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Daughter-in-law of John Dopyera (Sr.), the Slovak-American inventor of resonator instruments - National tricone and Dobro guitars - tells of the adventures and misadventures of the large immigrant Dopyera family who came to Los Angeles in 1908. The book traces the contributions and characteristics of the five Dopyera brothers and their talented sisters and relates the ways in which the Dopyera heritage continues to impact the lives of the author and her husband. Cross-country Ryder truck trips hauling resophonic artifacts and vintage instruments; invitations to Slovak festivals honoring the late John Dopyera (Sr.); opportunities to know and hear outstanding musicians performing on resophonic instruments - such comes along with the karma of marrying a Dopyera.
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In the first years that I knew John Dopyera I knew nothing about his family heritage. Our common interests were educational reform and the evaluation of educational innovations such as Head Start. I was a new faculty member in the School of Education at Syracuse University and John was directing projects in the Syracuse Early Childhood Research Center. We had many common interests, but bluegrass, acoustic music, or our family roots were not among them. Later I got to know John better and learned that his family was Czech, or so he said, and that his dad and uncles were the inventors and manufacturers of musical instruments John referred to as Dobro and National. I was unimpressed as I had no knowledge of these instruments. I found his Czech repartee repertoire rather engaging though. "Czech me out." "I don't want to be a canceled Czech." "I have a Czech-ered past." "My wife is a Czech mate."
A short time later, I was listening to a local Syracuse station and heard music that included an appealing sad sound, twangy but sweet. I liked it. I was surprised when the radio announcer said, "What we've heard here is the sound of the National guitar, a musical instrument developed in the twenties by those Italian brothers, the Dopyera brothers." Czech? Italian? Although a bit curious, it didn't really matter to me at the time. Later when John and I became even better friends, and eventually married, the heritage and the karma of those immigrant brothers, the Dopyeras, touched my life in very significant ways. Across the past twenty-five years I've continued to learn about the Dopyera family and I've been fascinated.
As it turned out, the Dopyeras were not Italian nor were they Czech. According to my husband, his dad always said that the family came from the Czechoslovakian village of Dolna' Krupa', north of Prague - which of course made them Czech. This was not the case. Perhaps my father-in-law's sense of geography was off, or perhaps it was just too complicated to try to explain to Americans about the geography and historically-shifting borders of far-off central Europe. Whatever the reason, the impression he gave of being Czech was wrong! There are two villages of Dolna' Krupa', one which is north of Prague (in what is now called the Czech Republic) and one that is northeast of Bratislava (in what is now called Slovakia or the Slovak Republic). The facts are that the family emigrated to the United States in 1908, not from the part of the former Czechoslovakia that is peopled by the Czechs, but from the part peopled by the Slovaks, now Slovakia (since 1993).
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