Macedonian and Balkan Folk Music

Mary Sherhart

“Sherhart, a superb singer, with dark colors in the mezzo-soprano voice, has long experience in Balkan music, both in the United States and the Balkans. Her commitment to this cause is profound.” — R. M. Campbell, Seattle PI

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Photo ©2014 by Bogdan Darev

Mary Sherhart is a Seattle-based singer, performer, and teacher of the music of Eastern Europe. Mary is choir director and founder of the Bulgarian Voices of Seattle Women’s Choir. Its 35 members were all born in Bulgaria and range in age from 25-79. This choir is a program of the Bulgarian Cultural and Heritage Center of Seattle (BCHCS) on which Ms. Sherhart serves as an advisory board member. Mary produced the “Tazi Baba” (“This Baba”) documentary film for BCHCS, as well as “Penka Encheva and Friends,” a CD recorded at Jack Straw Cultural Center (2014). It has been a full circle journey from the time she studied and performed with the professional folk choir of Ensemble Varna in Bulgaria (1983-84).

Mary has long been committed to creating meaningful experiences for others through Balkan singing. She was founding president of Sevdah North America (SNA), which is a non-profit organization formed to preserve and promote sevdah, the traditional music of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in diaspora communities (2007). As president of SNA, Ms. Sherhart produced Seattle’s annual Evening of Sevdah concerts (2007-2013). She studied, toured and recorded with the late Omer Pobric, a legendary sevdah artist. Over her years as a choir director she has led the Vecerinka and Sedyanka Balkan Women’s Choirs, New Land Choir, and Vela Luka Croatian Ensemble choir; and was a founding member of the Ruzice Folk Choir. Mary was soloist in the local groups Balkan Cabaret and Aegean View, and has appeared with numerous other groups. In her role as advisory board member to the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature, she initiated and directed the University of Washington Slavic Fest (2004-2006), which brought local Slavic youth groups together for culture parades and performances on campus. She has given workshops for most Balkan choirs in the US, and for numerous general choirs, both children and adults. These workshops have taken place at schools and universities, and at Balkan music and other culture camps. A highlight of her career, Mary directed the major musical production “Joyous Nativity, a Croatian Cantata” (affectionately called The Big Hairy Croatian Project), a 3-year project culminating in performances of composed and traditional Croatian music in three separate venues: Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, Anacortes’s St. Mary’s Church and Vancouver BC’s Holy Rosary Cathedral.

Ms. Sherhart was recognized with the 2012 Aspasia Phoutrides Pulakis Award from the Ethnic Heritage Council and the 2006 Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship. She is on the board of Fondacija Most, an organization that provides sandwiches for school children in the town of Bosanska Krupa in northwest Bosnia, and is an honorary member of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences (BHAAAS).

Mary’s path started in 1970 as a teenager in Seattle’s Koleda Ensemble where she learned her first Balkan song from a young Dragi Spasovski in 1970 – Tri godini Kate bolen ležam.

The years and experiences have added to her personal belief in the healing power of music. The joy of singing and of finding one’s passion is woven throughout every performance and workshop.

An interview with KUOW’s Dave Beck can be heard here.