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Alma Plancich & Binki Spahi - Traditional Croatian music


The penetrating melodies and pure harmonies of villages and countryside which you will hear tonight have been carefully researched and preserved by singers Binki Spahi and Alma Plancich, and members of the Ruze Dalmatinke (Dalmatian Roses) Orchestra.

Performances of traditional Croatian music might conjure certain expectations - a "tamburica" band (group of different-sized strummed lutes) playing "kolo" dances, or perhaps a "klapa" (male vocal ensemble) singing Dalmatian fisherman's tunes.

Although you likely will hear some of these types of music, many of the songs from Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina performed for you tonight are rarely heard in this context, belonging to folk traditions generations and centuries old. These songs, as well as the tradition of singing, represent a way of life, one perhaps no longer alive even in the home country.

Traditionally, singing accompanied all aspects of daily life and social gatherings: work in the field or on the sea, courtship, rites of passage, and seasonal celebrations of all sorts. They tell stories of love, happiness, hardship, work, play, the land, and sea. Indeed, these songs characterize the soul of a people.

Oftentimes such old traditions find new existences outside of their homelands. This phenomenon of cultural migration follows immigrants everywhere. Immigrants carry with them the practices they know, and they cherish those traditions as memories of their homeland and reminders of who they are. Yet it is truly exceptional to encounter such traditions not only preserved, but rediscovered and even flourishing so far from their origin.

This is the case with the song traditions fostered by Ruze Dalmatinke, from Seattle, Washington. Deep passion and intense devotion to this musical heritage have kept the group active since 1981, and have inspired the group's lead vocalists, sisters Binki and Alma, since childhood. Binki Franulovic Spahi (lead voice) and Alma Franulovic Plancich (second voice) lead Ruze Dalmatinke in singing, and are responsible for the group's adherence to traditional purity in their music.

Born in the village of Vela Luka on the island of Korcula, Croatia, they immigrated with their family to the United States after World War II. Having sung together since childhood, the sisters brought with them their lifestyle of singing, as well as an oral tradition generations old. Retaining the sounds of Korcula in their ears, the sisters continued to learn songs even after the family settled in Anacortes, Washington.

Taught by their grandmother, parents, friends of parents, and even by Croatian-Americans in the United States since the turn of the century, they learned everything by ear. Already in the mid-1970s, the sisters joined with musicians Hank Bradley (violin and *prim*), Al Pratt (bass), Allan Swensson (guitar and *bugarija*), and others in Seattle. These three musicians, performing tonight as well, are all non-Croatians whose fondness for this music inspired them to learn the instruments and styles of these regions through recordings, watching immigrant players, and immersion in the culture. This instrumentation, although not necessarily native to all styles of music performed here (particularly those from Korcula and the rest of Dalmatia), adds to the vocal harmonies, which remain unchanged. The band also allows the group flexibility in performing music from many different regions.

Ruze Dalmatinke also regularly performs with the larger dance ensemble Vela Luka from Anacortes, which is under the direction of another Franulovic sister, Maria Petrish. Their versatile repertoire is the result of decades of research and training. The group has learned the musical styles of the interior of Croatia, such as the *kolo* dances and the open-throat singing technique, as well as music of Bosnia-Hercegovina, such as the yearning, ornamented ballads. However, the lyrical, *bel canto* styles of Korcula and Dalmatia are the dearest to heart for the sisters, and it is the costume of Korcula which the group dons. Furthermore, Binki and Alma remain committed to preserving the sound of their home village, Vela Luka, which is renown for its singing, abiding by the philosophy that the purest and simplest music is the most beautiful. Ruze Dalmatinke has been repeatedly recognized for its efforts in preserving and cultivating Croatian cultural heritage.

They have performed throughout the United States and internationally, at festivals, in opera houses, and conduct regular lecture-demonstrations at the University of Washington. They also have been featured in documentary films on PBS and ABC. The recent CD, *Vela Luka*, featuring the dance ensemble as well as Ruze Dalmatinke, was produced in conjunction with and broadcast on National Public Radio. Enjoy this evening's performance, and don't hesitate to ask questions about the various songs, the costumes, or the group's history!

from the program notes of Maria Kristina Arko, ethnomusicologist


Location: Seattle, Washington

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