In July 2012, I wrote about something I called “The U.N. of Musical Instruments” (msr.io/1J2xcyK). The article explored the different branches of the music products industry, and it emphasized that we need to communicate with each other for our mutual longevity and success. The members of the American Musical Instrument Society (AMIS) are the scholars of the world of instruments. They write the histories, create definitions for dictionaries and encyclopedias, and study and preserve the instruments of the past at museums and universities.
The merging of the different branches is starting to happen. There were quite a few “abstract papers” from the late 1800s related to organs, flutes and pianos. Moreover, when those scholars cited their sources, they were retail ads from musical instrument dealers. Preserved dealer ads show models of instruments that are no longer manufactured. AMIS is taking on a similar role in preserving the music products industry of today.
Darcy Kuronen, Pappalardo Curator of Musical Instruments, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, a recognized sharp talent, reached out to the Zildjian Company and Powell Flutes and arranged guided factory tours. This is the kind of bold action we need to take…to take a chance and step over the borders that separate us, choosing to join together for common knowledge. I asked Kuronen what, after being an AMIS member for 32 years, prompted him to look this closely at manufacturing. “I had recently made my first trip to Zildjian and thought it would be eye opening for the group,” he replied. He was certainly right!
Zildjian’s history dates back to the 1600s, and we learned that the word “Zildjian” meant “cymbal maker.” We were educated on how the Zildjian family member who came here to the U.S. was not only a cymbal maker, but also a candy maker by trade. He artistically dribbled the chocolate in patterns atop the candy.
We saw the large kiln heating metal and the machinery that rolled, stamped and pounded the metal into 80 percent of the cymbals made throughout the world. We were taught the history of how rides and crashes were created. Did you know that the hi-hat started off just a few inches above the floor? There was such passion in the way the tour guides taught us the process and history; you just knew they loved their work. They generously gave each of us a Zildjian T-shirt as a gift. In truth, though, the education and time they shared was gift enough for me.
“Powell was also a very important company, and I recently developed a relationship with the CEO,” Kuronen noted. The company’s President, Steven Wasser, had made the bold move of suggesting a museum display of Powell Flutes. The company welcomed my fellow visitors and me with doughnuts and coffee. The CFO, Mark Spuria, took the time to give us a factory tour. We were able to witness talented craftspeople precisely mounting keys and making minute adjustments, all to ensure the very best for the flutist. Many employees had worked there for more than 20 years. Many of them were women.
We saw gold-plated flutes, engraving, the kilns that slowly dried granadilla, keys being buffed and even composite flutes. The employees’ work environment is a retired textile brick mill with a beautiful body of water to look upon. AMIS members were treated graciously and, at the end of the tour, we received individually wrapped gifts, which included a Powell coffee mug, some chocolates and a CD of flute music. This is the way retailers and manufacturers welcome each other and any other dignitaries. It is our opportunity to put our best foot forward.
Not everyone chooses the path of a performing musician, of course. “When I was a kid, I said to my parents, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a musician,’” Kuronen recalled. “They said, ‘Well you can’t do both!’” An accomplished keyboard player with a quick wit, he started his studies in music at seven with piano; then, he moved into trumpet and then Double Bass. He received his Master’s degree in music education and found a career in the musical instrument path within a great museum. For every performer out there, there are hundreds of professional careers in the field of music.
Different papers were presented during the American Musical Instrument Society conference, and I found it interesting that Kuronen reached across the ocean to a very knowledgeable technician in Europe who helped to reassemble ancient flutes discovered in an archaeological dig. Did he consider contacting the National Association of Professional Band Instrument Technicians (NAPBIRT) here in the U.S.? He was not familiar with the organization. Technicians must discern what was original on an instrument, and then figure out how to get it back to that original state. Have you ever been in a band room at year’s end after the students have swapped a lower joint with one of theirs, or a barrel or mouthpiece from a clarinet? After a while, you have a box of pieces and you have to match keys or shapes from one joint to another to reassemble them in the correct order.
AMIS and NAPBIRT are very similar organizations. Each is composed of a small group of well trained and educated individuals who work for the preservation of musical instruments, with volunteers serving as their board members. Neither one has a big marketing budget. Both would benefit from donations, as would the museums that are preserving these cherished instruments. We can support these groups by visiting museums that include a section for musical instruments. Suggest to your local museums that they have a musical instrument section.
These instruments only exist in museums because musicians are a generous bunch. As they get older, they want to “find a good home” for their favorite instruments. Manufacturers and dealers support young musicians in their education. Let’s help museums reach across these invisible borders in order to create displays of instruments at museums and provide cash donations to keep those departments open. Let’s support these two small groups so that we can keep the preservation growing. Because, in a world of goods that are fast becoming disposable, many instruments don’t fall into that category.
Let’s keep the conversation going and reach out to other groups, as Darcy Kuronen did. It’ll help bring us closer, and enable us to share our collective knowledge.