in the area of Karlovac in central Croatia.
The Sloboda Junior Tamburitzans (Chicago, Illinois) where the fifth ensemble to perform. The group was founded in the late 1960s but ceased work in 2004. Thanks to the effort of young enthusiasts the group has been revived and now brings together eighteen students, eight of which grew up in families that had had members in the former ensemble. The group is directed by Joe Kirin, working with instrument assistant AnnMarieHostickaand choreographer Jenna Riccio.
Sixth up to perform at the festival were the St. George Junior Tamburitzans (Cokeburg, Pennsylvania), one of the founding groups of the Croatian Fraternal Union Junior Cultural Federation. The St. George Junior Tamburitzans operate out of CFU lodge 354 in Cokeburg, Pennsylvania and is known for its work in developing tamburitza music, its diversity and excellence. The ensemble is named after St George (Sveti Juraj) church in Zagorje Ogulinsko, a hamlet near the town of Ogulin from which many who settled in Cokeburg draw their roots. The group is led by music directors Marlene Luketich-Kochisand Dan Kochis with the support of Bernadette Luketich-Sikaras and Derek Hohn.
The seventh ensemble to take the stage, and the only group based in Croatia, was KUD Sveti Juraj Zagorje of Ogulin. The Sveti Juraj Zagorje KUD (Culture and Arts Society) was founded on the 7th of June 1992 at the initiative of Ivan Puškarić and Matija Bertović and with the support of local residents. The group now numbers some 85 active members of various ages, working in five sections. Vani Francetić, Maja Vuković and Mate Bertović run the children’s section of KUD Sveti Juraj Zagorje. The section gathers some thirty members aged from four to 15, working in two age groups, and performing the indigenous songs and dances of Zagorje and Ogulin. There performance featured choreography of songs and dances of the Ogulin region titled Where Do You Come from Young One They Wonder.
The HrvatskiPonosCleveland Junior Tamburitzans (Cleveland, Ohio) was the eighth ensemble to take the stage. The group was founded way back in 1959 and celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2009.Tom Salopek serves as the group’s music director, working with choreographer and conductor Katarina Lukačević, a former member of the Ivan Goran Kovačić Croatian ensemble. In their work with the children Tom and Katarina are regularly assisted by Bob Kushner and former members Angie Vučić, Marko Paulić and Katarina Hrgić. The members of the ensemble practice at the American Croatian Lodge Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac in Eastlake, Ohio.The Cleveland Junior Tamburitzans number some ninety members aged from five to twenty-one.
The ninth group to show their talent was the St. Anthony Junior Tamburitzans ensemble (Los Angeles, CA). Also known as the Sveti Ante Kolo Klub Croatia, the group was set up in 1960 in the heart of Los Angeles.The ensemble is led by choreographer Željko Jerganand music director Heidi Wohlfahrt-Granić. Katica Ban is the president and director of the Kolo (round dance) group of Sveti Ante Croatian Children’s School, with Maria Bašković, Nicole Nancy Pisarand Tomislav Čulina taking the role of tamburitza instructors. The school was founded in 1965 by Bosiljka Barač and Friar Janko Šegarić with the objective of seeing children learn the Croatian language, singing and dance. The organisation operates out of the Sveti Ante Croatian church parish in Los Angeles and is linked with Croatian Fraternal Union lodges 177 and 677. For this year’s CFU junior festival this ensemble performed the songs and dances of the Prigorje region near Zagreb choreographed by Željko Jergan, with the music arranged and recorded by Jerry Grcevich.
The tenth performance came from the FA Hrvatski Tanac ensemble (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). This is a young group, set up in September of 2001 with the mission of preserving the wealth of Croatian heritage for all coming generations. The ensemble numbers seventeen members aged from five to 17. At this year’s festival in Zagreb the Tanac ensemble was represented by a number of its members and former graduates of the Duquesne youth ensemble. Željko Jergan serves as the group’s artistic choreographer, with Cathleen Čubelić taking the role of dancer instructor and Susan Stafura the job of music director.
The Croatian Junior Tamburitzans (St. Louis, Missouri) were the eleventh group to appear on the festival stage. The group was founded way back in 1935 as the cultural society for CFU youth. Ivan and Anna Lušičić revived the ensemble in 1961, which has been active for the past 57 years. The ensemble is an independent and not for profit organisation and collects financing by staging campaigns and from voluntary donations. The group’s music director is Daniel Lušičić Sr, who in 2015 was the guest conductor of the CFU junior festival. Serving as dance instructor are Linda Bilich Lušičić and Kathy Katich Zust, joined by assistant Dave Dopuch. The group stages concerts and rehearsals at the hall of the St Joseph Croatian church in St. Louis. Four members of the Lušičić line have been inducted in the tamburitza hall of fame: Ivan Sr, Anna Lušičić, Ivan Jr and Eleanora Lušičić Eaves. Susan Stafura created the Bunjevo region folk costumes, with priest William Hritsk taking on the job of folk dance instructor. Eleanora was the ensemble’s music director emeritus and the first woman to serve as festival guest conductor in 1977 in St. Louis. This 52nd festival in Croatia honours their efforts.
