The Tamburitza Orchestra Steinbrunn meets Americans
For Immediate Release
Local Croatians and ‘friends’ find ethnic Nirvana
On Central European Tour!
Travelers learn Tamburitza is universal. And in Austria, Steinbrunn’s Tamburitzans
will even throw a big party for you if you come to visit them.
Punta Gorda, FL----By now, most everyone who reads the Herald News, and/or frequents Bicentennial Park in the summertime, should know that local Croatians prefer their polkas, waltzes and circle-dance kolas by tamburitza (pronounced tahm burr eet sa), not accordion or button box.
Attend any function featuring the Joliet Kolo Dancers, or an event sponsored by the Croatian Cultural Club, or St. Mary Nativity Church, and you will find tamburitza music ---- the stringed orchestra ensembles favored by Croatians in this country and abroad. In short, a Croatian affair just isn’t a Croatian affair without tamburitza.
So, when we and our like-minded friends, Elmer and Matilda Wilhelm of New Lenox, Don and Joan Aigner and Al and Ina Getson of Crest Hill, planned our summer vacation we felt sure we’d be able to indulge our common passion and absorb as much authentic tamburitza music as we could hold while in Croatia, one of four countries on our Central European tour.
After all, we reasoned, we were going to the birthplace of the tamburitza orchestra. The inspiration for the Club (Croatian Cultural) to which we all belonged, and the Joliet Kolo Dancers, for which we had all danced.
Well, you can imagine our chagrin when we learned we would not be visiting any villages or areas of Croatia where tamburitza is played. Instead, we were going to the spectacular Adriatic Coast, tourist Mecca for northern Europeans looking for fun in the sun and a ‘natural’ experience (ie. nude bathing). Sorry, no quaint folk music here. Just breathtaking scenery, clear, azure waters, and lots of euro-music, known as technopop or electronica.
Fortunately, (for us) rescue was at hand, but in the most unlikely place. Austria!
Yes, Austria. Our search for ethnic Nirvana (via the tamburitza) would finally be realized in the pastoral village of Steinbrunn (population 1800) that I had found on the web late last year. And, our salvation would come at the hands of a very sincere young man named Hubert Palkovits --- the leader of the band, a tamburitza band!
My initial contact with Hubert Palkovits (AKA Palkovic) happened quite by chance. I was perusing the web just as Hubert was looking for tamburitza orchestras to correspond with. He explained that he lives in an area of Austria that is ethnically mixed, but with a large Croatian minority. The province is called Burgenland and is known as “Austria’s Garden” since it produces 80 percent of the country’s foodstuffs and wines.
The Croatians who live there are called Gradisce Hrvati (pronounced Grah dish chay Hur va tee) in Croatian and Burgenländischen Kroaten in German. They are the descendents of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia who migrated to inner Austria following the devastation of the Turkish Wars of the 16th century. Villages like Steinbrunn (founded 1555), Stinatz, Hornstein and others are bilingual in that they speak both German and a dialect of Croatian peculiar to the region.
They form part of the unique cultural variety of Burgenland Province that runs north and south along Austria’s border with Hungary. The provincial capital is Eisenstadt, known to music lovers as the home of baroque master Franz Josef Haydn.
After supplying Hubert with the information he was looking for, we became good friends via the net. Musically talented, highly skilled and computer-literate, I learned he was trilingual and moved easily from German to English to Croatian. He was also efficient. In short order he supplied me with more information than I could ever absorb about his little section of Austria and then invited me and my family to visit ---- anytime.
When I told him we were in fact planning a trip with friends to Central Europe in the coming year he suggested we visit Steinbrunn. Then, when I told him we would be on an escorted tour with 45 other people and that I didn’t know if the tour company, Vidovic Travel of Chicago, would agree to it he said he’d be happy to do the arranging with Vidovic Travel himself, if only we would visit Steinbrunn. “Bring everybody,” said Hubert, “and we will make a party for you and play for you.”
Well, Hubert was as good as his word. And, so were we. This past June, while on our 15-day trip to Hungary, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia, we did visit. On our last evening in Vienna, we drove south into the rolling farmlands of Burgenland Province. And there it was. Steinbrunn.
The name sounded German. The town looked German, or rather Austrian. Tidy, green, pristine. Almost like a leftover sound stage from “The Sound of Music”. In fact, we half expected an oom-pa-pa band to burst forth for a festive Saturday night celebration.
Instead, as our tour bus emptied, and our group was ushered into the fir-treed courtyard of Fuch’s “Tavern” (which was really a huge banquet hall with bar and rathskeller) we were immediately serenaded with music familiar to our Croatian ears --- the melancholic and soulful strains of the tamburitza. What’s more, the songs being played by Hubert’s Tamburaski Orkestar Stikapron were instantly recognizable. Within minutes, there wasn’t a dry eye amongst us.
But, the evening didn’t end in the courtyard. True to his word, Hubert had planned a party. And, what a party it was! Burgenland beer and wine flowed freely, courtesy of Hubert and friends. The mayor welcomed us and gave a brief history of Steinbrunn in English and Croatian. And, the orchestra played and played and played.
We learned that Steinbrunn is also known by its Croatian name as Stikapron, thus the Tamburitza Orkestar Stikapron. We also learned that the orchestra has represented Austria on many cultural exchange tours and has performed throughout Europe, went to China in 1995, and were preparing a good-will tour to Brazil later this summer.
We also discovered something rather humbling for Croatian Americans. Here in the States we continually congratulate ourselves on being able to successfully perpetuate through song, dance and our tamburitza music the traditions and customs our ancestors brought with them during the big wave of immigration 100-150 years ago.
In Steinbrunn/Stikapron, the Gradisce Hrvati have managed to preserve their culture, their music and their traditions for over 450 years! Sometimes under the most difficult conditions including world wars, foreign occupations, and past attempts by the Austrian government to homogenize its minority population. That they have persevered to this day ---- and in the case of Steinbrunn even flourished ---- is a marvel.
And, while the majority of our tour group consisted of second and third generation Croatian Americans, others had no connection to Croatia or to tamburitza music whatsoever. But, all agreed that our visit to Steinbrunn was definitely the “highlight” of our 1650-mile journey through Central Europe.
Editor’s Note: Deanie Gudac is a Joliet native and a former Herald News Correspondent/Free Lance Writer. She now lives in Florida where she is pursuing a graduate degree in mass communications.
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