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Stoyo Krushkin and his Bulgarian Balkan Band

The story of a Bulgarian military guard musician in America ​

Stoyo Krushkin (seated, second from the left) and his band, Steelton, Pennsylvania, USA, 1915

СнимкаStoyo Krushkin was one of the first Bulgarian military guard musicians after the country’s liberation. Soon after the Bulgarian army was restored, in 1878, a decision was taken to set up a military brass band. The government concluded a contract with around 20 Czech musicians to get the enterprise under way.

Krushkin was born on 25 December, 1882, in Bistritsa village not far from Sofia. He obtained his education at the military school in the capital where he displayed an aptitude for music, was quick to master the skills and discipline needed, and was appointed bassoon player in the school brass band. Later, he emigrated to USA with the idea of making some money so as to return to his country. There, in 1915, he founded and was leader of the first Bulgarian orchestra to which he invited Bulgarians born in Prilep, Thessaloniki, Sofia. To begin with the Bulgarian Balkan Band’s only repertoire was what Stoyo Krushkin had learnt in his practice as a military guard musician – Bulgarian marches and the odd folk songs. Once in the US, the up-and-doing Bulgarian took up a host of other activities.

Some time ago, journalist Ventsislav Zhekov, one of Krushkin’s descendants, decided to study his life work so it shall not be forgotten by the coming generations.

“We don’t know all that much about my great-grandfather, it has been so many years since his time,” says Ventsislav Zhekov. “He died in USA in 1957 but we do know several things that are emblematic. One of the most interesting facts from his life was that he was actually a Titanic “survivor”. As a matter of fact he never boarded the ship – he had a ticket but his train was delayed and, terribly disappointed, he came home to Bulgaria. Of course later he was overjoyed. He only managed to go to the US after the First Balkan War. There he set up the first Bulgarian orchestra in Steelton, Pennsylvania. He was its conductor, and later his business partner Hristo Serafimov took over the orchestra. Stoyo Kryshkin tried to set up a second orchestra but it was not so successful. These are the more interesting facts. Fortunately, we have kept some items we are able to show – a gold-plated pocket watch, personal belongings, his notebook which served as a logbook of the halls he rented, the money he was paid and the money he owed. 

He first heard a brass band as a child. He was born in Bistritsa and, at an early age, was sent to Sofia to look after small children. He developed a passion for military bands as he watched them march in the streets of Sofia. He would often follow in their footsteps, himself marching. That was how it all started, and he continued in the same vein in the US – there are photographs that show his orchestra had uniforms, and we know it performed the music he himself played. That means he never severed the bond even though he went to live so far away from his country.”

Ventsislav Zhekov has found information about the repertoire of the Bulgarian Balkan Band – to begin with the orchestra only played Bulgarian music but later included American pieces as well. The musicians were regularly invited to play at festivals and celebrations in different towns in the US.

The up-and-coming Bulgarian also opened a Bulgarian restaurant in California with traditional Bulgarian cuisine. He himself was one of the restaurant’s chefs.

In October and November the Museum of Sofia mounted an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Stoyo Krushkin. The exposition featured photographs, documents his family has kept, but also from the US archives.

“We pieced together a fascinating story, which is now ready in book form, and I am hoping it will come out soon. We donated the exhibits from the exposition to the Museum of Sofia. An idea emerged – and it is an idea the mayor of Bistritsa supports – to make a film about Stoyo Krushkin, about his life and the Bulgarian Balkan Band.

English: Milena Daynova

Photos: Albena Bezovska and stoioivanov.blogspot.com

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