by Tanya Jones
Attending the 38th Summer School of the Slovenian Language as the recipient of the SAAA Student Travel Grant Slovenia 2019 not only provided me with an unforgettable adventure, but also opened many doors to aid in my pursuit of study and a future career in Slovenia. Opportunities as educational and engaging as the Summer School are extremely valuable as they are, but the generosity of SAAA allowed me to experience the benefit of the lessons in language and culture to an even deeper as I made new Slovene friends, and reconnected with my Slovene family.
As soon as I took my first step outside the Ljubljana Airport a flood of memories returned to me, from my family visits to Slovenia in 2004 and 2013. There were the familiar rolling green hills and fields, the solemn mountains in the near distance, and the majestic Ljubljanski Grad that watched over my first entrance to the old town centre. Having been incredibly lucky to stay with friends only a short walk from the city centre, I gained a new appreciation for these sights and more, exploring and revisiting memories at my leisure. I very quickly found myself feeling at home, searching the city and its surrounding suburbs for those little corners of beauty and peace that might offer me a fresh perspective of Slovenian culture. The stretch of park on the inside of the Roman Wall, made magical by the shade of tall trees and their softly twittering tenants and the Jože Plečnik’s architectural addition of a pyramid onto the wall, became a favourite refuge of mine after language lessons during the week. Later in my stay I had the pleasure to walk from there to where I was staying with family, past the row of prolific Slovene musicians outside the Society for Slovene Composers, through the historical walking streets, and along the swan-filled Ljubljanica River.
Perhaps driven by my passion for music and desire to study Slovenian music, even before classes at the Summer School commenced, I sought to familiarise myself with the music scene as experienced by locals, students, and tourists – and I was astounded at how vibrant and welcoming it is! Even a brief stroll through the city could offer me several chances to hear local musicians share their love of the accordion, guitar, harmonica and violin. Within my first week of stay I witnessed a performance of Mozart’s Requiem by the Sacramento Choral Society and the Ljubljana Soloists Orchestra in the beautiful Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. By the way the pews were crowded, and the aisles packed with attendees, it was clear that this event united local and international peoples alike – founded simply on the love of music and arts in Slovenia. I further enjoyed the result of this in attending an open-air production of Verdi’s opera Aida, conducted by Ivo Lipanović, and performed by Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, the SAF Military Band Choir and Police Orchestra, and HNK Split and the Maribor Opera Choir.
In my second week in Slovenia, amid preparations for study in the Summer School, I had additional proof of not only Slovenia’s thriving music culture, but also of how I may join it in the future. I had the opportunity to meet with Professor Dušan Bavdek of the Academy of Music and Dr Leon Stefanija in the Department of Musicology to discuss future study and career pathways. These networking opportunities have provided invaluable insight regarding my pursuit of a Master’s degree in either composition or musicology. Particularly due to my option of obtaining a dual citizenship because of being of Slovene descent, I learned that there are several directions that I am able to work towards over the next few years that will allow me to contribute to and immerse myself within the world of Slovenian music. Among these include applying to undertake a Master of Composition at the close of my ongoing Bachelor and upcoming Honours study, where I may continue to develop and refine my composing abilities and interests. Especially accommodating as a beginner in the Slovenian language, this degree is offered in English, but maintains the benefits of living and learning in Ljubljana.
The Master of Musicology degree, on the other hand, leans much closer to my interests in understanding and analysing what makes the wide varieties of Slovenian folk music distinctive, and would provide me with the support of a highly regarded staff of researchers in ethnomusicology. This program, however, being intrinsically tied to the minute details of Slovenian society, will require me to reach a functional, specialised grasp on the Slovenian language; future study may also involve gaining a functional understanding of the distinctions between regional dialects. The question of which degree should serve as my primary goal could fortunately be abated by the commencement of the Summer School itself where I would learn the basics of Slovenian grammar – and gauge whether its complexity would be enough to deter me from dedicating years to becoming fluent, or if studying and learning would become my top priority over the next few years.
The first introductory session at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Arts acquainted the students with the program’s growth, structure, and goals. As the course coordinator Jana Kete Matičič revealed, the Summer School boasted over a hundred entrants from across the world, consisting of those of Slovene descent in addition to participants simply interested in the Slovenian language, culture, or career opportunities. This in itself was a pleasant surprise to me, as I suddenly felt a connection to this multitude of people, purely based on our mutual interest in engaging with and supporting all aspects of Slovenian culture. Here I also fully realised the immense value of the opportunity offered by SAAA through the Travel Grant, and the Centre for Slovene as a Second and Foreign Language through a scholarship I received to cover the course fee.
