The U.N. Of Musical Instruments

| July 10, 2012 | 0 Comments

The AMIS Meeting, And Uniting A Sometimes-Diffuse Music Industry

By Rebecca Apodaca

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There were visitors from Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Germany, Poland, Mexico, Greece, France, Japan, Russia, China, the British Isles and the Navajo Nation—not to mention the United States—at the gala dinner of the American Musical Instrument Society (AMIS). Members represented pianos, woodwinds, fretted instruments, brass, orchestral, percussion, ancient and historical instruments from all over the world. More than 25 countries, 22 museums and collectors, and 24 worldwide universities and conservatories were represented at the conference at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) and Manhattan School of Music in New York. It was, you could say, the United Nations of Musical Instruments.

Although this writer has spent more than 30 years in the music products industry, it was through my research as a musical instrument appraiser that I found AMIS. For $60, I registered my company and received newsletters, a journal and an invitation to attend the yearly conference. In 2011, I submitted a paper for a lecture on the Schalmei for the conference held at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix AZ. It became obvious to me that Fender, Gibson and Martin are concerned with MI and its history, as their names were displayed as contributors. But why aren’t more companies members of AMIS? After all, I’d argue that AMIS could help today’s manufacturers, and those of the future, preserve their histories.

I belong to four primary professional organizations: The National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians, Inc. (NAPBIRT); The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), composed of manufacturers and retailers (including, I would bet, the majority of you reading this); AMIS, composed of scholars, historians and organologists (defined as those who study the science of musical instruments, including the history, classification and how they produce sound); and the American Society of Appraisers (ASA), which represents certified appraisers. Many members of these organizations are not aware of each other. It isn’t so much that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing; rather, it’s sometimes as if the left hand doesn’t know it has a right hand (and two legs, too)!

Some 500 members of AMIS make up the scholarly part of the musical instrument industry. They record the history of musical instrument makers from the beginning of time right up to the present. (It leads one to wonder: When does history start? Back then, or right now?) But how can AMIS serve to help today’s manufacturers? AMIS can provide knowledge and drawings of instruments that have been designed in the past. Perhaps people already tried making an instrument in a certain way and, thus, know why it failed or, for that matter, succeeded. Members are the writers of historical dictionaries and encyclopedias of musical instruments that populate libraries. They are the university professors who are teaching musical instrument history all over the world, as well as the museum curators who write the descriptions of instruments on display, plus the conservators, restorers and musical instrument archaeologists.

AMIS President Dr. Albert Rice, who initially joined to be a responsible curator of the Fiske collection at Claremont Colleges, said, “Manufacturers might be able to provide MI-related history from World War II that has been lost, or photos and designs of products.”

Manufacturers
Electric guitars, basses and amps have a history of only about 60 years of production and manufacturing. Electronic keyboards, synthesizers and electronic drums’ history is even less than that. Today represents the best opportunity for the history to be recorded correctly. Most often, AMIS speaks for makers who cannot speak for themselves any longer. And, sadly, we have already lost most of the first generation of electric guitar makers. Thankfully, NAMM historian Dan Del Fiorentino has done amazing things with regard to preserving our history with the NAMM Oral History Program, whose work continues to this day.

John and Cindalee Hall of RIC International (Rickenbacker guitars and basses) hold much of the history of the first electric guitar. Matt Hill, RIC’s Curator and an AMIS member, said, “We are all part of the same industry. We don’t always have to know all the information pertaining to each group…we just should be aware of each other and keep the communities connected.” Hill continued, “Retailers are the conduit that transfers the use of an item that is needed by musicians to the manufacturer. Recording the manufacturers’ history accurately is important.”

Retailers
Although retailers are sometimes asked about music history by customers, many don’t have the answers. But some retailers would like to know. Many are aware of what manufacturers and models should be documented as having had a significant impact on the MI industry. After all, retailers are in the trenches with the musicians, who make comments if a part of an instrument is hard to reach, a body shape needs changes or a different tonality is desired. (For instance, did you know the Stratocaster electric guitar body shape was contoured because of men’s bulging bellies?) Retailers could share that the Selmer Mark VI saxophone is the model having a significant effect on history. Almost every manufacturer tried to duplicate the Mark VI.

Advocacy Efforts
Among NAMM’s many activities and undertakings, it is working to try to pass laws in Washington DC that support music education for future generations. Additionally, the NAMM Foundation has awarded $445,000 to support innovative music-learning programs, and the organization gives out yearly awards to the 100 Best Communities in music education. NAMM’s mission is to strengthen the music products industry and promote the pleasures and benefits of making music. Its work dovetails with that of the scholars of AMIS.

