William Cumpiano Workshop for the Arts

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Tiple construction manual
(in English) for William Cumpiano's treble workshops held in Chicago. Sylvia Alotta drawings

One of the new projects that the Center is currently implementing with more enthusiasm and interest is linked to the study, research, rescue and dissemination of the traditional musical instruments of Puerto Rico — particularly those of strings and percussion.

 

This effort began in the summer of 1974 when our founder invited Pedro C. Escabi  Agostini to offer, to three hundred students of the superior schools of the southwestern region of the country, a seminar to collect folklore. Hundreds of interviews were recorded on cassettes. A considerable number of these recordings were of instrument-making artisans.

 

In the 1990s an alliance was established with the Cuatro Project. With the advice and photographic material of its founders, Juan Sotomayor, William Cumpiano and Wilfredo Echevarría, the Contest for the manufacture of the old cuatro, the bordonúa and the tiple , was born and developed in 1999; in 2012 we held the Meeting of Researchers and Scholars of Traditional PR Instruments, in Ponce; In 2014 we organized the My Music exhibition at the Museum of the Americas in San Juan, then in 2018 it moved to Casa Paoli where it is one of its permanent exhibitions.

 

As soon as possible, a series of pre-vocational workshops aimed at young people who wish to learn the techniques used to assemble the suffering tiple and the future manufacture of our musical instruments will begin at the Casa Paoli facilities. We have decided that this new project be called Taller de Arte William Cumpiano in recognition of his great support and his career as a master luthier.

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     En 1997 la Universidad de Massachusetts, en Amherst, lo distinguió “por su labor en la preservación de la cultura puertorriqueña a través de la construcción de instrumentos tradicionales de cuerda y emprendiendo la tarea de enseñar su arte y orígenes a otros.” Ese es solo un reconocimiento otorgado al puertorriqueño William R. Cumpiano que desde su residencia en Estados Unidos continúa divulgando la grandeza de la música del País sobre todo a través de la construcción de instrumentos.

     Cumpiano nació el 30 de abril de 1945 en San Juan. Sus primeros estudios los cursó en la escuela primaria y secundaria de la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Río Piedras y en St. Joh´s Preparatory School en el Condado, Santurce. Luego de graduarse en 1968 de la academia de arte Pratt Institute de Brooklyn, en Nueva York, con un bachillerato en Diseño Industrial, Cumpiano trabajó como diseñador de muebles en las empresas Knoll International y Eppinger Furniture durante dos años.

      Comenzó a estudiar el arte de construir guitarras en Nueva York y luego siguió en New Hampshire, con los maestros lutieres Michael Gurian y Michael Millard. Un lutier es una persona que construye o repara instrumentos de cuerda. William Cumpiano estableció su primer taller en 1974. Desde entonces ha construido más de trescientos instrumentos de plectro, principalmente a mano, para músicos profesionales en Estados Unidos, Europa, Asia y el Caribe. Entre sus clientes se encuentran los célebres guitarristas norteamericanos Paul Simon, Arlo Guthrie, Michael Lorimer, John Abercrombie, Country Joe MacDonald, the Todd Rundgren band, June Millington, y Joel Zoss.

     Una de las iniciativas más importantes que le sirve a este lutier para divulgar su arte es el “Proyecto del Cuatro Puertorriqueño”, cofundado por él junto al periodista Juan Sotomayor. Ese esfuerzo recibió el endoso y apoyo financiero del National Endowment for the Arts, el Smithsonian Institution, el Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, el Massachusetts Cultural Council, y el Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Producto de esa organización, Sotomayor, Cumpiano y la profesora Myriam Fuentes publicaron el libro “Cuerdas de mi tierra, Una historia de los instrumentos de cuerda nativos de Puerto Rico: Cuatro, Tiple, Vihuela y Bordonúa, en 2014.

     En 1987 Cumpiano junto a Jonathan Natelson había publicado “Guitarmaking: Tradition & Technology, A Complete Reference for the Design & Construction of the Steel-String Folk Guitar & the Classical Guitar”. El mismo ha vendido 80,000 copias. También es autor de decenas de artículos sobre guitarras, construcción de instrumentos de cuerdas, fabricación de cuerdas, e instrumentos puertorriqueños.Cumpiano es colaborador de la columna de preguntas del “Acoustic Guitar Magazine”.

Renace un Olvidado Tiple Requinto Costero de 1898

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The delicate sound of native stringed instruments that in ancient times could be heard in all the fields of the island — silent sounds as a result of social changes and the disappearance of the peasants who knew how to play them — springs up again, a product of the efforts of researchers. , folklorists and artisans. The most recent example of this effort is the recent fabrication of a series of painstakingly copied trebles of genuine relics recently found in foreign archives not available to the general public.

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In April 2021, the museology student Norman. R. Storer Corrada contacted master luthier William Cumpiano, stating that during his recent visit to Washington DC as part of his professional studies at the Museum of [North] American History — one of the city's many museums under the auspices of the Institute. Smithsonian — discovered, within archives far from public view, a wonderful collection of Puerto Rican instruments dating back to the century before last — ancient fours and trebles, all protected 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 the demonstrations of the island's peasants and therefore almost all their work, in terms of daily utensils and handicrafts, has been relegated to neglect and the moth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A number of these 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 presented William Cumpiano with photographs of the ancient 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 25-year study of the island's indigenous instruments, created a construction plan for one of the trebles 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 tour of the island obtained three trebles as a souvenir, and at the same time took a photograph of it, dated 1899 to three street musicians in Ponce playing guiro and guitar, and a musician playing one of the three trebles that later ended up in the Washington DC museum. In October, Cumpiano, together with CIFPR director Nestor Murray, completed in their workshop three copies of the same instrument, 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 by string. Two of the instruments will be 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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Oiga y vea arriba la conferencia (en inglés) dado en junio 2022, frente a la Sociedad de América de Instrumentos Musicales, siglas en inglés AMIS, revelando el la existencia de colecciones de instrumentos nativos en museos norteamericanos, y el proceso de crear réplicas de los instrumentos puertorriqueños del Siglo 19 en la colección del Instituto Smithsoniano de Washington DC. Los conferenciantes son catedráticos adjuntos al Centro de Investigaciones Folklóricas de PR: Norman Storer-Corrada, Noraliz Ruiz y el lutier William R. Cumpiano