Incredible International Musical Talents in Milna

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Croatia holds many secrets and treasures; our newest writer Matt Moyers tells us how he discovered incredible international musical talents hiding in an unlikely location. If you are in Milna on Monday 31st July 2017, you don’t want to miss this performance!

There is an old theatre in the small town of Milna on the island of Brac. The paint has been chipped from the walls, its doors and windows are either broken, boarded up, or both. The red tiled roof is the color of decay. It appears as though this place has long since been abandoned. Around the left side, there is an open door, and my curiosity urges me to enter. I push through and let myself in. Before my eyes can adjust to the light, my ears catch the smooth, perfect melody of classical music which fills the empty room.


Credit: Matt Moyers; The old theatre in Milna

I turn to see a young man on the stage. He is standing alone, playing the masterpiece with precision and integrity on viola. He might know that I have entered the theatre, but he plays with indifference, swaying and dipping to the rhythm of the piece. I stand in awe. This music is beautiful. I feel that I have stumbled into a pocket of the universe where a truly great artist is free to create something perfect. His name is Sequoyah Sugiyama, and he is in Milna along with seven other player/composers for a summer music composition workshop called Upbeat.


Over drinks, Sequoyah tells me about his life and the path that led him to Milna. “I started playing when I was five years old,” he tells me. “I was living in Japan then, but soon after I moved with my mom to Los Angeles.” It was there, in southern California where Sequoyah developed his passions for viola and composition. At age 13, he was giving private lessons and composing orchestral pieces. By the time he was 15, he had graduated from high school and was playing in the American Youth Symphony. He spent the next three years under the tutelage of Los Angeles’ finest viola players. Now at 19, he is attending New York City’s Juilliard School for viola.

The next day, I returned to the theatre to witness a rehearsal. Sequoyah on viola stood alongside a percussionist and a saxophonist. Delanie Molnar, the young musician who composed the piece, sits listening to them in the first row. For an hour, they fill the old theatre air with their music as well as their opinions. They break the melody to discuss the piece in English, but their language is music: “That piano was not piano. Also, are we in 5/4?” “Yes, let’s go back to 71 and work through your rest.” They are surgeons working in unison, operating on each note. As they play, Delanie paces the room with eyes closed, listening intently to her composition. What was once only a thought in her imagination is now a living creation as it radiates from the stage and bounces off the walls.


“This program has been around for about 30 years” Professor Hoffman explains to me after another rehearsal. Hoffman, a decorated composer with an impressive musical career, is the director for the composition part of the summer music program. “We used to have 200 students back then, but now we have 8. We were also playing in Hvar instead of Milna.” The deteriorating theatre seems to add an emphasis to his words; a reminder that this place too has seen better days.

The eight students come from the United States, China, Japan, and Korea. There is a passionate optimism that I can feel when I talk with them. “This place actually has good acoustics,” Delanie tells me. “It’s great to work on improvisation and to receive feedback from Professor Hoffman,” says Sequoyah. They explain how rehearsing their compositions in the old theatre helps them to focus on their work. Talent and dedication, it seems, is not confined to the extraordinary music halls of the world, but can be found where least expected.

On this Monday the 31st  July, the compositions will come to life for the final performance of the Upbeat series, starting at 21:00 in front of Milna’s old church. It is an opportunity to see musical talents from all around the world in the most peaceful and unassuming location. Do yourselves a favour, if you are near the island Brac, get here!

Here is a small teaser from one of the performers, Sequoyah Sugiyama…

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