[Archived News] Friday September 19, 2008


Congratulations to members of the SSS Njegos Choir of Cleveland, Ohio. Due to financial restraints, a select number of talented Njegos singers were able to compete in the 22nd  International Choral Festival Competition of the Balkans held in Nis, Serbia. The invitation from the choral committee came to Cleveland via talented music director, Mr. Milan Damljanovic. The Njegos choir competed in the sacred music portion of the program. The strenuous competition was held over a 5 day period, July 5th – 9th . Over 35 choirs competed from diverse countries including, Sweden, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and of course, the U.S. choir Njegos!

Accomplished, gifted choirs represented many countries in both sacred and secular programs.  The artistic composition of the songs were carefully selected as Damljanovic had previous years been a juror for this competition. The Njegos choir was honored to have 2 members of the Stevan Hristc Choir of Phoenix sing together with them. They are considered their extended choir family. Both Lazo Mihajlovic and Gordana Stojanovic were a critical addition to the chior.

The competition opened with the parade of choirs. The leader of the parade was a local gajda musician in a Serbian costume. Over 35 choirs carrying flags and signs to identify their choir and country of origin. The parade began at Hotel Ambasador and proceeded across the  Nisaa River to the fortress. National costumes were worn by each individual choir, including a stars and stripes hat worn by our very own Maksim Damljanovic!

The opening ceremony had several special guests including Bishop +Irinej of Nis and Mayor of the city, Mr. Smiljka Kostica. The jury was then announced including reknown musicologists including; Prof. Kulikov of Russia, Prof. Muratovski of  Macedonia, Prof. Blume of Germany, and Prof. Scheck of Belgium. The opening performance included the premiere of the “Volcano Symphony” which  was performed by the university choir and orchestra with conductor Ms. Suzana Kostic.

Competition events included the promotion of the “Anthology of Serbian Art Song” written by Ana Stefanovic. The ACAA – Academic Folk Dancing and Singing Ensemble Oro also performed. Oro, founded in 1959, is the oldest students’ ensemble of the University of Nis.  The group has performed in many countries including Brazil, Norway and the United States. The sacred competition was opened by Hor Branko of Nis. Many of you may have heard them on their tours in the U.S.

The competition was televized live throughout Serbia. Viewers enjoyed the wonderful performances of so many talented choirs from many countries. There was also a daily press conference from noon until 1pm which was attended by invited guests including newspaper and television media from over a dozen countries. Milan Damljanovic was the speaker at  the July 8th press conference and was a member of the discussion panel throughout the week. Some of the focus at the press conferences included discussion of the future formats of the competition – folk versus sacred music, accrediting composers properly, artistic direction, etc.  

As if the competition wasn’t enough, the Njegos choir was asked by the festival committee to perform in Niska Banja. Of course the members immediately left to have an evening of singing in a casual atmosphere. Members were able to breathe!! Anyone that knows Damljanovic also knows that breathing is not an option in singing under his direction!

The choir was also invited to attend a farewell luncheon prepared by the members of Hor Branko to thank the Njegos choir for being such generous hosts during their visit to the U.S. Following the competition, Njegos members joined one of the Bulgarian choirs to do some sight seeing! The Bulgarian choir sang patriot songs on the bus and in turn, Njegos singers sang a few of our own Serbian patriot songs. What fun it was! An appreciation of other nations and ethnic music of various cultures was truly gained. Members of other choirs were so thrilled to meet Serbian Americans and many invitations were exchanged! It was a gift to meet so many talented singers from so many countries, truly a blessing.

The closing ceremony was beautiful, again the choirs came to the old fortress for the finale where everyone sang a few rounds of  Viva La Musica! The Njegos choir was praised for keeping the tradition of song alive in the Diaspora. Such artistic selections were a pleasant surprise to the jury. Thousands of viewers in over a dozen countries were privledged to watch the competition and read about it. The members of the Njegos choir were humbled to have the opportunity to compete in such a prestigious event. The many hours of rigorous rehearsals now seemed worthwhile. Many new friendships were made and the importance of music as our culture was evident through everyone’s efforts. This is a group which is  truly working to keep our heritage alive through SONG.

By Mimi Dae