The Bihać Summer Guitar Workshop (June 24-25, 2016) is a two-day event set in the town of Bihać, which is located on the banks of the river Una, looking towards the beautiful mountains of western Bosnia and Herzegovina. The workshop is open to anyone who wants to participate, and this year it included two days of group classes, private lessons, and three evening concerts, including a student concert on the final day of the workshop. All classes take place at the “High School for the Arts” located in downtown Bihać, while all the evening performances take place at the AVNOJ Museum hall adjacent to the school.
I first visited Bihać in the Summer of 2013 to visit my duo partner Dr. Armin Abdihodžić, who teaches at the University of Alaska/Anchorage, and to perform in nearby Karlovac. During that first visit, we had the idea of starting this said workshop. Those who have organized events like this would know how difficult it is to navigate all the logistics, and I need to fully credit Armin for going through with the painstaking efforts in organizing the workshop from outside Bosnia.
The schedule for this second iteration of the workshop was divided into two parts: morning sessions were used for group classes focused on technical skills and healthy practicing habits; afternoon sessions were dedicated to individual lessons. Most of the students come from the local School for the Arts, but quite a few came from nearby cities. The School for the Arts houses an impressive guitar program, including a guitar orchestra that has received several special prizes in the Bosnian Music Competition, and also a 1st prize in Omis (Croatia). Ages ranged from 6-7 to high school seniors. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that participating in this workshop was the most rewarding teaching experience that I have ever had. Across all ages, the students were remarkably enthusiastic about music and dedicated to it in a very disciplined way. Over the course of the weekend, each one of the instructors gave about 50 lessons of varied length. In every one of these lessons, the students came very well prepared. They were also the most receptive for our input, and often would come back to check if they had mastered a particular suggestion that was given.
It was also refreshing to see the healthy manner in which all the students interacted. It is an aspect that often goes unnoticed, but an important facet of music is the social nature of its experience. As I watched the students coming early and leaving late for the simple reason that they wanted to have more time with their colleagues, it became apparent to me that the great value of the workshop was in providing an antidote to the solitary isolation that is the norm of our age.
The opening concert was shared between our duo and the Sarajevo Guitar Quartet, who are students of Đani Šehu at the Sarajevo Music Academy and played a truly fantastic set. A member of the quartet, Adnan Alagic, stayed through the workshop and also helped with teaching. The always excellent Klasinc-Loncar Duo, alongside the young Maya Loncar, were featured on the second night.
The final concert was a true marathon of guitar playing, where all 27 students performed. Guitar Salon International’s generous gift of strings, music and various accessories to the Bihać High School for the Arts was a highlight of the evening. Being from Brazil, I certainly understand how it is sometimes difficult to have access to resources. These gifts will certainly be put to best of use and are greatly appreciated. Although running a very successful program, the school does not have a significant budget for supplies, and the strings donated will last them for a year; the ensemble music is also a welcome addition to the school’s library, particularly since those editions are hard to find in Europe.
I have never felt more welcome anywhere else. I certainly have a special appreciation for the hospitality and kindness I received in Bosnia. I would like to use this opportunity to publicly thank all the students and teachers from the High School for the Arts – especially Suzana Ciric, the Abdihodzic family, and many other individuals and institutions from Bihać that made this workshop possible. We do have plans for the future. As it attracts more and more attention, we expect to expand to five or six days, to include performances in surrounding cities, and to feature even more local talent and artists. I hope there will be many more to come.
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