NAPBIRT
Then there’s NAPBIRT, which I joined in 1976 while enrolled in a three-year college program to achieve a Certification in Musical Instrument Repair. In Europe, one must belong to an instrument maker’s guild in order to claim the title of instrument maker or repair technician. One must have the required education and pass proficiency testing to become an apprentice, craftsman, journeyman, Master journeyman or instrument maker. In the U.S., though, anyone can carve a bridge or write a value on a sheet of paper and say he or she repairs or appraises musical instruments. In 1976, NAPBIRT was setting repair proficiency standards. In 1936, the American Society of Appraisers started setting valuation standards and requirements to become Accredited Appraisers. Now, these are the standards used by the IRS.

After listening to the lecturers while at the AMIS meeting, I realized how well I understood the construction methods. Those I learned have not changed in countless years. I was able to explain techniques to historians who had only seen the instruments on paper. (I have to duplicate these techniques to restore instruments.)

NAPBIRT members have the ability and tools to recreate an instrument part, but might not know what the part looks like. Perhaps AMIS historians can help with providing iconography (descriptions and drawings) of missing parts. Numbering systems on instruments can be explained by NAPBIRT members, as can the fossilized marks on instruments. They can also help AMIS members to understand the mechanisms that helped the instruments change keys, or what materials and adhesives were used in construction when today’s conservators are trying to preserve the instrument. Our host, J. Kenneth Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, added, “AMIS members can also advise if the instrument should not be restored, as it might be the last of its kind that is still in the original state.”

Guitars
Returning to the AMIS meeting itself, the previously referenced Matt Hill told me that, for the first time, guitars were strongly represented at AMIS. Gregg Miner of The Miner Museum delivered a lecture entitled “Harp Guitar: What’s in a Name?”. Another presentation, “Who Was Behind the Making of the First Spanish Guitars in London?,” was delivered by guitar-maker James Westbrook, the consultant for the first Eric Clapton guitar auction, held at Christie’s New York. A lecture on guitars, “Paracho, A Unique Mexican Luthier Town,” was presented by conservator Charlene Joyce Alcántara Bravo and Lyla Patricia Campos Díaz, a restorer from Mexico. The inner workings of a pianoforte guitar were demonstrated, as were identification marks on plucked instruments. Eventually, AMIS will talk about electric guitars.

But how will AMIS lecture about the history of making electric guitars without knowing the history of Southern California guitar builders and the importance of Weissenborn, the Dopyera brothers, Kiso, Beauchamp, Rickenbacker, Bigsby, Allen, Kaufman, Fender, Fullerton, White, Randall, Rico and Duncan? It is important to recognize that Southern California was the mecca that developed the electric guitar, along with what Les Paul and Gibson were developing. They created a new musical empire for generations to come. When CBS purchased Fender, they made a financial decision to make inexpensive copies for mass production, but, eventually, they wisely started the Fender Custom Shop. CBS did not, however, preserve the technical history in keeping the quality. RIC International has kept the same quality that Francis C. Hall created.

BC Rich transitioned into lower-cost guitars, but anyone wanting one of the highest quality goes to Bernardo Rico’s son, Bernie Rico Jr. Bernie is still hand-making them, just the way his father and his grandfather historically had.

East Coast Guitar Builders
Jayson Kerr Dobney, Associate Curator of Musical Instruments at The Met, who was curating a show called “Guitar Heroes” regarding guitars made by D’Angelico and D’Aquisto, said that he tried to go through legitimate channels to join NAMM to view guitars at the NAMM show. However, there was no viable category. He stated, “We look at historical instruments by seeing the modern interacting with manufacturing and the way craftspeople did it years ago.” Perhaps NAMM will consider a “visitor’s pass” for legitimate musical instrument historians, as it invites other educators.

The Kasimoff Family
(William, Helga, Serge, Ivan And Kyril)
The Kasimoff Blüthner Piano Co. is the perfect example of belonging to NAMM, The Piano Technicians Guild and AMIS. Within NAMM, they are a well-respected piano dealer of Blüthner pianos since 1962. Their clients ranged from opera stars to rock musicians, including 20 orchestras, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Helga’s oral history has been recorded at NAMM. The sons continued, after their father’s passing. Kyril, technically trained at the Blüthner factory, helps Helga with daily business. Ivan trained at UCLA, and Serge works as a professional pianist and composer worldwide; Serge has expertise in tuning harpsichords. Helga is living history, and told me that, whereas others were detained at Ellis Island, piano makers and piano technicians were hired on the spot. The Kasimoffs joined AMIS after discovering an 1803 Erard piano thought to have belonged to Napoleon’s wife, Josephine.

