Editor's Introduction: Piano accordionist Gary Sredzienski began his professional career at age 9. At age 10, he traveled throughout New England performing with a vaudeville act called The Hog Hollow Hooters. He has performed with Ballet New England, the Polish Cultural Arts Foundation in San Antonio, and at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Most of the music Sredzienski plays was written during hard times in his ancestral country, Poland. Sredzienski revives the spirit of the Old Country by playing traditional music, and has transposed Slavic, Yiddish, Balkan, Celtic, and Scandinavian folk music on the piano accordion.
Sredzienski is a New Hampshire artist-in-residence, and regularly presents educational programs in New Hampshire schools. He is also the host of a Saturday morning 1950s style radio show called "Polka Party" in Durham, New Hampshire. He was nominated by Congressman John E. Sununu to represent New Hampshire in a free performance on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage on May 10, 2000.
Sredzienski recently completed a tour of Romania with Bill Zecker, an outstanding musician in the contra dance tradition who plays the bass, guitar, piano, fiddle, and mandolin. The trip was funded by the New Hampshire state governor, the state department, and the Smithsonian Institute. The following is an informal description of his tour.
How and where could I possibly begin to tell you about our adventure. Bill and I will never forget our first images of Bucharest flying into the airport. Tall grass growing up in the pavement, airplanes blown out and disassembled along the runway.......workers in green uniforms digging ditches then all stopping to watch us taxi along the runway. Cars intermingled with horse-drawn carriages. A poor man on crutches...tattered rags wrapped around his missing legs begging for money in the middle of a busy intersection.
The Embassy dropped us off at the hotel with a man with a sub-machine gun standing in front. We were travelling for 22 hours and were told to get some rest......begin the road trip tomorrow morning.
Leaving the lowlands of Southern Romania driving north to Transylania....and the Carpathian Mountains. The countryside is immensely beautiful......as a former forester I was so amazed that they have all the same trees and plant life as New Hampshire. People are poor in the country......there seem to be 2 classes in Romania....upper and lower.....no in-between. you drive for miles through winding roads at very high speeds....passing stray dogs, cattle, horses, goats, donkeys and slow moving vehicles.
By the way, we were very, very fortunate to have 2 people accompany us. Nic was our driver/body guard......a former captain in the Romanian Army. He is so warm and loveable......and plays accordion!!! Our translator was a brilliant woman by the name of Ruxandra. She loves music, artists and really educated us about history, culture and Romanian life.
Before our first gig in the 13th century city of Brasov.......we dined in a traditional Transylvanian mountain house.......wild boar, cow brains, boar sausage, bear, chicken, oven brick baked bread, beer and a very strong drink made of plum wine and laurel leaf......called 'polinka' Not sure of the spelling, but it is THE Romanian drink.....their pride and joy.
The gig in Brasov was a July 4th celebration. There were supposed to be over 500 people......only about 100 showed up. It's funny what some think of America!! men in cowboy hats yelling "HEEEEHAAAW". Bill and I did a set after the speeches then came on a traditional Romanian and German dance group. There is a strong German and Hungarian population in these cities........even though they came to these towns in the 1700's, they still retain what is German. Interviewed by Brasov Television and then had to hurry for a 3 hour drive to the next gig.
We arrived in a poorer city called Sibiu. Brasov is beautiful with orthodox and medieval structures, while Sibiu had a more 'communist' era feel about it. In front of the hotel waited this real sweet guy with a small US flag in his hand. He was the festival organizer. I asked "where are all these people walking to????" "To see you Americans play!"
We immediately proceeded to the park. They had only one microphone in the gazebo.......a microphone probably from our 1970's......the kind that you use in a cassette player!!!!! So Bill and I decided to sit in a blown-out circular water fountain that was probably working during the iron-curtain days. People gather around us....... hundreds. they absolutely loved it.....it really didn't matter what we played......we played everything. Little children with thick accents yelling...."we lov yoo....wee lov yooo." Can you believe it.....we were signing autographs. Met a photographer there from San Francisco.....was travelling through. He followed us back to Bucharest. made many friends in Sibiu.......couples my own age who will now be keeping in touch with me via email.
Ate in a wine cellar that evening.......perch. The next day wandered in the streets of Sibiu.....We took pictures because a section of this town looks identical to market street in Portsmouth, NH........they should be sister cities!!!
It was sad to see everywhere stray homeless dogs......no one could afford to spay or neuter the animals.....$50 can feed a family for a month!
Off to Targoviste
We arrived at a factory in Targoviste. A party in the outdoor square of the factory. Speeches.......I must admit that both the U.S. and Romanians were flinging the bull and the people knew it!! They had us play immediately after the speeches...the Romanian speaker said " We have waited 50 years for the Americans to come.....now they are here!!" our translator said...."What a bunch of b.s."
Bill and I played......The people were somewhat offended by the speeches that when we played....no one gave us the time of day!!! So we persisted.......I finally saw one man's legging tapping way out of beat to our music, so I decided to sit next to him and play for him, eye to eye, not stand above him. WELL......they absolutely lit up.......and then all went nuts. Then everyone wanted us to sit at their table to play. The gig went from 0 to 200% Some people were put out that we didn't make it to their table.......we were supposed to only play for a half hour.......ended up playing for over 2 hours. They were pulling me out of my chair to dance to 'Ricky Martin'.......I just couldn't so I pulled her on my lap and bounced her up and down......her husband immediately bolted over.....became good friends with them both - top marketing people in Romania.
A highlight was back in Bucharest on July 4th. Just as we have 'Good morning America'.......Bill and I were special guests on their national TV show called "Breakfast Romania". They played my rock band cd's......and get this.....we had to lip synch with the music. I never had to lip synch the accordion before!!!!!!!!!! We were sat down and interviewed with our translator.
My poor, poor partner Bill. They asked him what stood out in his mind the most about Romania.......he went blank! I stared at the TV monitors.....he's blank...Bill.....Bill......he finally shouted....."THE DONKEY IN THE ROAD" the donkey in the road????? what do you mean???? In Romanian..........it translated to "stupid person or ruffian in the road" it was so embarrassing for him......that we believe people thought that it was funny. They are going to send us a copy of the TV show.
Took a bath before the Embassy gig.....flipping through their TV channels........very, very impressive. They have stations dedicated to the preservation of their folk music......so diverse. Gypsy (more politically correctly known as 'Roma') musicians. Of course.....every one lip synching!!! but it was so beautiful. Even master classes for cello on TV. of course....MTV and CNN. But old American jazz videos.......stuff we never see here!!!! I love TV in Bucharest!!
The embassy gig......met Ambassador James Rosapepe. Never have I played in front of 4000 people before. Top notch sound system there. Had to play "America the Beautiful" The marines love us.......played lots of old New England reels.....told me that it was the best bluegrass accordion he had ever heard!! As we played we were being televised on this giant sport stadium television screen. We have pictures. All the Romanian army guards wanted to shake our hands.
A warm highlight at that gig was that we met many of the Romanian performers from last summer's Smithsonian festival. We all greeted each other with big warm hugs.....my Romanian accordionist counter-part brother.....the gypsy dulcimer player......dancers. Earlier we brought photos of Romanian artisans and managed to find some of them and gave them their pictures. Our translator and driver was very moved by this. Got back at the hotel at 9:30 PM .....drank our gift of elderberry wine and stayed up all night to pack cause we were picked up at 5 am.
We are back and I barely scratched the surface!!!!!
P.S......my dog's picture will be on a label for a new flavor beer brewed by Smuttynose Beer! That's every dog owner's dream!!
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