When Dr. A. Lester Pierce met tamburitza musicians Matt L. Gouze, Frank Gouze, and Anthony Antoncic at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minnesota in the early 1930s, his intrigue with the folk instrument sparked an idea which has endured as one of the world’s finest, longest-running live stage shows of its kind. Dr. Pierce was able to secure a position for himself at the college, negotiated work scholarships for the three young musicians, and formed the “St. Thomas Tamburitza Trio.”
In 1934, Dr. Pierce transferred to St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas and expanded the group to seven members to form the “St. Edward’s University Players,” later to be called “American Tamburitza String Orchestra.” He continued to be the Managing Director, while Matt Gouze assumed the position of Musical Director.
In 1937, after a two and a half-year residency, the young troupe headed east with their musical variety show, stopping in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Impressed with the cultural diversity of the city, Dr. Pierce accepted a faculty appointment, made a permanent home for the ensemble, and secured a work scholarship agreement with Duquesne University. Shortly thereafter, this newly formed group, now called “Slavonic Tamburitza Orchestra,” eventually would be known as the “Duquesne University Tamburitzans.” The word “Tamburitzans” actually was coined by a Duquesne University reporter sometime during the late 1940s.
From these simple beginnings, the Tamburitzans ensemble, named after the stringed folk instrument, the tambura or tamburitza, expanded its repertoire throughout the past eight decades to include a wide variety of folk dance and music representing international cultures. Eighty years, several international tours, hundreds of performers, and hundreds of thousands of audience members later, The Tamburitzans’ show is an annual tradition for some and a delightful new surprise for others.
Year after year, generation after generation, The Tamburitzans dazzle audiences across the country with elaborate costumes and incredibly versatile musicians, singers, and dancers. The talented young performers are full-time students who have chosen to continue the Tamburitzans’ legacy by bringing international cultures to the modern stage.
Producing the longest-running live stage show in the country, The Tamburitzans – now supported by PIFAI (Pittsburgh International Folk Arts Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation) – is a significant cultural and historical entity in Pittsburgh. Operations are housed in the Tamburitzans Administration Building (TAB), 1801 Boulevard of the Allies in Pittsburgh’s “Uptown” neighborhood. It is home to offices, rehearsal space, wardrobe department, special collections and displays. Hundreds of costumes and instruments, as well as a significant music and vintage film collection are housed in the main building, located just a few blocks from Duquesne University’s main campus.
With the support of PIFAI, transitional support from Duquesne University, and unwavering support from our alumni, friends and fans, The Tamburitzans plan to remain both a tradition and a treasure not only in Pittsburgh but throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.