I was born in 1961, in Vancouver, to Judy Dorise Janzen and Mijo Ivan Samija. My mother arrived in Vancouver from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan in 1956. Her parents were of Russian and Prussian origin. Her mother Aganita played mandolin, ukelele, piano, violin, and sang. Her father John was a tinsmith and jack of all trades during his too-short life; he succumbed to heart failure due to an infection in 1946. Mom grew up with the piano, played organ in church once they moved to Vancouver in the mid-1950's (with local violin dealer and family doctor Henry Iseli as her choir master) and developed into a composer later in life. My father came from the village of Šamija, in the stony hills just off the Dalmatian coast in what was Jugoslavia, and worked his way through several European cities on his way here, inventing himself as he went along.

    I began carving whatever came to hand when I got my first pocket knife, at age 7. My stepfather Rod Wood taught me to use it. From bows and arrows to fine small boxes, construction work to dragons or the odd bit of furniture, I eventually learned to make a lot of things of wood. Making something when it was needed came often more readily than buying it. By high school it was apparent that working in wood was my main interest, though not in what direction to pursue this. Traditional furniture making was a possibility, but I enjoyed curved, more sculptural forms more, objects with symmetry but of an 'organic' feel.

     Various pursuits caught my interest. I had perhaps 30 different jobs before I was 25 years old. A labourer, odd-jobber, bicycle mechanic, I even tried a year at art school while thinking of a career in photography. I raced off-road bicycles (BMX and mountainbike), ran, carved odds and ends for family and friends and for sale, read a lot, wondered what I was supposed to be doing... Then one rainy winter afternoon in late 1985 it occurred to me as I made tight the left-rear axle nut of a Raleigh 3-speed, and I spoke it aloud: "I'm going to make cellos." A few seconds later followed "I want to play the cello too." A moment I'd awaited for a very long time had come and I knew it to be good. Left that job within the month and began to research the work I knew would be demanding and very satisfying.

    The first year produced a workbench, a few dulcimers, most of a jazz guitar-bass, and my first violin. The library had proved a most rewarding resource. A sort of box-cello came next, and a bow to play it. No point detailing here how that looked or sounded; it sufficed until the real thing came along. I began to study Bach's 'Six Sonatas for Violoncello Solo.'

    In 1987 I joined the Violin Maker's Association of BC and learned some things from a few of the members there, but soon gave up my membership. A chance meeting - I was trying to sell my first violin, and only one person answered the advertisement - brought me the friendship of a luthier now based in Edmonton, Alberta. He offered me his overflow work; some bows to rehair, the odd restoration or repair. This kindness, a few pointers, and links to others in the violin world was the real beginning for my professional life. I worked for a time as a machinist and welder, making parts for mountain bikes. Spent a few months helping build a cycling velodrome on Burnaby Mountain. Here and there were some months landscaping, roofing, being a human jackhammer breaking up concrete with a steel bar, digging ditches, selling soup, house painting, baking bagels, making crates for totem poles to ship in, even a stint of door to door sales when I utterly failed to sell a single cooking pot or VCR.

    I have played 'cello in a few community orchestras, longest being the Vancouver Folk Orchestra for 4 years under conductor and composer Karl Kobylanski, now deceased. I've also played in a number of chamber music settings including a wedding. Duets with my mother at her piano were most cherished, despite our sometimes bickering over how things ought to sound.

    I gave up my last 'job' in 1994, having become certain that an employee I am not. It seems I've become an unintentional bass luthier, which is fine, especially considering the pleasant demeanor of most bassists. I see more 'cellists and violinists in recent years as it seems word gradually filters out that I can work on smaller fiddles too. Since the engineered finanacial manipulations of 2008 and the gradual decline in revenue from musical performance in the decade following... then the near-complete collapse of performance as a source of income with the 'pandemic,' my focus has shifted more towards making. My second doublebass nears completion in early 2022. Wood for other basses sits patiently waiting. It seems anyone's guess as to what the next decade will bring for music. Longer term, of course, there will always be music shared between people. But the role of musician as a 'job' and thereby my role in supporting it as a source of income seems far less secure, with those in charge seemingly determined to remake our society into something far less interesting, more uniform and non-creative. I hope that before too much longer we are able to collectively shake ourselves out of this daydream and get back to energetic pursuit of humanity's next leap forward, into something like universal high quality education and open dialogues on any subject. That's what I've hoped for most of my life. Popular culture, media, even the universities, seem to be averse to such thinking, preferring to engage in game theoretic nonsense.

It's interesting at 60 to see the world changing so rapidly, in many ways confirming my worst fears from age 15 onward. My son is now 15, and his outlook decidely different from my own at that age. He, and many of his contemporaries, have little sense of hope for the longer term future. His hopes revolve around friendships, enjoying his life each day, working diligently to maintain interest in a handful of intellectual and hobby pursuits, while trying not to worry about what might befall us next year or next decade. He suspects, though he's not entirely sure, that I am too optimistic. I dearly hope he is wrong, but the boy is smarter than his father... Guess we'll see rather soon what plays out, as the WEF and billionaire class more and more get their way, and individual freedom is eagerly handed over to authorities by the majority in the name of 'safety.'

    



Nicola, my ancient dust bunny generator, who loved nothing so well as a bass or a bass bag to curl up in. R.I.P. Nic.


Nic, a cat who for years sought out bass bags left un-zipped in which she might nap, or at times basses left open while I worked on them. At the age of 18 Nicola became tired and stopped eating in November of 2008, and then one night failed to come home. I suppose she did what cats of all sorts prefer to do, finding a quiet and safe place to die when her time came. She is much missed.




p.s.      My last name begins with an 'Š' and is pronounced 'Shah-me-ah' and hails from just about everywhere in the Middle East apparently, and means generically a head scarf which can be used for shelter against dust and sun. The most popular Western spelling these days seems to be 'Keffiyeh.' The story my father told us growing up was that an ancestor some four centuries earlier had been away at battle with invading Turks, and that on his return he brandished a bloodied scarf on his sword. He annouced to his village and family that this was the insignia scarf, or 'šamija' in his dialect, of the Turkish captain whose head he had taken, and that from that day onward the family name would be Šamija, no longer Dumankušic. We had trouble believing my father's many stories then, which more than anything I've ever experienced resemble the sorts of tall tales told in the film 'Big Fish.' Research by my little sister who learned the language and visited our family many times found most were actually true, so perhaps this one is as well.


gerard@luthier.ca