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Each community has its own style of tamburitza music and musicians. Ive added this commentary because the roots of ones background have an impact.. Tamburitza music is no different. Speaking for myself as a product of the 60s I was fortunate to have heard the music of Tillie Klaich and The Balkan Serenaders. The Smilinich Brothers Tamburitza orchestra of the early 30s and 40s had a large impact as well on the Western New York area.

My music teachers in the Western New York area were Steve Vranjes (TAA Hall of Fame Inductee October 2004) and Stanko Gjurich. I grew up on the sounds of The Balkan Serenaders, The Balkan Recording Co. Featuring Dave Zupkovich, Tony Markulin and Marty Kapugi (all TAA Hall Of Fame Tamburashi) Dunav with Mel Dokich, Richie Savage and Steve Paulich-all TAA Hall Of Famers)-George Skrbina and his Happy Hearts Tamburitza Orchestra (George TAA Hall Of Fame).

There are also the various recordings by Joe Marmilich and his kolo albums that so many dance groups used as starting points for their choreography foundations-we did in Lackawanna back in those 60's years! The incomparable Popovich Brothers Teddy, Marko, Adam and Eli with Pete Mistovich)-all TAA Hall of Fame members who played before three United States presidents, and the techniques of Duquesne University graduates Vlad Popovich, Fred Husnik and Ron Rendulic (All TAA Hall Of Fame members). This commentary would be incomplete without mentioning the fine tamburitza contributions of Joe and Jerry Grcevic.

It is also a moment to honor a younger group of tamburashi in my generation (or close to it) that were instrumental in my adaption of cigan (gypsy) tamburitza styles of playing. They are Mel Evanovich, Paul Milanovich-the late Steve "Beau" Markulin, Pajo Adamovich and Dave Egercich. "The Balkan Serenaders of Youngstown Ohio" and they have played some of the finest tamburitza music with violin ever. Their kind of music gave me a drive that still exists today. What we would GIVE to have some of those old days back!

Finally-there is one man-Janika Balaz-the worlds greatest prim player (in my humble opinion) who rocked tamburitza music in the early 70s and gave us a chance to expand our horizons. Janika lifted the WORLD of tamburitza music on his shoulders from Novi Sad and thousands of tamburitza players heard around the globe-a testimony to the expertise of one mans phenomenal prim playing technique and impact on the tamburitza community.

Onto the "MASTERS AND PIONEERS" of Western New York Tamburitza history-My guys-Nick "Tillie" Klaich and The Balkan Serenaders. Tillie-gets my credit for starting it all-When as a 12 year old I began listening to the bass and bugarija team of Klaich and Smilinich-they were as devastating a tamburitza duo as any group could have in the United States and their singing was second to none. I remember fondly the times when the Balkan Serenaders would play their job-play at the bar-and afterward-Tillie and Charlie would play for hours-just the two of them-song after song.

Vlad Popovich- brac player extraordinaire, leader, musician, master arranger and friend-has helped encourage me to pursue tamburitza music over the years. Charlie Smilininch of the original Smilinich Brothers Tamburitza Orchestra- for 75 YEARS and more is still playing and going strong! Charlie can do it all-prim-brac-bugarija-bass-cello and tenor voice. (I remember my first day at Charlies house at age 15 in 1968 and hes still sharing music 36 years later!). Charlie IS one of the finest natural tamburitzans ever and equally proficient in areas of-instruments-technique-vocals-personality and command of the language. Chuck (Chuckitza) Vukovic-bass player who with Klaich, Popovich and Vranjes climbed the heights of tamburitza music from 1972-1989 is an outstanding role model "rock solid" and one of the kindest and most unselfish men I’ve ever met.

One of Chucks comments hits hard regarding his career with Tha Balkan Serenaders as follows:’Ive had the opportunity to accompany the best in the business-Klaich-Smilinich and Popovich-No one-can ever take that away from me". Steve Vranjes- my instructor and mentor in those early years of beginning and growth helped many of us push through on our way to becoming musicians and in time-giving back some of what we received.

These men- The Balkan Serenaders gave the entire tamburitza community of Western New York and beyond-a chance to listen and learn about tamburitza music. They also gave a kid a chance to learn to play-to sing-and the desire to become a Balkan Serenader. When you look at where I’ve come from-I had a lot of strikes against me-yet I’ve been put in just the right place on this planet and surrounded by people-who cared enough to give me an opportunity for growth-I took it and didn’t ever want to look back. Some of what I try to give back-comes in the pages of this humble writer.

Teachers and instructors are the ones who open the books of knowledge and if the heart is willing-you can be taught and educated. For tamburitza music it has and should always be-a labor of love. It requires a lot of patience on both ends and I have been a recipient of just that type of ingredient. These words only scratch the surface of tamburitza music and the nature in which it has touched my life and many others throughout its Western New York history, along with its its national and international impact.

It is just a small token of my thanks to the pioneering efforts of Tillie Klaich and The Balkan Serenaders whose lifetime of dedication to tamburitza music has brought so much to the Western New York Serbian and Croatian communities. The results locally, nationally and internationally-speak for itself. There is much more to write and in time as the stories, photos, articles and information are available in their context and accuracy-I will provide the information on this website.

As always-thanks for stopping by! Your comments are always welcome! Enjoy!

Ray "Rajko" Ranic


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