Slovak music coming to Mt. Lebanon

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As a paperboy in an ethnic community in McKees Rocks, Jerry Jumba served customers who were largely of Ukrainian, Slovak, Polish and Carpatho-Rusyn descent.

They spoke to him in English mixed with their native tongue and he recalls being intrigued by the sound.

His young appreciation of language was furthered at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church in which English and Carpatho-Rusyn were spoken, and in which the entire liturgy was presented in folk harmony.

From 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Mr. Jumba, 61, of McKees Rocks -- a musician, composer, music teacher and producer of numerous bilingual folk song collections -- will share his love of language, music and song in a free program at Mt. Lebanon Public Library in meeting room B.

Titled "A bilingual presentation -- Slovak folk songs with singing English translations," it is part of the Slovak Heritage series coordinated the past 15 years at the library by Joe and Albina Senko of Mt. Lebanon.

The series -- programs are held on the first Mondays of the month -- is presented on behalf of the 180-member, nonprofit Western Pennsylvania Slovak Cultural Association, of which Mr. Senko, 77, is founder and executive director.

"We have a lot of generations who grew up hearing the language and who are familiar with the customs. As adults, they want to go back and find out more," Mr. Senko said of the importance of preserving the Slovak heritage.

In his presentation, Mr. Jumba will sing in English and Slovak and play the accordion.

"I want people to get into the experience of the Slovak community, especially the folk song culture," he said.

"Every folk song culture affirms the life values that lift people up in the art of songs, and it makes people bond in the joy of sharing those songs," he said.

Since 1967, Mr. Jumba has transcribed, translated and performed folk song texts and, in 1975, he founded the Pittsburgh Area Slovak Ensemble. He co-founded the Luchina Slovak Ensemble in Cleveland in 1982.

His lifelong interest in the research, transcription, translation and publishing of Carpatho-Rusyn chant and folk arts songs and East Slovak songs was supported, in part, through three state grants.

"For those who don't know any Slovak, the program will allow them to get the meaning of some words, and then try the language," he said.

Most Slovaks today live in the independent Slovakia, which resulted -- as did the Czech Republic -- from the dissolution of Czechoslovakia on Jan. 1, 1993.

But the presence of Slavic states on the territory of present-day Slovakia can be traced back to the eighth century. That territory was part of Hungarian rule for most of its existence until the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are 797,764 people of Slovak heritage in the U.S. Pennsylvania ranks first among states, with 243,009, or 30 percent, of the residents.

Metropolitan Pittsburgh is home to 105,525, making it the city with the largest population of people of Slovak heritage outside of Slovakia.

Due to the heavy concentration of Slovak-Americans in the area, the Slovak Embassy opened an honorary consulate in Pittsburgh in 1997, of which Mr. Senko has served as honorary consul ever since.

He and Mrs. Senko, who was born in Czechoslovakia of Slovak heritage, will attend Monday's program and chat with attendees afterward.

Mr. Jumba said sharing songs across ethnic lines can be a bonding experience.

"A friendship evolves when people share something artistic and beautiful, like the common experiences expressed through songs," he said.

To learn more on the Slovak culture, visit: .

For more on Slovak educational programs, email, or call 412-956-6000.

The next Slovak Heritage program at the library will be at 7 p.m. March 4, titled "Slovakia Today vs. Slovakia of our Ancestors."


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer;


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