Music is the gift that Bill Okos brings to the world. Not only does he sing and play, but as a luthier he also builds and restores musical instruments.
“Music for me started at a very, very young age. Like most good Ukrainians, I started on the accordion at about age four,” Okos explained. “I got my first guitar at age six. Through the sixties I was basically playing all the time, in bands.”
Okos got into repairing instruments at a young age as well.
He was so intrigued with the guitar as a youngster that he would purchase cheap guitars at yard sales and saw them in half just to see how they worked.
When he got his hands on an expensive guitar he was impressed by the attention to detail and the precision that had gone into building the instrument.
Today as a luthier, Okos has handled many ancient instruments from violins made by Stradivarius in the 18th century to a violin belonging to Mozart’s sister, built in 1560.
He talks freely about the ancient masters that created these instruments and has a deep respect and admiration for their abilities as craftsmen.
“Looking at instruments through history is what has intrigued me,” said Okos.
“The interest in repair and the knowledge of where it came from.”
The ancient instruments were all hand carved and much of the inlaid work was done using real ivory and tortoise shell.
Because today it is illegal to buy these materials, Okos has to use plastics of similar density and colour when doing repairs on these old instruments.
He has been able to salvage some real ebony and ivory piano keys, to use in his restoration work.
Today, with modern technology, instruments are easily copied and mass produced.
Synthesizers can mimic the sound of any instrument in the world.
Despite this, Okos still believes there will always be room for the hand built.
“What makes the hand built instrument so unique is because I can truly make it personal. I can design the neck and the finger board curvature exactly to the person’s hand,” he explained. “They are heirlooms as well.”
Okos is currently building Leona Boyd a guitar, gifting it to her “out of respect for the performer and to promote British Columbia wood.”
He acquires his wood from a company on Vancouver Island that produces wood for building acoustic instruments from fallen trees rather than from fresh cut trees.
The wood used is Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar.
“I am so passionate about building as much as possible out of British Columbia wood,” explained Okos. “Sonically we have wood here in British Columbia that is absolutely just as good as Brazilian Rosewood.”
Also passionate about his craft, Okos looks forward to getting each instrument he builds “strung up” so he can hear what each one sounds like.
He explained that they each have a different sound and they must be played to build the resonance of the wood and maintain it.
“I’m a woodcarver, only my woodcarving is performance woodcarving, because somebody can play it afterwards,” said Okos.
“When you get people that really know how to play and they are playing on an instrument that you’ve made, that’s pretty special. It’s absolutely spectacular.”
Many a famous musician has crossed the threshold of Okos’s shop and when it comes to playing music, there is nothing that Okos himself cannot play.
His classic rock band, Okos Pokos was put together in 1972 and he also has a country and western band called the Prairie Mountain Rose Band. He has played locally at events and venues and has had the opportunity to play at seniors homes throughout the valley.
“Learning new pieces is absolutely mandatory for me, and putting them to memory. It’s a wonderful way to stave off any type of dementia,” he said as he laughed heartily.
Music, Okos said, “soothes that inner yearning to hear sound performed by myself.”
Perhaps many of us in Summerland have heard that sound, even as we have walked down the street.
“Once the sun goes down, I’ll sit out here and play the guitar,” said Okos.
“I’ve always played every day. I love the voice of the instrument.”
If you know a positive story about someone in our community, contact Carla McLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Summerland Review newsroom at 250-494-5406.