Cultures in concert
A bridge between cultures few others can rival. "Music,"...
By Mary McCarty
Dayton Daily News
Friday, December 19, 2003
Left Photo -ANA MAZURANIC (center) sings with Antonia Hunjet during combined rehearsal of the Little Stars and Stivers choirs for the Stivers Spectacular Winter Concert.
Right Photo - STIVERS ORCHESTRA members rehearse for the Winter Concert.
JAN UNDERWOOD/DAYTON DAILY NEWS
Monday, they met for the first time.
Tuesday, they went to school together.
Wednesday night, they went to the mall.
Thursday night, they put on an orchestral concert, melding the musical traditions of their two cultures
and drawing a broad-based audience from the Dayton community.
You know, just your typical teenage stuff.
If you saw the first meeting of the two groups of teenagers -- American kids from Stivers School for the Arts, Croatian girls from Zagreb -- it would have been hard to envision that they would be mounting a professional-caliber production for two Stivers winter concerts, concluding with tonight's performance at Dayton's Masonic Temple.
The noise was deafening as some 80 teens converged on the 19th-century Dayton mansion of Beth and Michael Duke. With all the laughter, shouting and squeals of delight, it sounded more like the World's Largest Slumber Party than a classical concert in the making. The two sets of teens wore name-tags and searched for the one that matched theirs among a sea of Rachels and Mollys and Ivas and Petras.
The American teens perform with Stivers' Circle Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir; the Croatian students ? ages 10 to 18 ? are the world champion girls choir known as The Little Stars.
Kelli Brown went from room to room searching for Annamarija Antic, the Little Star she would be hosting for the next four days. It seems that all her friends found her first. "Your girl is so much like you!? they kept telling her.?
When the girls finally embraced, they found out what everybody was talking about.
"What would you like to do?" Kelli asked.
"I want to shop," Annamarija answered.
"Yes!" Kelli shouted.
Two days later, the newfound friends, both 18, explored Stivers like long-lost sisters. "We have a lot in
common," Kelli said. "We love the same music, the same foods. We even say words at the same time."
Addressing Annamarija, she pleaded, "Why can't you just stay and live with me?"
"I love my brother," Annamarija replied with a laugh.
Of course, there are differences between the two cultures. The Little Stars roamed the halls at Stivers,
absorbing the atmosphere of freewheeling creativity. The visitors from the Balkans couldn't help but
observe, politely, that American schools are much less strict than Croatian schools.
The Little Stars carry a particularly heavy load. The girls choir, led by Maestro Zdravko Sljivac, serves
as cultural ambassadors of the European Union. They're required to maintain top grades while devoting at least three hours a day to rehearsal. (Even after adhering to such a rigorous regimen, it will be two
years before they hit the stage.) They memorize hundreds of classical, contemporary, pop and folk musical scores in nearly every language, including Latin, French, English, Italian and German.
The emotional high point of their first United States tour came when they sang Ave Maria at Ground Zero. Passersby stopped to listen and to shed tears.
These girls have heard of the Dayton Peace Accords, but that historic event ? and the years of war that
preceded it ? seem a distant echo. "For them, Dayton is one of five cities in America," said Stivers Music Director Edin Dino Zonic.
For the Bosnian-born composer and conductor and his wife, Julija, Dayton is far more than just another city. Zonic first came to Dayton as a musical director the Dayton Peace Accords. It seemed like the right place to create music and to raise their 4-year-old daughter, Pia. They have found a home at Stivers, which Zonic describes as a haven "for unity in diversity."
Zonic's friendship with Maestro Sljivac dates back to prewar times. In fact, it was Sljivac who introduced Zonic to his future wife when she was herself a Little Star ? one of the five founding members, in fact.
When they learned of The Little Stars American tour, the couple immediately set to work with Beth Duke, a Stivers parent and entrepreneur with whom they own a production company, Red Oak Productions. Their goal: To bring The Little Stars to Dayton, the city that symbolizes peace for so many Europeans.
So this week's concerts are a homecoming in so many ways for the couple ? a reunion with their close
friend, Sljivac, and a chance for Julija to revisit her days as a Little Star. She sang with the choir
from 1985 to 1994, during the height of the war in the Balkans. The Little Stars performed for refugees
and children who had lost parents.
"We were very bonded like sisters," Julija said. "It was our life. We didn't do it; we lived it. It's the
same today with this generation."
Two sets of teens living together, going to school together and creating music together is a cultural
exchange in the best sense of the word.
Sljivac noted that the joint venture is a new experience for The Little Stars, and a difficult one, since
they have only a few days to rehearse the new music and to make two choirs come together as one.
But the Maestro acknowledged that they do have one advantage, a bridge between cultures few others can rival. "Music," he said, "is a language that everybody can understand."
HOW TO GO
•What: The Stivers Spectacular Winter Concert, featuring The Little Stars Choir, master violinist Andjelko Krpan, Puzzle of Light and musicians from Stivers School for the Arts
•Where: Masonic Temple, 525 W. Riverview Ave.
•When: 7:30 p.m. tonight
•Admission: Tickets, priced at $15, $20 and $25, are available at Gem City Records, Hauer Music and Stivers School for the Arts
•Information: 1 (937) 222-6656