Walt Mahovlich didn't realize how much a part of his life his ethnic roots were until he was separated from them
He grew up in Cleveland in the '50s and '60s listening to the Croatian and Hungarian music of his parents as well as classical music and more experimental groups like the Mothers of Invention.
When he went away to college, Mahovlich said, ''I found out not everyone has a foreign-speaking grandmother at home, not everyone knew what a poppyseed roll was. When you step away from it, you find out how culturally unique you are. I had a craving for it.''
Mahovlich has a degree in chemistry, but these days he's primarily focused on musical chemistry with Harmonia, which will perform Saturday in downtown Youngstown as part of the Simply Slavic festival.
Harmonia specializes in the traditional folk music of eastern Europe, and it plays everything from ethnic wedding to concerts with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Mahovlich also has performed Off-Broadway in Tony Kushner's adaptation of ''A Dybbuk'' at New York's Public Theater and appeared in the film ''The Suicide.
''If you've seen 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' put in a different ethnic culture, and I've played that hundreds and hundreds of times,'' he said.
Harmonia - Mahovlich, accordion; Alexander Fedoriouk, cimbalom (a 125-string hammered dulcimer); Beata Begeniova, vocals; Steven Greenman, violin; Jozef Janis, violin; Andre Pidkivka, panflute and sopilka (folk flute); Branislav Brinarsky, bass, fujara (fipple flute), gajdice (a double pipe with reeds and cowhorn bells) and vocals; and Ken Javor, bass - plays music that is faithful to the folk traditions of different eastern European cultures.
''We're not a Ukrainian band, but we can play a night of all-Ukrainian music,'' Mahovlich said. ''The same with Slavic, Hungarian, Croatian. We're interested in music from around the world.''
But the experience approaching that music as immigrants in another land allows them to see the similarities that are less obvious to those who remain in those cultures.
''My parents, had they been in Europe, never would have married each other. A Hungarian and a Croatian? No way,'' he said. ''But here they realized they had more in common than apart ... Not only are we sharing this with each other and in our own community, but for 15 years we've been taking it on the road and sharing our traditions and our music with people at large.''
Harmonia will do two different shows at Simply Slavic. The 4:15 p.m. performance will be more of a traditional concert featuring material from its latest CD, ''Hidden Legacy'' on FolkSounds Records, as well as its other recordings. The 9 p.m. set will be dance music drawing on that wedding band repertoire.
''We run the whole range of music from songs that express sorrow and despair even in one moment and then works itself up to a point of ecstasy and everything in between.''