Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Sunday, August 30, 2009


When Lilla Serlegi came to San Jose from Hungary two years ago as an au pair, she didn't know a word of English, so she used her musical talent to find her community in the area. She joined several tamburitza bands, including San Francisco's Slavonian Traveling Band and is becoming entrenched in the Bay Area's Eastern European music community.

Lilla was was raised in the Croatian community of Horvatzsidany in western Hungary and is fluent in both the languages and musical traditions of both countries. Lilla's specialty is in plucked instruments of the tamburitza family, and her singing talent is close behind.

Lilla is sharing her musical expertise through lessons and workshops for more information, contact

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SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA SECRETS: Freight & Salvage Re-opening

Yesterday was the Freight & Salvage's grand opening in its new location in the Berkeley Arts District (2020 Addison St.). Musicians, long time fans, and curiosity seekers joined for a two day celebration of roots music -- from Balkan to Appalachian to Celtic. The new space is a quantum leap from the old in concept, size, and elegance. The auditorium is similar to the design of Berkeley Rep theater, and lined with planks from the old Freight (so I'm told). The acoustics are to die for. There is a large lobby and second floor for classrooms.

But the Bay Area secret, and what I really am here to write about, is the Freight & Salvage Oral History Project, master minded by Andrea Hirsig. If you've ever attended a concert at the Freight, you know Andrea because she is the one who introduces each concert and tells us all to dispose of our "detrius." Off stage Andrea is a ball of energy and one of the nicest people I know.

Over that past year or so, Andrea initiated a documentary history of the Freight, and has interviewed long time audience members, performers, and staff members. Plans for a commemorative book are in the works. Interviews include Nancy Owens, the founder of the Freight; performers Terry Garthwaite and Toni Brown; and singer Holly Near.

Stay tuned for the next phase of the oral history project, and if you are a Freight musician or audience member with a story, stop by and talk to Andrea next time you come by.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009


Hungarian musician, instrument maker, and self-taught ethnomusicologist Ferenc Tobak has opened the eyes of many San Francisco Bay Area music lovers by introducing eastern European bagpipe music to local audiences.

Last night's concert at the Croatian American Cultural Center was a spin on this theme, with the addition of guest musicians from the Hungarian Ethnographic Museum in Budapest, local Didjeridu musician Stephen Kent, and the Center's own Slavonian Traveling Band.

The show started with short film documenting Ferenc's research among the Csango people of Moldavia in the 1990s. At the time of Ferenc's trips, the bagpipe was almost obsolete in this area. It was certainly uncool to be a bagpipe player, and Ferenc went door to door in some of the rural villages "outing" reluctant bagpipe players. He found some elderly musicians who kind of remembered the tunes, or maybe had a non-functional bagpipe in the trunk. Piece by piece Ferenc reconstructed the music, the instruments, and the culture behind it. See photos of the musicians here. Or hear a sample here.

Ferenc is also an instrument maker. He makes bagpipes, flutes, and any kind of wind instrument. In fact, I first met him in the Budapest airport about ten years ago where he was arguing with the check in agent about the charges for his extra luggage. His extra luggage consisted of hundreds of pounds of plum wood he had collected from a certain region in Hungary. This rosewood would become the chanters for his bagpipes, and other flutes and whistles he made in his studio in Northern California. H

This concert is part of a concert series, Culture at the Crossroads, held at the Croatian American Cultural Center this fall.

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