Tamburitzans folk ensemble make a new home base in the Northside
Renovations made to the social hall of Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church make way for a ‘Tamburitzan Cultural Center’ for both the troupe and the surrounding community.
By Katia Faroun
Photo courtesy of the Tamburitzans
While most people were sheltered at home these past few months, The Tamburitzans were on the move, making their way from Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood to their new home in the Northside.
On March 25, the Tamburitzans posted an update via Facebook announcing the location of their new headquarters: the social hall of Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church. The hall is located at 1430 Superior Ave., across the street from the main church building. The troupe’s previous headquarters was located at 1801 Boulevard of the Allies, a few blocks uptown of Duquesne University’s campus.
“We are excited to partner not only with the Church, but also with the community, and with all people who love the Eastern European arts,” the post said.
Long associated with Duquesne University, the Tamburitzans are a folk ensemble dedicated to the performance of music, song, and dance of international cultures. The group was founded in 1937 and originally composed of 12 young men who played the tamburitza, an Eastern European instrument similar to the mandolin. The founder, Dr. A. Lester Pierce, gathered the young men into what was called the “Slavonic Tamburitza Orchestra” and, drawn by the city’s cultural diversity, moved from Austin, TX to Pittsburgh. The group partnered with Duquesne University and became known as the “Duquesne University Tamburitzans” before turning into an independent nonprofit in 2016 and dropping the university association.
The group offers the longest running live stage performance in the U.S. and travels to 25 to 35 states performing 50 to 60 shows per year. Originally based in Eastern European culture, the Tamburitzans have evolved to perform shows displaying cultures from all over the world. The performers consist of students that attend Pittsburgh-based universities, and membership is audition-based.
As the organization developed and required the use of larger technology, administrators began searching for a new home base for the troupe. The group had conducted its main operations at its Uptown location since the mid-1960s and was in need of a space that was larger, less compartmentalized, and fit the evolving needs of the ensemble, according to Alyssa Bushunow, a Tamburitzans alumna and the group’s company manager who worked to find a new space for the group.
“Our needs just evolved and we needed a building that we were able to evolve with, as well,” Bushunow said.
The spacious social hall includes a large kitchen and bar area, and room for rehearsal space, wardrobe, storage, and offices. The building is an ideal fit for the group’s needs, according to George Hudanick, a member of Holy Ghost who helped negotiate the move.
“The church hall was very functional for years; we had weddings and baptisms [in there],” Hudanick said. “It allows them to do fundraising events with the kitchen… It is very promising in addressing the needs of a nonprofit.”
In addition to using the space for rehearsals, offices, and storage, the group plans on renting it out to the community. Dance rehearsals, social occasions, and individual celebrations are some examples of events community members could potentially host in the building. The building’s projected new name, the Tamburitzan Cultural Center, reflects the group’s desire for the location to be a cross-cultural community space.
“We want it to be a center of culture, a center of community, where everyone from all different backgrounds can gather and experience the cultures that we have to put forth, but then also bring to us their own backgrounds and experiences,” Bushunow said.
The organization hopes that by moving to the Northside and opening the location for outside events, it can become part of the neighborhood’s community.
“We want to bring that space back to the community and we also want to be a part of a community, and we just thought that the Northside was a really good fit,” Bushunow said.
Renovations are currently underway to update the interior of the social hall. Besides creating storage solutions, the group will paint and decorate the walls with posters to make it a “cool space,” according to Bushunow. Renovations are projected to be completed by Sept. 1 and the group hopes to begin renting the space out to the public once the building is ready.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, The Tamburitzans used extra time granted by show cancellations to plan the move, and also to focus on booking their next season and increasing their social media presence. The group will be entering its 84th season, despite the lack of scheduled performances for the fall. Auditions took place before the outbreak in February and the incoming freshman class was announced in May.
Despite the setbacks presented by the pandemic, the Tamburitzans are excited for this new milestone in the group’s history.
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all our supporters and donors for getting us to this point, and especially to the Byzantine Catholic Diocese for forming this partnership,” the group posted on Facebook. “We can’t wait to get settled in!”