Folk Craft Area

CRAFTING SOUND: Building & Restoring Musical Instruments

Discover how a range of acoustic musical instruments are made in this year’s Folk Craft area. Meet craftspeople whose expertise include fine woodworking, metalsmithing, and an understanding of how sound resonates and travels. Learn about the making of world class pipe organs that fill concert halls, uilleann pipes that enliven Irish music seisuns, Middle Eastern ouds, Hardanger fiddles and violin bows that spur on dancers, revived tiples and cuatros and Trinidad’s steel pans that evoke the Caribbean. Here in New England, it started with Mi’kmaq wooden flutes, and Wampanoag and Nipmuc drums that “awaken” when filled with water.

Did you know that “tone wood” is the term used for making musical instruments, a moniker that captures its natural resonance? Musical instruments come to life by being blown into, banged on, bowed, plucked, or strummed. Musicians will be on hand throughout the weekend to demonstrate the sounds of some of these instruments. Join us Saturday at 1:45 pm for a moderated conversation between makers and players on the festival’s St. Anne’s stage, next to the folklife area.

2022 Craft Artists

Lucy Larcom Park, Saturday & Sunday, 12 – 5 p.m.


Dave Golber – Charlestown, MA

A graduate of the North Bennet Street School, Dave Golber has been making new violins and repairing and restoring old ones for over two decades. What sets him apart is his expertise in the Hardanger fiddle, a bowed instrument originally from the Hardanger region of western Norway. This musical instrument is unique in both sound and appearance. You notice the fingerboard is ornamented with mother-of-pearl and bone inlay; pen and ink drawings decorate the instrument’s surfaces. A carved dragon or lion head tops the peg box. In addition to the four bowed strings of a violin, the Hardanger fiddle has four or five strings running underneath the fingerboard. These “sympathetic” strings give the instrument its unique sound.

The characteristic music for the Hardanger originated hundreds of years ago when the Norwegian valleys were isolated communities. Tune repertoires and ways of playing them are associated with specific musicians and handed down from player to player. The Hardanger fiddle remains popular throughout Norway, heard at dance, concerts and competitions. Here in New England, there are several annual music and dance camps featuring Hardanger instruction.

PLEASE NOTE: Hardanger fiddler Brian Wilson will play a variety of traditional Norwegian dance tunes, including gangars and springars (Saturday only). At 4:00 each day, Dave will lead a tool-sharpening workshop in the Foodways tent.

Mariia Gorkun – Andover, MA

Before dedicating herself full-time to bowmaking, Mariia Gorkun apprenticed with the late Eduard Kobyliansky, one of the most celebrated violinmakers in Ukraine, and trained as a professional violinist, performing several seasons with the National Opera of Ukraine in Kyiv.

While working as a violin and bow restorer in Kyiv, Mariia took several workshops with Massachusetts-based bowmaker David Hawthorne. Although grateful, she admitted, “You can learn a lot of things in a short amount of time but it’s like going to a university one month at a time.” She jumped at the chance to apprentice in David’s Boston area shop and emigrated. In 2016, David hired Mariia as a full-time assistant, noting, “She had become a most in demand bow person in Kyiv.”

Mariia set up her own shop making modern and baroque bows for stringed instruments. Being an accomplished violinist enhances her ability to make bows that are beautifully crafted, comfortable to use, and produce the highest quality sound. One advantage of working in Boston is access to top-notch players, for example, her bows are used by members of Boston Baroque and The Handel & Hayden Society. Handling and re-hairing bows made by19th century master French bowmakers like Eugene Sartory and F.X Tourtes offers an invaluable learning opportunity. For re-hairing, Mariia selects from Mongolian, Argentinian, Canada, or Siberian horsehair.

Chris Pantazelos – Lowell, MA

Luthier Chris Pantazelos is rooted in the Greek and Armenian community of greater Boston. He specializes in making and repairing Middle Eastern stringed instruments. Chris grew up in Greece and immigrated to the US at 19. In 1985 he began an apprenticeship with oud maker Peter Kyvelos, owner of Unique Strings in Belmont, considered the epicenter of instrument making by Greek, Armenian, and Middle Eastern musicians around the country. Under Peter’s tutelage, Chris was trained in the building and repairing of ouds, bouzoukis, mandolins, and guitars.

In 1990, Chris established Spartan Instruments in Lowell. He developed techniques for the conservation of severely damaged and fragile instruments, reinforcing them from the inside. Repairs on musical instruments used daily require more durability; museum-grade conservation requires stabilization and restoration of original parts and materials. Chris has done museum-quality restorations for the Museum of Fine Arts musical instrument collection and Arizona’s Musical Instrument Museum.

Chris is valued by musicians for doing near-miraculous work restoring old instruments that other luthiers considered to be past restoration. As former director of Middle Eastern music at Berklee College of Music Craig Macrae writes, “If you live in New England and want a handmade stringed instrument—oud, lauoto, bouzouki, classical guitar, pandora, baglama, whatever—eventually you turn up at Chris’ shop in Lowell.”