Prior to the program’s start date I had reached out to friends and family already residing in Slovenia who participated in or had heard of the Summer School or other language courses through the University of Ljubljana. From them I had an idea of what classes would entail, and how I should prioritise my study around learning grammar, vocabulary, and functional phrases and sentences, so I prepared for them as best as I could by continuing from the foundational rules I had learned from taking Slovenian language lessons in Brisbane, and borrowing children’s books from the Ljubljana City Library. By revising what I already knew and using this technique to complement my classes, I was placed in a higher level beginner class, and found that despite being the youngest of the students by a reasonable margin, I could not only keep up, but also leave each class feeling that we had collectively grown stronger in our grasp of the language. This was, of course, majorly a result of our highly competent, engaging, and supportive teacher, Teja Koren. Her methods allowed us to approach the multifaceted complexities of Slovenian from a practical, non-patronising, and fun angle that allowed me to quickly overcome my fear of speaking Slovenian in cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores. One technique that I will especially try to continue as I study the language in Australia involves collecting a large range of simple words and phrases, and building short sentences based on their applied conjugations. Within my group language lessons and my own family may also see the benefit of playing memory games with pictures and flashcards to continue building our everyday vocabulary.
Over the two weeks of the Summer School our class became quite close-knit, and familiar with each other. We had the opportunity to learn about each other’s countries and customs – from America and Canada, to Argentina and Brazil, Russia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Australia. Our diversity in nationalities, occupations, and interests furthermore allowed us to learn an even larger amount of vocabulary that we quickly sought to apply in conversations and adapt to our own lives. Beyond this, we also found mutual ground in being either of Slovene descent, or connected to the country and culture through relationships. The significant role family plays in the Slovenian society particularly offered a new perspective on our engagement in the classes, transforming our study from an otherwise rigorous and intense mental workout into an emotional inspiration. I saw the proof of this as I began to reconnect with my grandmother, aunt and uncle through applying what I had learnt when talking and living with them. Throughout the intensive learning in class and my own growing motivation to live in Slovenian society and become a citizen, I have become confident that while the Slovenian language is undeniably complex, it truly will be the most effective means to allow me to contribute to the country’s music culture. By continuing study on my own and in language classes in Brisbane while I complete my Bachelor of Music with Honours over the next few years, I will prepare myself to undertake full-time study of the Slovenian language with the Centre for Slovene as a Second and Foreign Language, and pursue becoming a Master of Musicology at the University of Ljubljana in the future.
In addition to the classes, the Summer School offers an accompanying program of exploring Slovenian culture and customs through fun activities. Some of these included visiting the Ljubljanski Grad, viewing a Slovenian film, learning about the national pride held in beekeeping, and rowing down the Ljubljanica River on the final day. My favourite, however, was when myself and several other students went on a field through to the Volčji Potok Arboretum, and were awed at the botanical diversity and beautiful history, architecture and landscaping offered within. Despite having already visited the Tivoli Park several times on my own, and adoring the care Slovenes have for cultivating their own flower gardens, I was amazed at the diversity of flowers and colours, and overall richness of Slovenian nature. Later in my stay I had the opportunity to witness the range of geography that can be seen through the country’s various regions, from the pristinely blue waters of the Blejski Vintgar, to the shining chambers in the Škocjan Caves, and even to the Mediterranean vineyards along the road to Piran.
The entire experience provided me with a substantial insight regarding how it would be to live in Slovenia by approaching and entering the culture as a relative outsider, and gradually becoming established as a Slovene myself. Of particular help during my brief month-long stay was the advice and welcoming attitudes of friends and local churches. These small though highly active communities, made up of a mix of international students and local Slovenes, not only prepared me for what to expect in the Summer School, but also looking towards the future. I am especially grateful to the opportunity to offer my musical training in these churches while I study in Ljubljana full-time, and be supported as I seek to grow in my own personal understanding of local music cultures. Many of the international migrants, several of whom share a background training in classical music with me, were similarly grateful at the chance to maintain their own skills in such a way that complemented their developing grasp of the Slovenian language and culture. They gave fantastic recommendations on the high level of education offered by the Centre for Slovene as a Second and Foreign Language in addition to the practical steps that I may take to follow in their path.
First and foremost among these includes maintaining the professional and personal networks I already have in Australia, and garnering interest in my work, friends, family, and the Brisbane classical music community, to support both my study of language by living in Slovenia, but also to keep open any potential opportunities for the two countries to share their music and musicians. Immediate proof of the significance of this may already be seen in the upcoming Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University Open Day, August 11. As I am in my final years of study at this institution, and also owing to my active promotion of Slovenian music and culture in my compositions, research, and presentations, I have been asked to give a brief presentation on my research goals, and vision for cultivating a stronger bond between the Australian and Slovenian music scenes. I am thrilled at this opportunity to speak to young, aspiring composers about my experience of travel, culture, and the vibrancy that Slovenia has contributed to the well-esteemed European canon. Here, and while my degree draws to a close, I will continue to pursue the strengthening of this international link and the wide scope of opportunities it has to offer to my fellow musicians, and to the thriving world of art and music found within Slovenia.
More about Tanya Jones.
More about the SAAA Student Travel Grant 2019.
SAAA Student Travel Grant Manager
Dr Ziva Vuckovic Mueller