Paki-Bashing and ThomAnn

When I was much younger ( circa 1977)  I worked with a research fellow from London. He was an M.D.  One day as we were trading lies we got to talking about the kind of patients that came into the emergency room . At the VA it was quite common to have the ambulance pick up some poor old vet who had been on a bender and have him stay overnight to dry out. My friend Carl then told me that in London it was quite common to see south east Asians come in the emergency room.  Why ? I asked ? thinking that it was a common ruse to get immediate medical attention.  He said it in one word:  Paki-bashing. So where were we in 1977?   Flower power had withered away and Skinheads and punk came into the scene. We often think of punk and skinheads being synonymous but they’re not.  The unfortunate aspect of Skinheads was they represented an aspect of disenfranchised youths with little education and little in the way of prospects for work.  Remember this was back in the days of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan when the nations problems could be blamed on too much government and Unions overreaching . If that wasn’t enough there was always the sentiment of Foreigners taking over the country and taking away jobs.  Sound Familiar? Of course. The long and short of it was Pakistani immigrants in the UK were often targeted by Skinheads and their likeminded ilk as favorite target for beatings. why? Or Why not? The best answer I can give you is that they seemed a convenient target. If you have to blame some one for the woes of your country why not some one different from you.

I digress:  My favorite subject :  the Cheap , the bad and the ugly.  Today’s topic hits on only one of the three , but has led to some ugly words among  Early Guitar members.

Check out the  struggle  between small minds and reason http://earlyguitar.ning.com/video/review-of-thomannde-baroque?id=2111060%3AVideo%3A20046&page=2#comments

If you don’t want to read the messages : here’s what it’s about : The Thomann baroque guitar is a baroque guitar that you can find on Ebay for about $700. It’s made by the same folks who made the famous $400 Pakistani renaissance lute and the  $1500 Pakistani Theorbo.  The original poster Rob McKillop was gracious enough to video a demonstration of one of these . His bottom line was : it’s ok , it’s not a great instrument , it’s pleasant enough and enough to get you going. Then the Paki- bashing remarks came and then the China bashing started. Amazing what  freedom of speech reveals. Since these rather harsh remarks came up Rob has withdrawn the video and has adamantly refused to make further comment on these guitars.  So… that leaves me with this story: A few weeks ago I was left with one of these Thomann guitars . It was exactly as Rob had described: small voiced , pleasant enough sounding , but not much there . Nice woods , nice design,  so, so workmanship. My first impression was the top was too stiff. This usually happens when the builder makes the top too thick or has oversize bracing. The notes tended to die very quickly with no bloom.  The top didn’t flex much. I was asked to put a new top on it.  New top or no the first thing to do is to open it up and see what was inside .

Thomann Guitar inside

]Voboam interior

From the pictures you can see that there is a huge amount of  heavy bracing on the top.  As builder Scott Tremblay put it :” I have bracing like that in my house…”   Compare that to the Voboam Guitar .  A few passes with a chisel and plane and all the braces below the second bar were removed. I taped the top back onto the body with masking tape and restrung  and retuned it. The difference?  Night and Day . The texture is characteristic of a baroque guitar, chimey , brisk and throaty. ( I’m starting to sound like a Wine snob , arent I ?). The volume has increased substantially.

More later as I finish up on this thing.

6.13.2011 :  I’ve managed to finish putzing on this thing today, here’s the run down: All the braces  below the second bar were removed. I replaced the top with no barring below , the result was a more  open sound , a longer sustain on the notes and more volume but… the top sagged in the area in front of the bridge. Even with a light stringing of 2.8 kg per string the top would collapse . A very small brace  9mm high x 3 mm thick was run diagonally across the lower bout . This provided some some cross grain strength circumventing the sag.  Other things that happened : the bridge was cut to lower the action and reshaped to lower the mass. The nut was cut down to lower the action. The fishing line frets were replaced with graduated gut frets to make fretting easier.  The rosette was altered by removing the perforated paper layer  and  the overall  thickness of the rose was reduced by  shaving with a plane to about 50 % of the original mass. And last of all a small scoop was cut into the side profile to allow the fingers to attack the strings without hitting the soundboard.  Last of last of all was the strings were replaced with a combination of Savarez nylon and  Aquila copper overwound strings.

