Kevin’s Work with Musicians Without Borders

While studying in the United States, I had the privilege of taking a study tour to the Balkans. The trip included educational expeditions to Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia – three countries with many opportunities for those wishing to study the sacred and traditional music of very diverse cultures. My time in Sarajevo was particularly striking because it had been my first journey to a predominantly Muslim locale. I promised myself that one day in the future I would find a way back to this beautiful and mysterious city, though knew it would be difficult to find a professional reason to return.

In December of last year, I decided to contact an organization called Musicians without Borders to see what was being done in Bosnia and whether or not I could lend a hand. My aim was to find a way of sharing my expertise as well as learning music from a culture so very foreign to my own. When it comes down to it, Eastern Europe is still a mystery to Western musicians and artists, even twenty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Kevin working with the Bogojno Vocal EnsembleVokalni Ansambl Bugojno (Bugojno Vocal Ensemble) – I was working with the girls choir there: a tremendously talented bunch of young women. They really took to the Canadian song Frobisher Bay. Here we’re practicing tuning the chords from one of their pieces.

The convergence of the three distinct cultures of Bosnia (Croat, Serb and Muslim) may be of particular interest to the Western musician. Though the scars of war are still on the buildings and people of Bosnia, remarkable new collaborations are being forged amongst these three groups, particularly in the world of music.

Children in a Scouts Camp near KojnicChildren in a Scouts Camp near Kojnic. This was a surprise guest appearance for me. Musicians without Borders asked if I would teach some songs to the Scouts children who were on their annual camping trip. When I called the director of the Scouts to ask what I should bring, he said: “You are American, right? Then teach about Cowboys and Indians.” Here is a shot of us learning the MicMac Honour Song, right after we had sung through Home on the Range.

My trip was hosted by Musicians without Bordersand included a healthy dose of musical exchange on both sides: me teaching them Canadian music and them teaching me Bosnian music. I was exposed to Catholic traditional music, Muslim secular songs and Orthodox chant. I worked with choirs from around Sarajevo, learning of many great Bosnian composers and sharing a few of our own. I was particularly excited to see the look on everyone’s face when we read through Healey Willan’s Rise up, My Love.

MwB and I are in the process of planning a Choral Festival for the little Bosnian town of Bugojno in the summer of 2012. This festival will hopefully host choirs from around Bosnia as well as a few from Canada. The festival, called “Festivale Javorov List” or “Maple Leaf Festival,” will be a venue for Canadian and Bosnian choirs to share their traditional choral music with one another. It will also serve as a meeting point of the three distinct cultures in Bosnian society: Muslim, Croat and Serb – one of the major goals of Musicians without Borders.

Works with Veljo, one of the premiere SATB ensembles of SarjevoHere is a workshop with Veljo, one of the premier SATB ensembles in Sarajevo. This is the group that introduced me to the world of Bosnian art music. It is my hope that Canadians will eventually find some of these gems, as they have already found Eastern European composers like Rautavaara or Tormis.

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