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Croatian heritage important to Belle Vernon Area senior Sebetich

| Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Belle Vernon senior Sarah Sebetich performs with her Tamburitzan group at Lisinski Hall in Croatia in July.
Belle Vernon senior Sarah Sebetich performs with her Tamburitzan group at Lisinski Hall in Croatia in July.

Belle Vernon Area senior Sarah Sebetich smiles as she recalls performing in Lisinski Hall in Croatia's capital of Zagreb this past July. Along with 26 other students, plus adults, from the St. George Croatian Lodge No. 354 in Cokeburg, junior and adult members of the Tamburitzan group, Sebetich spent 16 days in her ancestral homeland.

“Lisinski Hall is like the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh. It's a fantastic venue because of the musical and cultural heritage,” Sebetich said, but added that she was “a little nervous because so many people were watching; but once we started, the butterflies were gone. Once we began the performance and started to dance and sing, I just focused on what I had to do.”

A member of the Junior Tamburitzans for 13 years, Sebetich started performing when she was 5 years old and distinctly remembers her first performance.

“My first big Tamburitzan show was in the summertime,” she chuckled. “It was a Sunday performance in church and there were over 100 of us on stage. I was in the front row because I was so small, and all of a sudden I got sick and was about to throw up, but our director was sitting in the front row and saw my distress. She picked me up and took me to the lobby, where I did throw up. But the show went on.”

“Sarah is an excellent singer, dancer and musician,” said Marlene Luketich-Kochis, who began performing with the group in 1963 and has been teaching and directing since 1982. “She started with us when she was 5 and played (the prim) and sang and was a sweetheart on stage. She has matured in every aspect and is a wonderful girl, always cooperative and always ready to do anything to help. She sees the best in people and never says a bad word about anything. We could not ask for a better person.”

While Sebetich distinctly recalls her first performance with the Tamburitzans as well as her first trip to Croatia 10 years ago, she also proudly displays her badges of honor, calluses on the fingers of her left hand, calluses that she earned playing the G prim.

“Being so young, I had never done anything like that before,” Sebetich said, referring to playing an instrument, singing or dancing. “I was so small they gave me a prim and eventually developed the calluses. It was painful at first, especially for someone so young. I had never read notes so I practiced with my parents (Ted, who plays the bugarija, a guitar-like instrument, with the adult group; and Mary Ann, who oversees all costuming duties); and older sister Chelsea, now a student at Bethany College and still a member of the group — at home every day.”

Sebetich admits that “singing was hard at first because the songs are in Croatian, and I learned to sing in Croatian. After all these years I recognize some words, thanks to the instructors and just by being around people who speak Croatian.”

Withstanding the pain of her calluses, even at a young age, Sebetich adds that her favorite part of the performances has been the dancing, which she enjoyed immediately. Her favorite dance, “Moja Domovina (My Home or My Croatia),” typifies her fondness for her ancestral heritage, and dancing kolos (circle dances) at the Croatian lodge adds to her enjoyment.

Singing and dancing in conjunction with her Croatian heritage has had a carryover effect for Sebetich at Belle Vernon Area High School, where she has been a four-year member of the colorguard, serving as captain this year. In addition, she has performed in school musical productions since her freshman year. On Belle Vernon's stage she has performed with the ensemble in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Annie,” and “Footloose.” As a junior she portrayed Mary Warren, one of the leading characters in the fall play “The Crucible.”

With memories to last a lifetime, Sebetich recounted her visit and performance in Zagreb, as well as a tour of the Croatian Museum of Naive Art and participation in the city's 47th Annual Tamburitza Festival. A stop at internationally famous Plitvice Lakes National Park was followed by a performance and party with a nationally prominent folklore group in Karlovac. Visits to the Istrian peninsula and Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad helped round out the cultural exchange.

Following her 2014 graduation, Sebetich plans to attend either Point Park University to study theater or Duquesne University to major in French.

Les Harvath is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

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