Sounds Of Music
Mini-concerts associated with the AMIS meeting started with a piano and opera singer duet at the City University of New York and then progressed to Steinway Hall, the marbled showroom for Steinway & Sons. A jazz pianist and double bassist performed. In the basement are pianos that top artists can try, allowing them to decide which will be delivered for their concerts. Steinway was also celebrating making its 500,000th piano. A special one was made to mark the occasion.

We heard guitars performed that were owned by classical guitarists Andrés Segovia and Julian Bream, as well as one made by Stauffer of Germany. We even heard the first piano ever made. The previously mentioned J. Kenneth Moore and his staff arranged a performance of a Stradivari quartet of orchestra instruments. We were treated to traditional Hungarian Balkan music. Lorenzo Greenwich III, who started his music career at three with his aunt’s gospel group, and who collects historic brass instruments, including a horn owned by Dizzy Gillespie, reminisced.
The Canadian musical treat was a hydrophone. Using a series of pumps, it forces water through tubes, with the ability to change pitch by covering the holes on top. It is designed to be performed underwater—with the participant also underwater to be able to hear the music—and is installed in large public water areas. It sounded closest to a wet finger rubbed over filled glass bowls.

Preserving Knowledge
Returning to the overarching theme of preserving history and collected knowledge, Laurence Libin, Editor-in-Chief, The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, from Oxford University Press, as well as honorary Curator for Steinway, stated that the last update of the Grove Dictionary was in 1984, and that amplification is going to be included for the first time in the 2nd edition (2013). It features makers, manufacturers and distributors. He would like distributors, such as Lyon & Healy and Charles Bruno & Son, to be represented. Libin would like more modern-day distributors to submit a brief 200-word history. He would like makers, such as Yamaha and Gibson, for instance, to update theirs. He can be reached at lelibin@optonline.net.
Carolyn Bryant, AMIS Vice President, is Senior Editor of The Grove Dictionary of American Music, which documents styles of music, composers and MI life in America, as well as American makers/manufacturers. Bryant would like 200-word articles submitted to cb.amergrove@gmail.com. Some of today’s manufacturers might have started their history in Europe, but, today, they are known as American manufacturers. For instance, Selmer was started in France, but it has much history here in the U.S. Keep in mind that today’s manufacturers and distributors might not see all of this published for many years, but, when it is, this is an opportunity to have their history recorded accurately, for future generations to study and remember.

To Participate,
Or Not To Participate
I recognize that not everyone will want to participate in all groups; not all of them are for everybody. At the very least, though, I hope that, now, the different groups know about each other. Communication between groups will help us gain knowledge. Information is included below on each group, as well as some smaller ones. I’m sure there are other associations of musical experts, so let’s keep the dialogue open and continuous.

AMIS, an international organization founded in 1971, promotes better understanding of all aspects of the global history, design, construction, restoration and usage of musical instruments in all cultures and from all periods. The membership includes collectors, historians, curators, performers, instrument makers, restorers, dealers, conservators, teachers and students. Membership levels comprise Regular and Student, Joint and Institutional. Annual dues are $45 to $70. Visit them online at www.amis.org.

NAMM, an international organization founded in 1901, promotes the music products industry and the benefits of music making. It has more than 9,000 members representing 100-plus countries. The NAMM Library & Resource Center provides access to historical data, ranging from statistical records on retail music products sales to videotaped interviews of more than 1,000 members who have shaped our collective history, including that of NAMM, manufacturers, retailers, music in general (as it pertains to instrument and product innovations), and legacy collections. NAMM’s association membership includes manufacturers, dealers and retailers. Annual dues are $195. Visit them online at www.namm.org.

NAPBIRT, founded in 1976, promotes the highest standards of musical instrument repair by providing members with a central agency for the exchange of information and continued education. Continuing education is attained through regional clinics, courses and annual international conferences, which provide more than 300 hours each year of face-to-face instruction via lectures, demonstrations and hands-on sessions. Membership includes more than 1,300 technicians located in more than 20 countries. Membership comprises apprentice/student, associate and professional. Annual dues are $100 to $140. Visit them online at www.napbirt.org.

Further Resources

American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers: www.afvbm.org
The Guild of American Luthiers: www.luth.org
Guitar Luthiers: www.guitarluthiers.net/home.php
The Piano Technicians Guild: www.ptg.org
The Guitar Foundation of America: www.guitarfoundation.org
Historic Brass Society: www.historicbrass.org
The Southern California Association of Luthiers and enthusiasts (SCALe):
      www.guitarbuilder.org/main.html
The American Society of Appraisers: www.appraisers.org

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