History of the Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra

by John Belavich

   The DTO started as an idea with a group of people interested in music and the Tambura. In September of 1957, under the tutelage of the late Andy Benda, a class was organized and practiced at Northern High School. The group elected its first chairman, George Ruzich. After several months of note reading, they transferred this knowledge to the tambura. Our first song was ‘Ja Ljubim Milu’. In the spring of 1958, the group moved to the Croatian Home at Six Mile and Orleans. It was there, on June 13, 1959, under the direction of Andy Benda, that the group gave it’s first concert. This was such a success that it was decided to have a concert every spring, thus, was born the Detroit Senior Tamburitzans. In 1966 the Detroit Senior Tams beloved teacher and director, Andy Benda, became ill and passed away. It was a great loss that affected everyone. His patience and persistence in teaching others, his dedication to the tamburitzans and cultural heritage will be remembered by all.

   In the Fall of 1966, Steve Pavlekovich became the second instructor and director. Steve was well known as a musician, composer, and arranger. The Spring Concert of 1967 was dedicated to Andy Benda.

   That same summer of 1967, our director, Steve Pavlekovich was selected by the Croatian Fraternal Union Junior Cultural Federation as their first guest conductor of the mass ensemble of the Junior Tamburitzan Festival performing arts, held at the Children’s Home in Des Plains, Illinois.

   The Tenth anniversary year, under the direction of Steve, the group embarked on an ambitious program, and for the first time decided to invite another instrumental group– “The Detroit Balalaika Orchestra”. The Finale was a classic arranged by Steve entitled “Romance for Balalaika and Tambura”. This was performed by both groups under Steve’s direction.

   The Detroit Senior Tamburitzans made their first trip outside Detroit in 1971, traveling to Flint, Michigan, where they performed under sponsorship of Croatian/Slovene Corp.

   In the Summer of 1972, Steve was again honored by the CFU Junior Cultural Federation as the conductor of the mass ensemble performance held at Detroit’s Ford Auditorium. We also witnessed the First appearance of the Detroit Star Tamburitzans, Directed by Ken Kosovec, and sponsored by the Mothers Club of Zora Lodge 351.

   On April 28, 1974, the DST presented their Sixteenth Annual Spring Concert, for the first time in another environment at Roseville High School. It was time to make a move more conductive to our music and better of our listening audience.

   In the summer of 1974, Steve, because of his declining health, regretfully decided not to return as director of DST. Steve had been director for eight years and his contributions to the DST have been immeasurable. His many talents as a musician, arranger, composer, and director, were just a few. His steady influence and complete confidence in the DST will long be remembered by all who played under him. His contribution also helped establish the DST as one of the finest tamburitza groups of its kind in the U.S.

   Jim Guracech agreed to become our conductor & director in the summer of 1974. once again our group was fortunate to get a person not only known as a fine musician, but one who also has a fine back round in music and conducting. Jim Guracech whose virtuosity on the violin is well known, played with the European Theater Army Symphony and with the ‘Balkan Cavaliers’ for many years.

In 1976, under Jim’s direction, the DST took on a new dimension utilizing the full extent of the tambura with the finale ‘Graničari Overture’.

   The Twentieth Anniversary year of the DST was an ambitious year for the group. With Juniors graduating from Detroit Star Tammies and other young people in the group, it was decided to change our name to Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra. Bill Cindrich designed a logo for our new image. For this anniversary concert, we invited the Croatian Tamburitza Orchestra of Cleveland, the Penn-Val-Aires Tamburitzans of Pittsburgh, and the Zlatne Tamburitza Orchestra of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. In 1978, DTO was invited to perform with the Pittsburgh Philharmonic Orchestra on April 19, at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial hall in Pittsburgh, PA. The DTO reciprocated the following year, 1979, and invited Pittsburgh Philharmonic Orchestra to Detroit.

   In 1981 our Director, Jim Guracech , was selected as the guest conductor of the fourteenth Junior Cultural Federation Festival held in Denver, Colorado.

   The DTO, in 1982, with the international talents of Vera Svoboda performed at our cabaret night in June. Her husband, Julius Nikos, directed the DTO as she brilliantly entertained the audience. This was a tribute to the musicians of DTO and their flexibility and ability to take direction from another conductor on short notice.

   In 1983, the 25th anniversary of the DTO, and under the direction of James Gurecech, the DTO held its Spring Concert. The following groups were invited to celebrate with us: The S.S.S. Ravanica Choir of Detroit, the Detroit Star Junior Tamburitzans and Pennsemble of Pittsburgh, PA.

   A highlight of the orchestra’s history was a tour of Croatia and Vojvodina in 1984. In these areas the Tambura is especially appreciated and enjoyed. The ensemble received the highest reviews from music critics for our conductors direction and the orchestra’s musicians outstanding performances of folk and classic compositions. 

