Meet “Bel canto Bihać” – the first children’s choir in the city on the Una River

Vesna Kečalović, Master of General Music Pedagogy, was a teacher at the “Nusret Keskin-Braco” Art School, and decided to continue musical education of preschool and school-age children even in retirement.

Within the already existing Association for the Affirmation of Culture and Art “Bel canto Bihać”, in which the mixed city choir operates, it gathers a group of singing children and starts the first children’s choir in the city of Bihać.

She points out that this idea was prompted by changes in the curriculum introduced by the Ministry of Education in primary and secondary schools.

The changes made by the Una-Sana Canton Ministry of Education have degraded the status of music education in primary and secondary schools. Namely, music education, as a subject, exists only in the first grade of the Grammar school, while in other secondary schools it is completely removed from the curriculum. In elementary schools, the number of music lessons has been significantly reduced, which I consider unrealistic. In addition to the fact that many music teachers are directed to other jobs or have to work in several schools, in order to have the necessary norm, I was extremely hurt by the realization that children will be deprived of the basics of music education, as well as membership in school choirs. For this reason, I decided to start a children’s choir and thus prevent the death of children’s choral singing in the city.

With exceptional pedagogical and musical experience, as well as experience in leading a school choir, it was not difficult for her to realize this idea, and gather the first choir members. At the beginning, in January 2021, there were five of them, but that number increased day by day. Today there are 25 members in the choir aged from 5 to 12 years.

I have to admit that at the beginning there were difficulties, it is fortunate that we immediately had the space provided to us by the City of Bihać for the Association “Bel Canto”. I also had the support of my colleague Emilija Vuković, a graduate teacher, who led the choir with me, rehearsed and prepared the members for our first performances. The children accepted us from the very beginning and it was not difficult for us to introduce ourselves to the audience for the first time.

All children who have the desire to engage in this extracurricular activity are welcome. Rehearsals are held once a week and are extremely intensive and meaningful, explained the educator Emilija Vuković, who has worked with the children since day one.

Our rehearsal lasts an hour and has to be meaningful because it happens once a week. I can say that it is an intensive work, since we are working on both the text and the melody, we try to add movement, nothing excessive, but something that would accompany the text. Children have the desire to express in their own way what they feel through the song, how they experience it, and we do not insist on having any strictly defined movements, but just to follow the text. I did rhythmic exercises with them in order to encourage a sense of rhythm, and in this way we develop attention and concentration, and create a happier atmosphere. All children are in some way curious and sometimes restless, but really at every rehearsal they function as a group, following, learning, singing. It was not difficult for me because through this work I combined my love for children and my love for music, which I have been attached to since childhood.

It is important to point out that special attention is paid to the speech exercises that Professor Kečalović does with the children. These exercises develop children’s diction, encourage correct pronunciation, which is especially important because the members of the choir are also five-year-olds, who have not yet fully developed their speech, adds Emilia.

Persistent work and discipline soon resulted in the organization of the First Exhibition of Children’s Choirs “Bihać 2021”. Remembering this period, Prof. Kečalović states that the path from idea to performance was not easy, primarily due to financing.

At that time, the choir had 12 members and we all tried to make this idea a reality. The City of Bihać supported our work with a symbolic amount, so the members’ parents made an effort to cover all costs. Those costs were not very low considering that we were supposed to host three more choirs from Bosnia and Herzegovina. With joint effort, we succeeded in everything“.

The first performance was held in October 2021, and together with the members of the host choir, members of the children’s choir “Melody” from Sanski Most, the choir “Vilenjak” from Prijedor, and “Horoljupci” from Bugojno performed.

In order to prepare for the event, the choir was active throughout the summer vacation. The children came regularly, they were glad to have some activity and we really worked a lot. It was important for us to rehearse everything, because it was our first event of this type, in which choirs from three cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina also participated. We are especially glad, both I and the leaders of the other choirs – participants, that we managed to perform a joint song at the end of the event. It sounded like we had been practicing together for days. The audience was delighted, many of them said that they didn’t even know that there was a children’s choir in the city which is this good. After this review, the number of members in our choir began to increase.

