In the early years of
Veselo Srce formed by Tillie Klaich the instruments
used during the 30s 40s and 50s were made by
Ivan Hlad, John Bencic, Jim Kovacevich (TAA
Hall Of Fame)and Charles Valentich. Other tamburitza
craftsman over the years from the 60s to the
present time (including instrument craftsman
of the 50s whose instruments made their way
to St. Stephens Tamburitzans) were Nick Hayden,
Steve Blozen, John Shaban, Frank Valentich and
Matt Orehovich. Additional craftsman whose instruments
have made their way into the tamburitza community
are Milan Opacich (TAA Hall Of Fame)Steve Groeshle,
and Paul Perman.
Joseph Valentich for decades from the 50s to
the present time (possibly earlier-if I have
the correct date information as of 2004) has
been a leading distributor of strings and picks
to the tamburitza community. His fine work has
provided thousands of satisfied customers with
the materials they needed from strings, picks,
tailpieces, and bridges, to keep instruments
in good working order.
Steve Mraz of Cleveland Ohio is a fine tamburitza
craftsman who also has an excellent selection
of strings, picks and tamburitza accessories
supplying the tamburitza community with quality
workmanship and materials.
There are other instrument makers and this section
just begins to bring to the surface the contributions
of American tamburitza craftsman. To be more
specific-instruments made in the United States.
At one point in American history there were
no more than 6 American craftsman making tamburitza
instruments. In New York state there are no
instrument makers on a large scale. Bob "Bozhi"
Ranic of Western New York has done an excellent
job on instrument repair over the last 15 years
and was able to secure forms and materials from
Nick Hayden. Bob has done instrument repairs
on tamburas, violins, mandolins, guitars and
bass instruments. In short-there are very few
instrument makers and repairmen on the scene
The tamburitza community needs and requires
the services of fine craftsman to pursue the
"torch of the luthiers" and continue
to carry on this much needed skill for the tamburitza
The instrument makers
listed have made their instruments by hand.
Not in manufacturing centers or assembly scale
work. Each instrument is hand crafted and some
makers may make their instruments "to order"
as required by specific tamburitzans. The skill
of these craftsman is priceless and each maker
has their own "signature" of sorts
that makes their instruments known and unique
within the tamburitza community.
Of note are the fine full size auditorium bugarijas
made by Jim Kovacevich originating in the late
40s and one of those first full size bugarijas
made their way into the Western New York area
via Charles C Vukovic-well known bass player
for Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenaders who started
his early years with the Slav Serenaders on
bugarija. Kovacevich also developed a technique
for putting a curve into the face on those bugarijas
and cellos making them a distinct trademark
of his. The pioneering efforts of Jim Kovacevich
as an instrument maker and more earned him a
spot in the TAA Hall Of Fame and deservedly
so. His instruments are coveted by tamburitza
players and collectors.
Dusan Brankov a tamburitza craftsman born in
Gradista Bac in 1932 (now residing in Kikinda)
wrote a book on tamburitza instruments titled
"TAMBURA" "Definition of the
shape, dimensions and technology of crafting
Vovodina system Tambure". Mark Forry earned
a "Presidents Award" from the TAA
for his translation work on this book originally
written in 1996. Dusan has added an extra dimension
of education for all tamburitza craftsman with
his expertise and knowledge-all captured in
writing for the posterity of present and future
tamburitza craftsman. An extraordinary task
well done by the combined efforts of both men.
Special thanks to Alex Machaskee publisher of
The Plain Dealer for making the publishing of
this written work possible and its preservation
for the tamburitza community.
I wish to take a moment as I walk down "memory
lane" to discuss the instruments used by
The Balkan Serenaders in the making of their
first album" A Continental Toast."
Charlie Smilinich owned and used a Kovacevich
bugarija featured on this album. Smilinichs
mastery of technique and talent gave the Serenaders
a smooth and professional sound-a testimony
to both the master craftsman and master musician.
The instrument has since
made its way to a younger tamburitzan who will
hopefully in time-continue playing and give
the instrument a sound of its own.
On that same album "A Continental Toast"
Vlad Popovich used a brac made by Steve Blozen.
The brac is about a half inch wider in diameter
than most bracs and is one of the finest sounding
and unique tamburitzan instrumnents ever crafted.
Its professional sound by both the master technician
of Popovich and craftsmanship of Blozen gave
The Balkan Serenaders a distinctive trademark
sound which continues to this day.
In 1989 after the death
of Tillie Klaich the instrument was sold and
out of the "Serenader tamburitza family"
for 15 years. In December of 2004 the instrument
made its way back into the family of The Balkan
Serenaders where it is currently owned by none
other than yours truly "TBL" and web
site host"Ray "Rajko" Ranic.
This story falls into the "miraculous"
category as far as Im concerned and delightfully-I
will save it for another occasion!)
