CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - For centuries, ethnic, religious and political differences have divided the various groups of people who inhabit the Balkans, yet many of the Balkan people remain linked by shared aspects of musical heritage. That heritage will be celebrated during the Balkan Relief Benefit Concert Feb. 22 at the University of Illinois.
The concert, scheduled to take place at 7:30 p.m. in Smith Hall, 805 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, will feature the music of Balkanalia, the UI's Balkan ensemble, as well as dances performed by a student group. A $5 donation is suggested for admission.
Proceeds from the concert will go to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and will be earmarked for humanitarian relief efforts in the Balkans and areas of Turkey devastated by last year's earthquakes.
Ruth Fisher, wife of Ralph Fisher, a former director of the UI's Russian and East European Center, is credited with the idea for organizing the benefit.
"I went to a [Balkanalia] concert last spring, and the group was so good, I just thought it was something more people should be aware of," Fisher said. "And at the time, things were just a mess in the Balkan area. We were bombing, and there were unexpected consequences," she said, such as attacks on refugees.
"I felt so bad about our involvement," she said.
Instead of simply lamenting the situation in passive fashion, Fisher was moved to action. She floated the idea of organizing a fund-raising concert past Donna Buchanan, a UI professor of musicology and founder and director of the Balkan ensemble.
Buchanan, whose group had dedicated its spring '99 concert to peace in the Balkans - "as a sort of an apolitical thing" - was indeed interested. The spring program, Buchanan said, "tried to stress the commonalities of the different countries represented."
So when Fisher approached Buchanan about organizing a concert devoted to reconstruction and relief efforts, she agreed that the idea was not only a good one from a humanitarian perspective, but because "the philosophy [behind it] plays well into one of the reasons why ethnomusicology was founded in the first place." One cornerstone of ethnomusicology, Buchanan said, is "the promotion of cross-cultural communication ... music helps us communicate better with each other."
The program for the relief concert will include instrumental music and songs from Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Hungary and Serbia, as well as an Albanian-Kosovar piece and one from the Dalmatian part of Croatia. Members of a dance troupe affiliated with the UI Hellenic Student Association will perform a couple of numbers set to live and recorded music.
Sponsors of the event include the Russian and East European Center, School of Music, Hellenic Student Association, Turkish Student Association, Romanian Student Club, Serbian-American Student Organization, Rotary Club of Urbana and Community United Church of Christ.