  In 1987 the DTO participated in the first Croatian Fraternal Union Adult Tamburitza Festival. DTO also participated in the CFU Adult Tamburitza Festivals in 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1993.

   The DTO has participated and contributed to many humanitarian efforts– one such event, which raised $6000 was the Croatian-Bosnian benefit concert, held at the Macomb Center for the performing arts, on August 22, 1992. This concert featured the Warren Symphony, Balalaika Orchestra of Detroit, and the Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra. The proceeds from this event were donated to orphan refugee children of Croatia and Bosnia.

   In 1997, our ‘Christmas in Croatia” affair raised monies for the hospitalized children with chronic disease in northern Bistra.

   In 1994, Jim Directed an all-Steve Pavlekovich program in which Steve either wrote or arranged each number. After the concert, Jim announced his retirement. Jim directed DTO for 19 years and under his conducting leadership and talent brought the orchestra to new heights and dimensions.

   Under Jim’s direction, the orchestra performed symphonic compositions from classic and semi classic musical scores. In addition the orchestra performed compositions written specifically for the Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra by Croatian composers.

   In the summer of 1994, Ken Kosovec became the fourth director of the DTO. Again, DTO was fortunate in obtaining a person with a great background in music and the tambura. Ken comes from a tambura family and served as director of the Detroit Star Junior Tamburitzans for many years. He played in several local tambura combos, and was a long time playing member of the DTO.

 John Belavich

History of Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra (1997 to present)

by Danijel Majhan

  The fortieth season started with a colorful “Mardi Gras” affair in February 1998. “Trubaduri” of Pittsburgh entertained for the event. In April the Fortieth anniversary itself was celebrated over three days. Friday’s welcome dance featured Tamburaški Orkestar “Momci” providing entertainment.  Saturday’s concert took place at the Troy High School auditorium with guest groups “Prijatelji” of Chicago, Illinois and “Hoosier Hrvati” of Merrillville, Indiana.  The Reception entertainment was provided by “Sinovi” from Chicago and “Nova Nada” folklore ensemble. The weekend concluded on Sunday morning with “Prijatelji” playing the Tambura Mass at St. Lucy’s. Articles regarding our event’s success and contribution to the cultural diversity of Detroit appeared in local newspapers shortly afterwards. 

  In 1998 the 41st season began with the Christmas in Croatia program. Tamburaški Orkestar “Momci” played for the event and a donation was made to the “Dora foundation”, a humanitarian fund, to benefit the hospital for chronically ill children in Gornja Bistrica, Croatia. In February of 1999 DTO’s pop night theme was a “Hawaiian Luau”. “Slanina” played for this event and prizes for the best costumes were given out. The season ended with the Spring concert in April at Troy High School and featured “Ambassidori” of Hamilton Ontario as a guest group. Ivica Hajsan and the “Ambassidori” also entertained at the concert reception.

  In April 2000 the 42nd season Spring concert was held at the American Croatian Club in Warren. As in the past two concerts, Sonya Kosovec was our Vocalist proving the younger generation’s commitment to keeping our tradition going strong. In November of that same year the DTO participated in the CFU Adult Tamfest in Las Vegas, Nevada. In March 2001 the DTO performed as a guest group at “Nova Nada’s” “Cro Fest”. The Spring concert was once again held at the American Croatian Club in Warren with Orchestra “Sanjari” of Hamilton Ontario providing entertainment at the reception.

  In January 2002, DTO’s Pop Night theme was “A Tribute to America”. The DTO played to a standing room only crowd. Tamburaški Orkestar “Momci” entertained for the evening. A donation in the amount of $500 was submitted to the CFU’s “Croatian Response” campaign to aid the victims of 9/11. In March the DTO performed as a guest group at “Nova Nada’s” “Cro Fest”.

  The Christmas in Croatia program started off the 45th season with the ‘Tomičić Brothers’ providing that evening’s entertainment. In March 2003 the DTO performed as a guest group at “Nova Nada’s” “Cro Fest”. The Spring Concert was held at the American Croatian club in Warren in April of 2003.

  The 46th season started with the DTO participating in the CFU Adult Tamburitza Festival in Pittsburgh, PA. in November. A Christmas in Croatia affair took place again in December with the “Tomičić Brothers” providing the evening’s entertainment. In March 2004 the DTO performed as a guest group at “Nova Nada’s” “Cro Fest”. The Spring Concert held in April took place at the American Croatian Club. Linda Kalmeta was our guest vocalist.  Tamburaški Orkestar ‘Kontraband’ of Milwaukee Wisconsin provided the evening entertainment at the reception.