Steve Vranjes used
a cello on that same album with The Balkan Serenaders
with work on it done by both Jim Kovacevich
and Charles Valentich. Steves technique was
similar in those early years to the Dave Zupkovich
Orchestra which had a fine cello player by the
name of Pete Radakovich who performed for many
years and had his own orchestra years later
performing in the Ohio area. Steve's cello style
is carried on by Bob "Bozhi" Ranic
who has done fine cello work with Orchestra
Sokoli and in the past with Kumovi Tamburitzans.
The Bass used by Tillie Klaich on "A Continental
Toast" is a Kay bass once owned and used
by a member of The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Tillies powerful and unique style of bass playing
endeared him to fans wherever he performed.
Tillie was a natural at playing bass and singing-and
he could sing various parts while playing-a
difficult task for any musician to accomplish.
The combination of Tillie Klaich and Charlie
Smilinich in their mastery of playing-singing
and technique was rich-powerful and full of
life. The one natural ingredient that The Balkan
Serenaders also had which made them even better
was a mastery of the languge. The Balkan Serenaders
bi-lingual talent gave the orchestra that much
more depth and character in its evolution of
Balkan tamburitzan music. Add to that the dimension
of music theory skills of Klaich, Popovich and
Vranjes as well as Vlads superb orchestration
, leadership and song selection and you understand
the groups foundation and basis for popularity
.They made themselves the best at what they
did because they brought their best skills to
the tamburitza profession.
Looking at some of the
groups and individuals giving fine performances
over the years on the tamburitza scene such
as Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenaders, The Popovich
Brothers, Joe Grcevic and Sloboda, Dave Zupkovich
and The Balkan Recording Co with Marty Kapugi,
Sar Planina, Dunav Tamburitzans featuing Tony
Markulin and Mel Dokich) and todays Dunav tamburitzans
of Chicago Fred and Rose Husnick with Ron Rendulic,
Becari of St Louis, (past and present).
Additional groups are
The Continental Strings Orchestra of Cleveland
Ohio, Orchestra Lira with Billy Topolski, Sanda
and Pero Pavlovich, The many Duquesne University
Tamburitzans over the decades from the late
1930's to present, Mel Evanovich and The Balkan
Serenaders Of Youngstown Ohio, Kumovi Tamburitza
Orchestra, Plavi Mjesec, The Pete Radakovich
Orchestra, Serbez, Jedinstvo , Janika Balaz
and his orchestra from Novi Sad, Jerry Grcevic,
Orkestar Momci, Otrov, Tom Yeseta and his orchestra,
Sarena, Radost, Sinovi, Joe Marmilich, George
Skirbina, and Orchestra Sokoli-are just a few
of the orchestras past and present that have
made the world of tamburitza music enjoyable
Many more orchestras have-I just dont
have a list of them all here-the TAA has an
encyclopedic list of over 185+ orchestras totalling
more than 600 members (present tense) that perform
and as for music critics-have at it-we all have
our favorite tamburitza orchestras and performers.
Celebrity names of singers past and present
like Vinka-Angelina-Tosho Erdel-Nada Milosevich
and Darleen Licina have delighted many with
their fine renditions of folk songs over the
years. Strong voices like Tillie Klaich, Charlie
Smilinich, Billy Topolski, Teddy Popovich, Rose
Husnick.,Steve Zegar ,Steve Vesolich, Marty
Kapugi, Vlad Popovich, Dave Zupkovich, Milan
Panayatovich, Tony Markulin and Steve Paulich
have touched our nation with their vocal talents
and as a result many songs are carried on from
generation to generation.
Within these last two paragraphs Ive named
many groups past and present that have provided
a core of some of the nations finest tamburitza
music. Truthfully, I only scratch the surface
as I look at the contributions some of the above
listed names and groups have made to tamburitza
music and they ALL have one thing in common-
a need for tamburitza instruments!
It is time for me to give a special and long
overdue thanks to the efforts of The Brothers
Valentich-Charles, Frank and Joe for their outstanding
contributions to decades of tamburitza crafstmanship.
Charles and Frank-Tamburitza makers and repair
and Joe (who I mentioned earlier has done a
wonderful job providing strings, picks and tamburitza
accessories servicing the tamburitza community.)
These men have made their mark indelibly upon
the world of tamburitza music and it is my honor
to thank and compliment them for a career well
Charles Valentich crafted a special made brac
for me in the early 80s which I used for many
years and on my recordings of "Messiahs
Rhapsody" in 1997. I also have a prim given
to me as a gift (another story for another time)
made by Charles Valentich used on the Kumovi
Album back in 1980. It was first used in 1980
at the Chicago TAA Extravaganza ("If our
INSTRUMENTS could only talk")! Both instruments
have excellent sound. A good instrument in the
hands of a good musicians is "music to
any listeners ears!"
