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Review by Nestor Murray-Irizarry, historian


Recently the Paoli House of the Puerto Rico Folkloric Research Center, Inc. inaugurated the first phase of a series of events related to the rolling exhibition of musical instruments of Puerto Rico: Rescate del Olvido (Rescued from Oblivion). The first station or stop began at the library of the Ponce Art Museum. The exhibition includes the exhibition of replicas—cuatros, tiples, tiples requintos and bordonuas—of traditional musical instruments of our country that in 1888 were taken from Puerto Rico to Germany and in 1898 to Washington.


The activity was attended by a large group of students from the Ponce School of Fine Arts, the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music, artists and the general public. Casa Paoli also invited the renowned Puerto Rican luthier based in Massachusetts, William R. Cumpiano, to give a lecture on the instruments. This initiative will tour the country's libraries, continuing in February at the UPR/Ponce and at the PR Conservatory of Music in San Juan.


The activity was sponsored by the Humanities Puerto Rico; the Flamboyan Arts Fund; the Joint Special Commission on Legislative Grants for Community Impact.


The speaker offered a summary of his work of studying, researching, building classical guitars and stringed musical instruments from Puerto Rico; In addition, its dissemination through educational workshops, in Chicago and at the Casa Paoli in Ponce, for teaching the assembly and manufacture of the Puerto Rican tiple doliente and of articles and public conferences. He also discussed his work over the last 25 years with the Cuatro Project and since 1999 at Casa Paoli. In 2013 all that effort culminated with the publication of the book Cuerdas de mi tierra, together with Juan Sotomayor and Myriam Fuentes (RIP). 



Finally, the speaker described the goals and achievements of his most recent project under the support of the Paoli Center-Casa, Rescate del olvido, together with the Puerto Rican museologist from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Norman Storer Corrada, Dr. Noraliz Ruiz and historian Néstor Murray-Irizarry. This initiative is dedicated to the study and recreation of ancient relics of Puerto Rican string instruments that are still found in the great museums of the world, which are unknown to Puerto Ricans.


Cumpiano is a Puerto Rican artisan and researcher who lives and works in Northampton, Massachusetts. He began his trade more than fifty years ago. His specialty as a craftsman is the construction of pulse and plectrum string instruments from North American, European and Latin American traditions. Cumpiano has acquired an international reputation for his instruments, both as an educator, lecturer, writer and researcher in his field.


In 1985 Cumpiano published the standard manual of his profession, Guitarmaking: Tradition & Technology. He was co-founder of the Association of Musical Instrument Craftsmen (ASIA), a trade society for his profession; and the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project, a 20-year effort to document the missing musical-artisanal traditions of his native country, with a focus on the national instrument—the Puerto Rican cuatro.


His work has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Culture of Puerto Rico, Tiffany and Co., and the Massachusetts State Legislature, among others; and by musicians such as Arlo Guthrie, Todd Rundgren, Taj Mahal, Country Joe MacDonald, June Millington, Michael Lorimer, Joel Zoss and Paul Simon.


In recent years Cumpiano has been linked to the Center for Folkloric Research of Puerto Rico, Inc., whose headquarters are the Casa Paoli in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where he offers native instrument assembly workshops and donates replicas of native Puerto Rican instruments that have been lost due to their use   for its permanent collection at the Center -Casa Paoli.

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