  In November 2004 the DTO participated in the CFU Adult Tamfest in Chicago, Illinois. The Christmas in Croatia program that year included “Šarena” of Cleveland Ohio providing entertainment. In March 2005 the DTO performed as a guest group at “Nova Nada’s” “Cro Fest”. The 47th season concluded with the Spring Concert and Reception at St Lucy’s Church Hall in Troy, MI. Carolina Andrakovich, along with Linda Kalmeta were our vocalists for the concert. In addition our guest groups participating were “Žumberčani” Tamburitza orchestra of Cleveland Ohio and “Nova Nada” Folklore Ensemble of Detroit.  Tamburaški Orkestar “Momci” together with Tom Yeseta of Los Angeles California entertained our guests at the reception.                      

 The 48th season began with the traditional Christmas in Croatia affair.  Tamburaški Orkestar “Momci” provided entertainment for the evening. In April 2006 the Spring concert and reception held at St. Lucy’s Church Hall in Troy MI. “Graničari” of Milwaukee, Wisconsin participated as our guest group. The closing number “Kukavica” was a joint performance by both the Graničari and DTO. In June of that same year DTO played the Tambura mass at St. Lucy’s Croatian Catholic church in participation of the 100th Anniversary celebration of CFU “Zora” lodge 351 of Detroit.

  In October 2006, DTO performed as a guest group for “S.S.S. Ravanica’s” 75th anniversary celebration concert at the Warren Consolidated Schools center for the performing arts. Christmas in Croatia was once again held that December. “Veseli” Tamburitzans provided the evening’s entertainment. The Spring concert in April of 2007 featured the highly acclaimed ‘Kumovi’ of Pittsburgh under the direction of Željko Jergan. They performed the “Slavonian Harvest Dance” which was one highlight of our concert. The concert reception featured entertainment by Tamburaški Orkestar “Momci”

  The Start of the 50th season saw DTO participate at the CFU Adult Tamfest in Pittsburgh in November of 2007. DTO also held their traditional Christmas in Croatia affair at the American Croatian club in Warren. “Šarena” provided entertainment for the affair. In March 2008 the DTO performed as a guest group at “Nova Nada’s” “Cro Fest”.

 The DTO’s 50th anniversary celebration took place over April 25 and 26, 2008. On Friday April 25 there was a Welcome Dance at the American Croatian Home in Warren. Together with guests who arrived earlier from Chicago and Los Angeles, everyone enjoyed a wonderful evening with the Yeseta Brothers Band from LA providing entertainment.

On April 26, DTO held its 50th Anniversary concert at the Lamphere High School Auditorium in Madison Heights, MI. George Ruzich, one of DTO’s founding members was the Master of Ceremonies. Milena Thomas-Grubor accompanied the DTO on two selections. Guest groups who also performed at the concert included: ‘St. Anthony Tamburica Orchestra’ under the direction of Tom Yeseta of Los Angeles, California; ‘Prijatelji’ under the direction of John Gornick of Chicago, Illinois; Croatian Folklore Ensemble ‘Nova Nada’ under the direction of Steve Talan of Detroit, Michigan; and ‘Cro-Arte’ Chorale under the direction of Betty Kovacs of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

  The 50th anniversary concert reception was held in the Grand Ball Room of the Best Western Conference Center in Sterling Heights, MI. ‘Otrov’ entertained the massive assembly of celebrants with their outstanding talent and repertoire. A short ceremony was held where each of the Founders of the Orchestra were given a commemorative framed photograph of the first season. Those recipients were George Ruzich, Anton Ruzich, Vince Petricevich and John Belavich. The past directors along with the present were presented with a commemorative framed photograph of their respective orchestras.  Maca Benda accepted on behalf of Andy Benda, Ludwig Kosovec accepted on behalf of Steve Pavlekovich, James Guracech accepted his in person, and Kenneth Kosovec accepted his and expressed his appreciation to the present orchestra members for their efforts.  After the reception, the party continued with a Jam session of all interested musicians participating in a hospitality suite into the early hours of April 27.

   In December of 2008 the DTO held their annual Christmas in Croatia event at the American Croatian Home in Warren.  “Barabe” of Pittsburgh PA entertained the guests with their wonderful music.

  Many members of the DTO also participate in extra curricular events such as performing for Midnight mass at St. Lucy’s Croatian Catholic church for many a past Christmas. Further examples of individual’s dedication to our rich heritage are several DTO members whom are also active participants in other culture and folklore based groups in the Detroit area including Detroit Star Junior Tamburitzans, “Croatian Folklore ensemble “Nova Nada”, and the S.S.S. “Ravanica” Choir.

  Over the past Sixty years the DTO has evolved into one of the finest large tamburtitza orchestras to be found anywhere. From the early formation and growing years, this orchestra has become a seasoned professional group. This has occurred because of patient and dedicated directors and conscientious members. Today, DTO is recognized as one of the respected leaders in performing compositions for large Tamburitza orchestras. DTO will continue to preserve and further the art of tamburitza music.

  Finally with out you, our audience and supporters, such an endeavor would not be possible. The Detroit Tamburitza Orchestra is grateful for your past, present and future participation.

Danijel Majhan