To the Valentich brothers you have served the
tamburitza community throughout the United States
well!.Furthermore-you deserve the accolades
and the respect of the tamburitza community
for outstanding contributions to the tamburitza
community. The work of all THREE BROTHERS VALENTICH
has been exemplary and of the highest quality.
I have noted that Jim Kovacevich and Milan Opacich
are both TAA Hall Of Fame members who have made
outstanding contributions to the world of tamburitza
music. Milan Opacich-TAA 2003 inductee is currently
a member of orchestra Drina and for several
decades made many instruments for the tamburitza
community throughout the United States. Our
tamburitza crafstman are "too few and far
It is an excellent moment for me to talk about
a young man I first met in 2003 at the Chicago
TAA tamburitza extravaganza by the name of John
Miksich . John is the son of Mr and Mrs John
Miksich of Schererville Indiana. John received
a grant through the Indiana University Master
Artist program as an apprentice to Milan Opacich
as a "luthier in training":
John Miksich Sr. is the bass player for Dunav
tamburitza orchestra of Chicago and I had the
opportunity to accompany Dunav while I was there
for the 2003 event. The rest of the Dunav tamburitzans
consists of Mike Hairlich on brac, John Gorman
on cello, Walter Pravica on violin and Frank
Jovanovich on bugarija.
As we were performing John came and introduced
himself to me and brought his cello with him
for me to look at. I was stunned. How could
a 15 yr old make an instrument with this quality?
John then explained about
the grant program and the efforts of Milan Opacich
to help him with his grant study. I couldnt
get over the crafstmanship of the instrument
that this young man had accomplished (along
with Milans supervision of course)! It was the
importance of this event that made me come back
and upon finishing this website (September 2004)
its importance is to be conveyed within these
tamburitza historical pages.
As I held Johns Cello in my hands and admired
the excellent craftsmanship from its body-fretboard,
finish-tuning machines-wood and sound- I was
struck by the need for visionaries like Milan
Opacich to help this young man and the vision
of a young John Miksich and wondered-where he
will pursue his education and in what direction
will he go.
I wondered-if he will ever come back to the
world of tamburitza music as a performer-or
luthier craftsman-or both. That Sunday a young
John Miksich joined us (Dunav Tamburitzans with
me as a humble guest) on stage for the TAA "survivors
picnic". Nick Skertich also came and joined
us standing next to me playing prim and singing
. For a moment in time-a precious moment-I was
admiring the youth and inspiration of John Miksich
a "PIONEER" at 16 and Nick Skertich-TAA
Hall of Fame Tamburash-who had received his
75 year award and a PIONEER of tamburitza music
in the days of his youth.
It made me think-does my pen-have the power
to capture the memories and history of tamburitza
music as I know it -and as it is passed down
to me through stories-or as in this case-the
reality of a moment in time. I made those notes
mental & in research not to let the moment
pass by-without speaking of its meaning &
There comes a time-when we all slow down-the
fingers ache-and suddenly were a step slower-a
step closer to "The Tamburitza Orchestra
In The Sky" or the next "Open Chair"
left behind by a tamburash. I dont want
it to be too soon because Im not ready for that
The furture is here and its in the present time
of our youth and John Miksich is its messenger.
He is for this time in tamburitza history a
"pioneer and a leader" inspiring others
to reach out. Maybe some of those future seeds
will teach-some will perform-others will organize
and administrate. Maybe one of those will write-
like me-who want to be a voice and a personality-to
capture moments past and present in time-some
historical-some humorous-always peaceful and
preserving the growth of tamburitza music through
its many ways and possibilities.
A closing thought which deeply touched me perhaps
says it best from the Three Slavs captured in
591 by Byzantine King Mauricius. When asked
what they have in their hands they said "We
play Cithara (Tambura) because in our country
there is no iron and we live in peace. We do
not know the meaning of war bugles."
We can become musicians, teachers, artists,
composers, arrangers, communicators and ambassadors
of music and the arts and peace-by crossing
boundaries of race, nationality and belief systems
sand much more. The tamburitza instrument is
perhaps the largest and most well known instrument
transplanted from a foreign land. Within its
music lies a plan of salvation if you will-in
its beautiful notes of melody, harmony and rhythm.
While all the sounds are different-together-they
all please their performers and audiences wherever
the wonderful sounds of tamburitza music are
As for John Miksich-this world and the tamburitzan
world needs you-your pioneering-your drive and
your vision. This portion of TBL website has
noted your critically important efforts in planting
seeds for the preservation of tamburitza music.
Milan Opacich opened the door-what you do as
you step through this moment in time and continue
your life-is your choice.
You have made an impact with your fine efforts
and it is a GLOBAL one. You are a fine young
man-and I wonder-Who will be the next of the
visionaries to step forward-or the "now
generation" that will reach out to the
future-capture a moment in time and plant its
seeds among-the present!
Thanks for stopping by! If you have tamburitza
history and comments you would like to share
be sure they make their way to me and I will
in time-get it posted here!