PLEASE NOTE: Iranian oud player Datev Grekorian will join Chris in his tent to perform throughout the weekend. Chris and Datev will take part in a 1:45pm workshop, “Makers & Players” on Saturday at St. Anne’s stage.

William Cumpiano – Northampton, MA

After completing his guitarmaking apprenticeship with Michael Gurian in the early 1970s, William Cumpiano opened his own studio in Western Massachusetts. Since then, he has created hundreds of individually crafted guitars and other stringed instruments in the European, North American, and Latin American traditions, and taught the craft to scores of aspiring makers.

Cumpiano’s work has also become inseparable from a quest to recover the social history, music, and traditional construction of the cuatro, a ten-stringed instrument that is the national cultural icon for Puerto Ricans all over the world. He helped revive four other native string instruments of Puerto Rico: the tiple, bordonua, vihuela, and tres. Once ubiquitous in the Puerto Rican countryside, they disappeared during the first half of the 20th century. William works with exotic woods, sourced from all over the globe. In recent years, however, he has begun substituting renewable local timbers to replace endangered rainforest hardwoods. William has been awarded multiple traditional arts apprenticeship grants by state and federal arts agencies to pass the craft of traditional stringed instrument making on to Puerto Rican youth.

PLEASE NOTE: Cuatrista Juan R. Nieves will join William in his tent to demonstrate the sound of the Puerto Rican cuatro and tiple throughout the weekend. William and Juan will take part in a 1:45 pm workshop, “Makers & Players” on Saturday at the St Anne’s stage.

David Lonebear Sanipass – Cumberland, ME

David Lonebear Sanipass comes from a long line of Mi’kmaq Nation woodworkers and basketmakers in northern Maine. “My family lived traditionally,” he notes, “following the harvest of potatoes, wood, and blueberries up and down the eastern part of the state. We lived simply but well with traditional skills, hard work, and a sense of humor.”

Next to the drum, the most important Native American instrument is the flute. David has been making flutes for more than three decades, having learned to carve them at age nine from his grandfather. “As a child,” he says, “I would sit with him for hours to watch and ask questions about the art of flute carving.” David makes many of his tools himself and harvests all the wood, mostly lightning-struck white cedar. “Once the cedar tree is struck by lightning, the wood crystalizes, which gives the finished flute a unique sound and tone.” David also makes a “sweetgrass” flute which is traditionally a woman’s instrument. When played, each note wafts the soothing fragrance of sweetgrass.

Through his carving and performing, David passes along the sacred wisdom, stories, songs, and chants that have been part of his culture for generations. “These stories/songs . . . teach us through the voices of our ancestors how life should be lived and celebrated.”

Jonathan James-Perry – North Providence, RI

“Wood, bark, hide, horn, shell, and seeds – these are just some of the materials fashioning the Northeast sound landscape for thousands of years,” says Jonathan James-Perry. He is an Aquinnah Wampanoag culture bearer, leader, historian, and artist who is deeply grounded in the traditions of his ocean-going ancestors. In previous years, Jonathan has joined us in the folk craft area as a maker of cold hammered copper utensils, scrimshaw, stone effigy pipes, mishoon (canoe), and traditional fish weirs.

Jonathan will demonstrate the art of carving water drums, handheld rattles, and rhythm sticks — musical instruments that are integrally tied to continuing the tradition of Northeastern Indigenous songs, social dance, and culture. To see these percussion instruments played in context, be sure to seek out Jonathan’s group, The Kingfisher Singers and Dancers, who are performing at the festival this year.

Jonathan has been making these instruments for 20 years and has been singing Eastern style social songs for 30 years. These songs have been handed down in communities since time immemorial; they are sung to honor Creation, strengthen connections between communities, and mark the cycles of the seasons. The instruments that accompany these songs use elements of water, fire, and earth to shape and mold natural materials into vital components of Indigenous celebration.

Andre Strongbearheart Gaines – Grafton, MA

Andre Strongbearheart Gaines, citizen of the Nipmuc Nation, is a craftsman, educator, union carpenter, and cultural steward for his Tribe. He teaches the old ways like fleshing and brain tanning hides, making buckskin, mishoons (canoes), wetus (traditional housing), and two kinds of drums.

“The water drum holds our social songs which have been passed down generationally for thousands of years,” he says. The process of making begins by identifying and cutting a suitable log of local hardwood. After letting it dry, Andre shapes it with an axe and drawknife, and then sands it with pumice and limestone. The interior is hollowed out by repeated burning and scraping, and an animal skin is placed over the opening. A plugged hole in the side of the drum allows water to be poured inside, hence its name. The more water, the higher the pitch. Andre adds, “When we put water in a drum, that’s like waking it up.”

Larger and louder than the water drum, the hand drum has two deer skins wrapped around a wooden frame, one for playing, the other for lacing. The tip of the carved maple drumstick is wrapped in leather. “The powerful loud heartbeat sound of the hand drum,” Andre says, “is perfect for energizing the dances of the Eastern Woodlands Tribes. All drums made by my people link our hearts together and to the earth.”