Soon followed the New Year’s concert, which was organized under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Una-Sana Canton, and then numerous other performances at various events in the city of Bihać. Members of the”Ahmet Hromadžić” elementary school’ choir from Bosanski Petrovac performed for the first time in Bihać. Thanks to the established cooperation with children’s choirs from other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the little Belkantići, as they affectionately call the members of this choir, had the opportunity to perform in Sanski Most and Bosanski Petrovac. All performances make them happy, but also, as the eight-year-old soloist Zara Salkić told us, they also enjoy traveling and spending time with new friends.

I’ve been going to Mrs. Vesna’s choir since the very beginning, I sang at all the performances of our choir. In the choir, we sing, dance, and often travel to other cities. I like the bus trips the most, during which we sing and have fun. Soon we will also visit Bugojno and that makes me very happy.

And Zara’s friend Azra adds that she likes to meet new friends while singing.

I had a good time in Sanski Most. I was glad when I met new kids from that town. I also love when new members come to the choir, then we have a game of getting to know each other and it’s really fun“.

Everything that they accomplished, says prof. Kečalović, it would be impossible to realize without the support of the members’ parents, who are always ready to help, not only in preparing the children for performances, but also financially.

Given that the Association does not have permanent funding, parents regularly help us organize concerts. Also, with the support of the City of Bihać, the Italian organization IPSIA and businesses from Bihać, they participated in the organization of the Second Choir Exhibition, which was held in 2022, and they also finance the trips. I cannot even express how much this, but also all other forms of support, mean to us“.

According to the parents, the enthusiasm of the choir leaders, the care and persistence, the love they give to the members deserve this kind of support and help,.

I am very happy that the city of Bihać has a cheerful children’s choir, skillfully led by our dear teacher Vesna Kečalović, and which the children happily attend. People sing and dance to the music, create new friendships, and socialize during the trip. Children from different cities of our dear Bosnia and Herzegovina come together in one happy and singing group. We, the parents, are familiar with all the plans and are happy to participate in the organization of the performance. We try to be supportive in every sense“, says Selma Salkić, mother of the singer Zara.

It should be mentioned that thanks to this choir, the children of Bihać also got their national anthem. It was performed for the first time on February 26, during the ceremonial academy organized as part of the Bihać City Day celebration. The text for the song was written by Jure Petrović, and the music by Jasmin Hadžisadiković. The period for preparing the song for performance was short, but the choir leaders had no doubts about their small team. The children participated at frequent rehearsals and practiced at home with their parents. The reward for that was the grand applause of the audience from the packed hall of the Bihać Cultural Center.

According to professor Kečalović, the choir will continue with the same tempo in the following period as well.

The children are already looking forward to going to the choir fair in Bugojno. Last year we failed to organize a trip, but this year we will participate. The show will be held on June 3 and we are already preparing new performances. This is followed by preparation for the Third Exhibition of Choirs in Bihać, which should be held at the end of October. We believe that it will be even better and more meaningful than the previous two“.

The Association for the affirmation of culture and art “Bel Canto Bihać” will soon start working with high school students, in order to contribute to the survival of musical culture and choral singing in high schools as well, which is, as professor Kečalović previously stated, completely neglected.

Thanks to the application to the “Regional Program of Local Democracy in the Western Balkans” funded by the European Union, the implementation of the “Ethno Choir” program will soon begin. Within this Program, sevdalinka will be nurtured in its original form, but also through processing it in a new form. Students from three schools in Bihać will participate, schools where there is no music education subject, and the Grammar school, where this subject is available only in the first grade. The students have already expressed their interest and the implementation of the project will begin soon. It will last six months, after which the project will be presented to the public.

Until then, the audience from Bihać, as well as the audience from other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where love for choral singing is cultivated, will have the opportunity to enjoy the performances of the youngest members of the Association “Bel canto Bihać”.

In the end, Belkisa Borić, the mother of nine-year-old Mejrem Emel, conveyed to us how important music is for young members, parents, and the audience.

There is no more sincere emotion than music, and Belkantići have become part of that family. For them, it is a place where they hang out, sing and have fun. When the big heart of Mrs. Vesna embraced the hearts of little Belkantići on stage, real magic happens, of which we are all proud, the children, Mrs. Vesna and us parents“.

According to the reactions of the audience recorded at the concerts and performances, we can safely say that the citizens are also very proud and happy that the children’s choir “Bel canto Bihać” has joined the company of successful and established sports, drama, dance groups and orchestras.

Author: Nermina Zulić