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Rescue from Oblivion

of the forgotten string instruments of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean

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.

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A Forgotten Tiple Requinto Costero from 1898 is Reborn

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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. 

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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

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In April 2021, the Puerto RIcan museum curator Norman. R. Storer Corrada contacted master luthier William Cumpiano, informing him that during 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, in 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 over 75 years of existence still exist on the island, and among them the majority have survived in very poor condition. The situation is undoubtedly due to the little value that historically has been given to the cultural manifestations the island's early peasant class—such as daily utensils, handicraft and musical traditions, remnants of which were abandoned to neglect, hurricanes 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 Storer Corrada found them. He provided William Cumpiano with photographs of the old Puerto Rican instruments that the museum preserved, along with the documentation of 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 tiples donated more than a hundred years ago to the Institute by Colonel Paul E. Beckwith, who on a tour of the island obtained three tiples and at the same time took a photograph, dated 1899, of three street musicians in Ponce playing guiro and guitar, and a musician playing one of the three tiples in the collection. 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 tied frets made of string loops. 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.

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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 attached to the Center for Folkloric Research of PR: Norman Storer-Corrada, Noraliz Ruiz and the luthier William R. Cumpiano

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