Since 1938, each August, the Duquesne University Tamburitzans stop here on their way from their training center in Lake Nebagamon, Wis., to their base in Pittsburgh, for another season of vibrant musical performances that bring the Slavic tradition to life.
There is no group in the world like them. Moving to multi-ethnic Pittsburgh from Texas in 1937, the Tammies joined the Duquesne University, little realizing they would grow to global recognition with students who receive four-year scholarships for their efforts, and who gain in ways that change their lives - and the lives of everyone else associated with them.
Their headquarters is majestically situated, like a crown, on a hill overlooking the city's Golden Triangle (where the Monongahela and Allegheny join to form the beginning of the Ohio River).
While the students come and go, names like Walter Kolar, Steve Kovacev, Richard Crum, Lucille Anderson, Joanne Siket and Nicholas Jordanoff still ring for their formative years of dedicated administrative and performing leadership, focusing on the heritage of peoples from eastern and southeastern Europe, with emphasis on the cluster of Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and other previously Yugoslavian countries, to preserve the 2000-year-old charm as much as possible through the ethnic costumes, songs and dances.
The group has adopted the name of the tamburitza - lute-like stringed instruments ranging from the smallest hand-held "prim" to the full bodied bass. Each member of the Tammies must perform in three areas: singing, dancing and instrument playing. The group is resilient, relying on special talents, from ballet to orchestral solos on any specific musical instruments.
There is a standard format for each performance, based on variety in sets, running from choral groups and dances to solos and showy acrobatic feats, as well as vignettes (ethnic weddings and other ceremonies) that might include sentimental or comical selections.
The years have been kind to the Tamburitzans. Beginning with hardly more than a dozen performers, they have expanded to include at least 40 each year, and their programs have been seen across the nation and are included in European tours amid raves from the press from Moscow to Rome. They braved the War Years when available men were few, then returned to full force by the late '40s.
The freshness of each concert leaves one with the impression that it is their only presentation, given for just that one night. Yet after months of preparation - learning dozens of different languages, authentic dance steps, fitting into ethnic costumes and in general, adopting the look and feel of the Old World - they are ready to perform hundreds of shows annually, always with the intention of making each performance fresh, polished and seamlessly effortless. This is a unique group - young, talented, eager to perform and please each audience as if all the past training and rehearsals were meant just for them.
It begins at summer camp, in an isolated area where the frantic city rush is left behind and a training session starts - quietly at first, renewing old friendships, getting introduced to new members, then followed by a rigorous, dedicated training in life as Tamburitzans. Eventually, the very best talent groupings are selected, and a new concert gradually emerges. Practice, practice, practice - up to 14 hours a day of seemingly endless drill. Yet there is time for recreation and sports, and the initiation of new members into the ranks by a ceremonious dunking for all freshmen, and the annual wine-tasting party at the end of camp.
Is it worth it? You bet - for them and for us - this Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Calumet Theatre.
Rotten Tomatoes averages: "The Campaign," B-; "Bourne Legacy," B-