Nick Jones, Noble & Cooley Drum Company – Granville, MA

Noble & Cooley is considered one of the premier custom drum makers in the country. The company began as a toy drum manufacturer in 1854. They branched out to make military marching drums for the Northern regiments during the Civil War. By 1873, the company was producing 100,000 toy drums a year – exemplifying one of many small manufacturers once common throughout the remote valleys of 19th century New England.

The company’s historic buildings are equipped with overhead pulleys, belt shafts, cast iron ovens, and steam bending machines – all in perfect working order. Most American drum sets are manufactured using a plywood composite. In 1980, Noble & Cooley re-introduced the use of solid hardwood shells. Locally logged and milled slabs of oak, maple, tulip, and walnut arrive on a regular basis.

Drum builder, Nick Jones is a 7th generation descendant of co-founder James P. Cooley. Since 2006, he’s worked full-time for the family business and is experienced in every aspect of the drum-making process. A drum takes 16 weeks from start to finish. Come see steam-bent shells in various stages of creation. Ask Nick why it is so important to scrape and sand the drum’s bearing edges to a uniform width. And discover why Noble & Cooley drums are a well-kept secret among musicians in the know.

Will Woodson – Portland, ME

Will Woodson is both a player and maker of Uilleann pipes, the national bagpipe of Ireland. Uilleann is Gaelic for elbow, and indeed the pipe’s leather bag is inflated by pumping one’s elbow against a small set of bellows strapped around the waist and arm.

Before setting out on his own, Will apprenticed with smallpipe maker Nate Banton. Will is one of few modern makers emulating the aesthetic and acoustic designs perfected by 19th century Irish American pipemakers. These include the Taylor Brothers of Philadelphia, who modified the pipes, pitching them higher to make them compatible with other instruments.

The chanter, drones, and regulators are fashioned from wood, brass, and moose antler. Perhaps the most challenging part of making a set of pipes is the reeds. Four double reeds and three single reeds must agree in matters of tuning, volume, and air pressure required to sound. The reed making, voicing, and balancing of the instrument is best done by someone who plays the instrument, has a feel for how an instrument reacts in the hands, how it can be pushed into tune, and how much depth of tone it has.

PLEASE NOTE: Joey Abarta, uilleann piper extraordinaire, will be on hand to demonstrate the sound of this unique musical instrument throughout the weekend. Will and Joey will take part in a 1:45 pm workshop, “Makers & Players” on Saturday at the St Anne’s stage.

Carl Smith & Justin Petty – Boston, MA

The steel pan was forged out of African and European traditions. Invented in the 20th century, the pan’s origins are from the intermingling of enslaved Africans brought to the Caribbean in the 1700s and European colonizers. When laws forbade the playing of drums by Trinidad’s Black descendants, they protested by creating musical instruments using bamboo shoots and later recycled scrap metal. Around 1940, someone discovered that dented sections of an empty oil barrel produced different pitches. Tuners began producing pans with concave surfaces, upon which melodies could be played. Neighborhood pan men formed parade bands. The modern 55-gallon steel pan is now played in musical competitions at annual Carnival celebrations around the world.

Carl Smith grew up Trinidad, the steel band Mecca of the world. In 1978, he brought the pan to Boston where he makes, plays, and teaches local youth as manager of Branches Steel Band. Justin Petty joined the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra in St. Thomas before moving to Massachusetts, where he has performed and arranged for the steel pan for over 30 years; under his musical directorship, Branches has won multiple competitions.

Using a sledgehammer and pneumatic hammer to shape the pan is a noisy, labor-intensive skill. Note the different sounds made by a single, second, tenor pan, and dudup, one the earliest forms of steel pan.

Kate Harrington & Joji Shiga – Gloucester, MA

The Northeast has been the traditional center for pipe organ building in the US and Gloucester is home to one of the world’s greatest pipe organ manufacturers. Charles B. Fisk founded his firm over 60 years ago to build pipe organs with mechanical action, just as they were built in J.S. Bach’s time (1685-1750). Since 1961, C.B. Fisk, Inc. has been designing and building custom instruments for installation in concert halls and churches around the world. These magnificent musical instruments accompany choral and congregational singing and serve soloists.

Fisk organs contain thousands of pipes. Most are made from lead/tin alloys cast into sheets in the company’s workshop. Shop drawings are prepared detailing every part. Seasoned lumber is purchased in the rough, then planed and sawn to create the casework and myriad interior parts of the organ. Keyboards are made of bone or exotic woods. A highly detailed 1:16 scale model of the organ is built, giving customers an accurate rendering of how the organ will exist in architectural space.

Kate Harrington joined Fisk in 2014 and works as a metal flue pipe maker, with various stints in shop-voicing preparation, key action, and on-site installation.Joji Shiga joined Fisk recently after working for organ building companies in Washington state, Liverpool, and Tokyo. Considered an “all-arounder” Joji’s skills include pipe making in wood and metal, tuning of flue and reed pipes, and voicing of pipes to finalize tonal quality.


Curated by
Maggie Holtzberg
(Folk Arts & Heritage Program), Massachusetts Cultural Council 


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