The twelfth group to take the stage was the Rankin Junior Tamburitzans (Rankin, Pennsylvania). The group was founded in 1959 as a round dance ensemble, with tamburitza instruction introduced five years later. The highlight of this ensemble’s activities occurred in 1998 when they had the honour of laying a wreath at Arlington national cemetery in Washington and in 2004 and 2013 when they took part in the Christmas programme at the White House, the official residence of the president of the United States of America. This ensemble took part in previous Zagreb incarnations of the CFU Junior Cultural Federation festival. The group holds its weekly practice sessions at the Rankin Croatian Home in Rankin, Pennsylvania.Gordon Mann is the ensemble’s music director, joined by choreographer Bob Pollack and assisted by Julie Horgas. At this year’s festival the group showcased the songs and dances of the village of Ražanac.
Okolitza Junior Tamburitzans (Pueblo, Colorado) appeared as the thirteenth ensemble at the festival.The group rehearses in the historical quarter of the city of Pueblo in Colorado, not far from steel mills that drew their grandfathers here from Croatia. The ensemble was created in 1975 with the mission of preserving and promoting Croatian cultural heritage and currently numbers twelve members aged from five to 18. These are for the most part the children of former members of the ensemble. Mirjana Tupajić, from the island of Korčula and now a resident of Pueblo, advises the group. The ensemble performed dances of the island of Korčula. The group works under music directors Tessa Hanna, Lisa Shomaker and Mark Oreskovich, choreographer Linda Kopman and Croatian language teacher Steve Pavicich.
Ensemble number fourteen at this year’s event was the Seattle Junior Tamburitzans (Seattle, State of Washington). The group was founded in 1970 and this is its sixth visit to Croatia. The ensemble performs the songs and dances of Zlarin and the Šibenik archipelago. The group performs under the direction of choreographer and artistic director John Morovich, dance instructor Joanne Morovich Abdo and music director Brenda Longnercker-Huber.Their folk costumes are created by Sarah Schafer and Cathryn Morovich. The ensemble leadership includes presidents Shellie and John Posavatz, vice president Hrvoje Benko, secretary Mikaela Berry, treasurer John Mustach, and the head of the parent’s organisation Katie Hart.
The Milwaukee Croatian Tamburitzans (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) were the fifteenth group to appear on stage. They are celebrating their 33rd anniversary this year.The ensemble is led by Kristin Aasen, Heidi Spellman, Christy Ubland Angie Dougherty. Music director emeritus Patsy Lukas provides support and assistance in their efforts. The group’s performance showcased the songs and dances of the Baranja region.
Number sixteen on the schedule of this year’s festival event was the Happy Hearts Junior Tamburitzans (Youngstown, Ohio). Founded in July of 1962 the group is celebrating its 56th year of cultural activity. The group’s music director is Julie Stone and its dance instructor is Julana Mikusevich Bowman.
The Detroit Star Junior Tamburitzans (Detroit, Michigan), the seventeenth group to perform, were founded in the early 1970s, but their history stretches way back to 1954 when the original club of the Zora society, CFU lodge 351, began providing round dance instruction for children. At the time many ethnic Croatian families lived in the neighbourhood of what was then the lodge Croatian Home in the east end of the city of Detroit. Although this ensemble has been in Croatia on previous occasions, this is the first time in many years that it is taking part in the CFU Junior Tamburitza Festival outside the North American continent. Steve Talan is the group’s choreographerand round dance instructor. Experienced members of the ensemble are provided music instruction by Anne Marie Domšić, while Catherine Boley has taken on the task of instructing the beginner musicians.
The final, eighteenth performance was put on by the American Zagreb Junior Tamburitzans (Cleveland, Ohio), this year celebrating their 61st anniversary. This ensemble is one of five original founders of the Croatian Fraternal Union Junior Cultural Federation. The sixty-strong ensemble is led by music director Thomas Salopek, a former member of the ensemble, choreographer Debbie Jennings Faraguna, also a former member, singing and dance instructor MarijaJamsek, dance instructor Sandy Kauzlarić, singing and dance assistant and former member ArianaKošta, and former member and dance instructor Lindsay Heckman.
The festival wrapped up with a performance pooling the efforts of the music directors, choreographers and assistant ensemble leaders from all the participating groups under the direction of guest conductor Marija Krpan Kuren. All festival participants were presented commemorative certificates of the Croatian Heritage Foundation.
On Sunday, the 1st of July, all the event participants and their colleagues, chaperones, family and friends from the United States of America took part in a tamburitza Roman Catholic mass at Zagreb’s cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Sts Stephen and Ladislav, led by Auxiliary Bishop Mijo Gorski. The afternoon saw a picnic for all the performers and hosts at the Bunčić Klet rural restaurant and excursion site in Dugo Selo.
By: Naida Šehović; Photography: I.G. Tepeš