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This Eastern European Music is Made in America

The Harmonia band of Cleveland, Ohio is composed of six musicians, five of them with roots in Eastern Europe. Today on Members of the band talk with New American Voices about the appeal of their ethnic music to American audiences.

The music is East European, but the appeal seems to be universal, as Americans of various backgrounds and ages dance to the band Harmonia in a large hall in a Washington suburb. Marko Dreher, the band's "primas", or violinist, says he is amazed at how American audiences respond to this ethnic music, whether in dance halls or concert halls. "We played in El Paso, Texas, and we played on a stage,” he says. “The total attendance at the concert was six thousand one hundred and fifty. And I guarantee that maybe those last one hundred and fifty knew something about this music, and I guarantee that the other six thousand had never heard anything about it. And to see six thousand people -- they loved it, and to see them dancing to it, and, like, loving it, it was kind of a rush."

Marko Dreher's father, also a musician, is Croatian, while his mother is a native American Cherokee Indian. Mr. Dreher is a classical musician, working on his master's degree in violin and viola performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music. But he says that emotionally he is drawn to the music he heard every day, growing up in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Cleveland. "I grew up just listening to a lot of Croatian, some Serbian and Macedonian music, and going to different events every week - to Croatian church or playing with my dad's band,” he says. “It's kind of in my blood. I don't know, I never did NOT do it. It was always there, I've always done it. I love the freedom, and I love that you can really feel emotions in this kind of music. In folk music you have a lot more freedom to try your own things. There's nobody in the world that plays every ornament that I play, and I don't play like anybody else there is."

Andrei Pidkivka plays the sopilka, a small wooden flute popular in Ukraine, and the pan flute. A classically trained musician from Ukraine, he is perfectly comfortable playing both on a concert stage and on a dance floor. "Well, I have a degree in both, classical and folk music, ethnomusicology as it's called here, from back home in Ukraine,” he says. “I do have a Master's Degree here, in the States. It's something I've been doing for years, since I was, I don't know, seven years of age, I've played folk music and classical music as well,” he says, “so I feel those two types of music are close to my heart, and I can't separate them easily. That's why I'm kind of doing both."

Andrei Pidkivka teaches classical flute, silver flute and the recorder, and plays with a quartet and different symphony orchestras as well as with Harmonia. Alexander Fedoriuk, another Ukrainian and a graduate of the Kiev Conservatory, plays the cimbalom with Harmonia.

Harmonia's singer, Beata Begeniova, came to the United States from Preshov, a city in Eastern Slovakia. Ms Begeniova, a slender, animated blond, lives in Cleveland and spends most of the year touring with the band. She says she came to the United States to learn the language and see the country -- and has gotten her wish. "It's a very big country, very different in each state and in each corner of the country,” she says. “I like the freedom of America -- as they say, it's a land of opportunity, and I think it's true. Past six years, I got used to live here. It's hard the first few years when you get here, because it's totally different customs, traditions, people are different. So it's hard to get used to. But once you do, then you're here forever."

With their musicianship and spirit, the members of the band Harmonia give East European motifs a new life on the American cultural scene.