2004 NEA National Heritage Fellowships
Tamburitza instrument maker, Schererville, IN
Milan Opacich, born to a Croatian mother and a Serbian father from former
Yugoslavia, grew up in the Calumet region of Indiana, home to South Slavic
workers in the steel industry. Opacich became interested in string music at the
age of four and by the time he was fourteen was playing country music with other
members of mill working families. At eighteen he took up the tamburitza music
of his familial heritage, an ensemble form of playing string instruments ranging
in pitch from soprano (prima) and alto (brac) to cello and bass (berda).
he realized that few people could make this complex variety of instruments,
Opacich applied his skills as a tool and die maker to the construction of
quality tamburitza. In 1958, after the steel industry began to decline, he
joined the Gary Fire Department and set up a small workshop in the basement of
the firehouse in order to carry on his instrument making during down times.
Today he is recognized as this nation's premiere tamburitza maker.
Incorporating ornamental mother of pearl inlay and intricate carving, his
instruments are sought after for their visual and musical quality. His
instruments have been exhibited at both the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian
Institution and at the Roy Acuff Museum. In 2002 he was named to the Tamburitza
Association of America Hall of Fame.
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