Rescued from Oblivion
A Forgotten Tiple Requinto Costero from 1898 is Reborn
Itinerant musicians, Ponce, PR, 1899. Photo taken by Paul Beckwith in the collection of musical instruments in the national museum of the Smithtonian Institution in Washington DC. Note the small tiple requinto in the hands of the musician in the center.
Replicas of the instrument pictured left, made in the workshop of William R. Cumpiano in 2022, currently in the Casa Paoli permanent collection of native instruments.
See and hear an expert Venezuelan musician during a festival in 2022 collect and play his own folk music in one of the tiple requintos produced by the Rescate del Olvido project
The delicate sound of native stringed instruments that in remote times could be heard throughout the island's countryside—sounds now silent as a result of social changes and the disappearance of the peasants who knew how to play them—emerges again, the product of the efforts of researchers , folklorists and artisans. The most recent example of this effort is the recent reconstruction of a series of tiples painstakingly replicated from genuine relics recently found in foreign archives not available to the general public.
In April 2021, museology student Norman. R. Storer Corrada contacted master luthier William Cumpiano, informing him that during his recent visit to Washington DC as part of his internship at the Museum of American History—one of the many museums in the city under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution—he discovered, within archives hidden away from public view, a wonderful collection of Puerto Rican instruments dating back to the last century—antique cuatros and tiples, sheltered from the ravages of time—all in virtually original condition. This was a finding of great importance among scholars of the history of traditional Puerto Rican music and crafts, because no more than six or seven native instruments of more than 80 years of existence have been preserved on the island, and among them the majority have survived in poor condition. The situation is undoubtedly due to the little value that historically has been given to many cultural manifestations of the island's early peasant class, such as daily utensils and handicraft traditions, most remnants of which have abandoned to carelessness and termites.
A number of such artifacts ended up in the archives of the Smithsonian museum in Washington, all carefully documented and preserved. And that is how the student Storer Corrada found them, who provided William Cumpiano with photographs of the old Puerto Rican instruments that the museum preserved, along with the attached files that document their measurements and provenance. Cumpiano, a master craftsman who had participated in an intensive twenty-five-year study of the island's indigenous instruments, created a construction plan for one of the tiples in the collection, based on photos and measurements provided by Storer Corrada.
The instrument in particular was part of three trebles donated more than a hundred years ago to the Institute by Colonel Paul E. Beckwith, who on a tour of the island obtained three trebles as a souvenir, and at the same time took a photograph of them, dated 1899 a three street musicians in Ponce playing guiro and guitar, and a musician playing one of the three tiples that later ended up in the Washington DC museum. In October, Cumpiano, together with CIFPR director Nestor Murray, completed three copies of the same instrument in his workshop, made entirely of native woods, mahogany and yagrumo, faithfully following the measurements and details of the original instrument, including its wooden pegs and its frets, or notes, linked with string. Two of the instruments will become part of Casa Paoli's permanent collection of native instruments and the third will be used to raise funds for the museum.
Hear and see the conference (in English) given in June 2022, in front of the American Musical Instrument Society, revealing the existence of collections of native instruments in North American museums, and the process of creating replicas of 19th century Puerto Rican instruments in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. The speakers are professors attached to the Center for Folkloric Research of PR: Norman Storer-Corrada, Noraliz Ruiz and the luthier William R. Cumpiano