The Door Opens: First Days of the Project

DAY 1: After months of skyping and email exchanges, we finally meet in Queens by the Croatian Church of the Most Precious Blood in Astoria. After a brief conversation with Mirjam, one of our participants, we head out to Croatian Land, a beautiful area of approximately 40 acres in New Jersey where food and festivities happen throughout the summer. On this particular Sunday the community is gathering to enjoy family time, beautiful weather, eat Bar B Q and of course, watch the soccer, ehem, football game. After a delicious meal of fresh roasted meats and homemade desserts, we convince a group of men to perform a few traditional ganga songs. Their voices are piercing, veins are bulging, chins are raised, eyes are closed, hands outstretched and ears cupped for fine tuning. Everything about this exercise in sound is as athletic as the game on the mobile screen just a few feet away. All afternoon people exchange stories and memories. We wonder how to capture these moments…

DAY 2: Big meeting with staff members from CEC ArtsLink and The Kitchen. We tour the space, talk about our ideas and schedule a meeting with the participating artists who will be interpreting the stories we gather. We are struck by so much good fortune…as it turns out, one of the collaborators also works at The Kitchen and can help coordinate the meeting! Beyond that, they’ve given us office space! In this crowded big city, we have a home of our own. We order lunch from ‘wichcraft and settle into discussing the nuts and bolts of the project. Of course, the conversation is a work in progress. We pull ideas between us like a tug of war rope, each being drawn in by the other’s perspective. An excellent workout.

But the impetus of the project really begins to take shape when we travel to Astoria to meet with Ivica, a Croatian composer. Ivica writes modern folk songs based on the histories of people in the community. That, in and of itself, is an important artistic work. But more amazingly, he writes them to be sung by the children of these families. Through his compositions, he places the oral history of the family in the mouths of the children, and describes sentiments that resonate strongly with the generation that emigrated here from Croatia. The songs are performed in the Croatian community and at music festivals.  This is a powerful chronicle of the people.

While the Croatian Football team struggled against Spain, Ivica shares his compositions. as we listen, his daughter translates lyrics whose haunting words of longing play in stark contrast to upbeat modern melodies. Ivica steps in and out of the room intermittently as we listen. Suddenly he declares that dinner is ready and invites us to the table with his daughter, his son-in-law and his two beautiful granddaughters.

Around the table we share stories of leaving and loving home. We weave these stories through our frustrations with political and religious institutions. We celebrate language and cultural connection. Meanwhile, his granddaughters play gleefully around us, having abandoned the dinner table in favor of entertaining one another. What stories, what music, what connections will they discover as they grow?




CEZNJA: BORN LONGING (tales and songs from croatia)  is part of One Big City, a series of collaborative residencies and events produced by CEC ArtsLink in partnership with leading cultural venues to engage New York City’s diaspora communities through international arts initiatives.  One Big City is funded by The Rockefeller Foundation’s NYC Cultural Innovation Fund and the Trust for Mutual Understanding.

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