Dobar don iz Hrvatska! (Hello from Croatia!)
A familiar Proctor Academy sign and the broad smile of our guide Andrija-- the first of many welcomes-- greeted the Proctor Chamber Choir, Director Kristofer Johnson, and their companions as we arrived in the airport in Zagreb, Croatia for an 11-day tour of Croatia and Bosnia-Hergezovina. After settling into Hotel Dubrovnik, 1/2 block from Trg Bana Jelicaca, the central square of Zagreb, we began our exploration of this historic capital city which blends the influences of eastern and western Europe.
Nestled between the base of Mount Medvednica ("Bear Mountain") and River Sava, Zagreb is the center of Croatian culture and politics and dates back to medieval times. On a walking tour of Zagreb's two historic districts, we ambled among the cobbled streets, squares and churches of Gornji Grad ("Upper Town") with a view over red tiled roofs and the spires of the cathedral in the Kaptol district below. Our host choir from Glazbena Skola Pavla Markovca, a local music magnet school, joined us for the tour and before long our two groups of students had mingled, made connections, and started learning about each other's cultures, thanks to our hosts' excellent English skills. A highlight of the tour was a stop in the Church of St. Mark, famous for its colorful tiled roof, where the two groups were scheduled for a concert in the evening. As they rehearsed below the arched roof, students' eyes widened as they experienced for the first time their voices and harmonies filling the acoustic space of the church. Other stops in the city included the farmer's market, streets lined with cafes, neo-classical government buildings, and a string of parks hinting of spring. Finally, we toured the music school where our gracious hosts treated us to a recital of voice, guitar, and piano, as well as showering us with gifts and refreshments.
The first concert, a joint performance by the Chamber Choir and the students from the music school, transformed our 24 students from tourists to performers. Dressed in their fine concert attire, they walked back to the historic district, warmed up their voices, and focused their minds for the concert. Proctor performed first, filling the church with sacred music, including Latin hymns, early American selections, and African-American spirituals. Next, the 44 students of our host choir took the stage, filling the church with their full, well-disciplined sound. Finally, the two choirs intermingled and finished with a beautiful rendition of “Dona Nobis Pacem.”
In addition to the harmonies of their voices, the students from both schools found common ground in their connections with each other both before and after performance. While gathering for a meal together after the concert, the mood became more and more festive and before long the students had initiated a volley of singing which eventually melded into joyous laughter and a spontaneous series of songs sung together around a piano.
So far, the connections that students have made have been swift and impactful. Students from America and Croatia have shared their common experience and taught each other about their cultures. Our guides and hosts have welcomed us with genuine hospitality and kindness, sharing their knowledge of Croatian history, culture, and cuisine with patience and care. Students have been open to trying new foods, grappling with complex history, and adapting to each new experience. The primary word that each of us knows how to say at this point is “Hvala,” or “Thank You.” As we continue our travels, we will learn more and more about the recent history of this country and how it was affected by war in the early 1990’s. As expected, this journey is as much about cultural exchange and unpredictable learning as it is about performing music.
Ostanimo u vezil! (Keep in touch!)
Kristen and Alex celebrate arrival in Zagreb, Croatia after 19 hours of travel from Andover, NH.
The City of Zagreb, Croatia.
Zrinjevac Trg ("square"), 1 block from Hotel Dubrovnik
Derrick poses overlooking the city of Zagreb from Gornji Grad, or Upper Town, the oldest district.
The group congregates in front of the Cathedral of St Stephen, Zagreb.
The colorful downtown farmer's market, where you can buy fresh flowers, vegetables, cheese, handcrafts, lavender, and Zagreb's trademark "gingerbread heart."
Our first glance of our performance location, the Church of St. Mark. The impressive tiled roof, added in 1882, depicts the coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, Slovonia, and Zagreb.
Sophie, Caleigh and Marion warm up for the first concert.
Filling the Church of St. Mark with beautiful sound.
Celebrating a successful concert by singing popular songs around the piano with new friends.