National Cleveland Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum
605 East 222nd Street Euclid, OH 44123
Toll Free: 1-800-66POLKA
Zarja Singing Society, the oldest Slovenian choral group in the world outside of
Slovenia, has been delivering stellar performances since 1916. The Cleveland-based
mixed-voice adult chorus has been a pillar of Slovenian-American culture in the United
States, thus underpinning Cleveland-Style Polkas and Waltzes. Pursuing its stated
mission of providing education and support of Slovenian culture and tradition, Zarja
has presented at least two concerts each year; made recordings, broadcast appearances,
and concert tours; sponsored touring groups from Slovenia; and documented Slovenian
culture for posterity. Zarja and its members have also made countless appearances
in support of Slovenian cultural activities, institutions, and civic and charitable
Founded as an all male chorus, Zarja, or "The Dawn" welcomed Viki Poljsak as its
"First Lady" in 1920. Under the leadership of John Gombac, its first director, Popia
Malen (1917-1919), John Ivanush (1919-1931), and longtime President, Leonard Poljsak,
Zarja provided newly arrived immigrants with a tie to the Slovenian homeland. Zarja
produced its first full-length Slovenian opera, Turjaska Rosamunda, in 1928.
Facing a decline in membership, Zarja assimilated a new generation into its ranks
under director Joseph V. Krabec (1931-1960), maintaining nostalgia for its older
constituents while offering American-born Slovenes a sense of identity and roots.
Melding tradition with contemporary fare, Zarja tackled a broad range of material,
from operettas to Strauss and other popular music, translating both to and from the
Slovenian language, and drawing upon the talents of its members to write and sing
in smaller groups.
Under Josephine Turkman (1960-1980), Richard Tomsic (1981-1986), and Douglas Elersich,
Zarja reached out to a generation of Slovenes who had little or no exposure to Slovenian
culture and language. Their Moonlight and Roses concert in 1969 initiated a cabaret
format that evolved into the annual Spring Frolic concerts, marked by plot-driven
musical performances with English narration. Zarja marked its 50th Anniversary in
1966 with a concert tour of Slovenia followed by encore tours in 1972, 1976, and
1987. Domestically, Zarja has performed in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois,
and Michigan and has sent emissary groups to Wisconsin and Canada.
Preserving Slovenian culture, Zarja has translated, transcribed, and arranged music
and tradition, including written and recorded presentations of the Slovenian Wedding
Unveiling Ceremony and Grape Festival Celebration, produced under a grant from the
Ohio Arts Council in 1984. In 1976, Zarja deposited memoirs, notes, and music in
the Library of Congress commemorating Slovenian contributions to United States history
on the nation's bicentennial.
The government sponsored Association of Cultural Organizations of Slovenia presented
Zarja with its most significant honor, the Gallus Award, in 1972 in recognition of
Zaria's "perpetuation of Slovenian musical and cultural tradition in America."