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Wednesday, July 16, 2008 02:33 pm

Horns of plenty

Serbian gypsy brass band plays the Hoogland on Sunday

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What do you get when you put five flügelhorns, four tenor horns, a helicon, and several percussion instruments together in the same band? Besides the very good possibility of hearing a terrifically raucous sound and seeing seldom-seen brass instruments, you have the makings of a contemporary gypsy brass band. Believe it or not, one of the best known of these Balkan-based bands makes an appearance in Springfield on Sunday, July 20, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

Hailing from the town of Vladiãin Han, in southern Serbia, Boban Markoviç formed his first orkestar nearly 20 years ago and has since taken his act far beyond the borders of his homeland to international fame. Considered by his peers and fans worldwide the greatest of many horn players originating in the Balkan region, Markoviç has released several records and tours Europe constantly and North America occasionally. After winning so many times and with such high marks in the region's famed Guãa trumpet festival competition, he and the band no longer compete, attending as performers only. It's joked that President Bill Clinton and our NATO allies spared Markoviç's area a bombing back during the war years of the 1990s because of Clinton's awareness of and fondness for the gypsy brass band sound. True or not, it's interesting to see what having a musician's perspective in the White House does for the arts.

According to music historians, the Balkan brass band sound originated in the military bands of the Ottoman Empire, who used brass in the same way the Scots used bagpipes: to terrify the enemy before battle. Some of these same historians claim that a diaspora of Gypsy immigrants to the U.S. in the mid-1800s helped influence the beginnings of jazz as the Eastern-flavored melodies performed on brass instruments were played over the evolving blues progressions of African-American pianists and guitarists. It's all conjecture, of course, but it's entirely plausible and makes for a very compelling story.

Markoviç now travels with his son Marko on second flügelhorn and occasional vocals, passing the torch to the next generation and in doing so keeping the music fresh with new influences. Though he hews to the tradition of wailing horns in minor keys and Gypsy melodies, the younger Markoviç also incorporates funk beats and Latin rhythms.

A very good example of your tax dollars at work, this concert is a culmination of efforts by several entities: the Chicago Cultural Center's "Music without Borders" series, the Governor's International Arts Exchange Program (I wonder whether Blago knows about it) of the Illinois Arts Council, and our very own Hoogland Center and Springfield Area Arts Council.

Starting around 3:30 p.m. the Springfield International Folk Dancers will perform Balkan folk dances in the Hoog's lobby to heighten the mood. Feel free to attend in your very best Gypsy outfit and join in the festivities.

The Boban i Marko Markoviç Orkestar performs at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 20, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts (420 S. Sixth St., 217-523-2787, www.scfta.org). Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for youths and seniors.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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