The end result ? much improved playability! The sound ? a much fuller open sound with a much broader dynamic range. The notes now actually sing and bloom. The only disappointment is that the e string is still weak and does not sing above the courses  very well. I stand by my previous statements : the guitar as it was received  was barely playable  ; it was plagued with poor action, terrible strings and a small muffled voice.  The notes were tinny and had a very fast decay.  For those of you who bought one of these things , please take it it your local lute/ guitar maker and have the above done and you will be pleasantly surprised what a difference it will make!

Another day , another year, a moment to reflect ( written new year’s day)

As the new year started the New year celebrations were remarkably tepid around our neighborhood. In past years the neighbors would light all manner of fireworks , bang on pots and generally get wiggy. Aside from one premature sonic bloom it was remarkably quiet. Being a boomer geezer we tend to think of ourselves as perennially young and with it but I find myself grateful just to be here these days as I am , geezer or not.  It’s a good time to reflect and count my blessings . Every time I bemoan that my body and eyes are failing me I remind myself at least my mind isn’t failing. I’m grateful for that and it reminds me that I am much more fortunate than most people. The business has suffered from the depression but I’m still here. I ‘d like to give a public thank you to all the people who have helped me in all the years that I ‘ve been involved in the string business. Better to thank you now while you’re still alive than at your eulogy. First: a thank you to Ervin Somogyi who was willing to take me into his tutelage and get me past the inertia when we were both still young and naive. A thank you to the ever diplomatic  Lyn Elder , who clued me to what was the right way to build a lute . The great northwest builders Bob Lundberg ( sigh , not with us anymore) , John Rollins and Ray Nurse for sharing without reservation what they knew so generously. A thank you to Jamey Belizzi and Steve Stein: despite their spy vs spy antics  for providing the many interesting opportunities when I got started. A thank you to Glenn Canin and Stephen Faulk for sharing their insights on craft despite the spy vs spy scenario. A thank you to local Repair man and builder  and raconteur George Peacock  for the moral support during the dark hours. A thank you to local lute luminaries  David  Tayler , Richard Savino for the good words.

And a thank you to all my clients and supporters who chose to have their projects worked on  by me rather than brand X.

Last but not least a heartfelt  thank you to my wife for putting up with me and all my quixotic ventures.

Calling Mr.Trump! Apprentices?

My favorite website for picking up Interesting and Annoying subjects Early Guitar NING:

A recent remark spinning on my previous rant about the politics of Cheap.

“I still don’t see why a 1000 eu (1500 USD) baroque guitar can’t be made in a shop that has apprentices setting up the work.  Cheaper materials?  Why not!  “

Apprentices: Everybody thinks they want to be an apprentice and build guitars. In the days of the renaissance and even before that children were relegated to a trade at an early age. There were several reasons for that : economic and economic.  A poor family could relegate their child to a craftsperson and that person would be obligated to feed and house his apprentice and eventually provide him with skills to make a living. In return the shopkeeper had help. Nobody did it for free. It cost the shopkeeper in terms of time, food and lodging he had to take time to train that person. The old system the apprentice would be relegated to the most menial jobs such as sweeping the floors, cutting the wood, and all the periphery chores before they let him even touch the tools. Then he would be trained on a single chore and did that over and over again until he did it well  and eventually  he worked  his way to learning the trade. If you look at the trades today, the electrician’s  apprentice get to dig the trenches and haul the supplies and maybe they got to lay out the conduit.

The problem with the writer’s remarks is that most small shops can’t afford apprentices .Most builders barely make a living let alone hire employees. In violin shops they still have the tradition of apprentices but even so it’s a dying practice because of the economics. After all who wants to train for years for a marginally sustainable business?  I’ve been approached by individuals from time to time to apprentice with me and I have taken on novices, but I certainly couldn’t afford to pay them. If apprenticeships exist they are usually paid for by the apprentice for the shopkeeper’s time. Even  the idea of apprenticeship has changed: Today’s apprentice’s want to make a guitar in a hurry and get out and then immediately call themselves Luthiers.

In my shop  we can go through the process and maybe you’ll  wind up with a decent instrument but it’s a rarity on the first try. Often the would be apprentice has no woodworking skills. I can teach a person how to sharpen their tools and how to use them but real skill development takes experience and repetition and time, an expensive commodity.

In my own experience I apprenticed through local guitarmaker Ervin Somogyi. I essentially paid him the price of an instrument to have him guide me through the process. We made my first lute in three months.I was quite proud of it when I finished , but in retrospect it was a turd.  He showed me a few things such as layout and tooling and assembly but would he have trusted me to make parts for his guitars? An Emphatic no. I certainly didn’t have the mastery of the tools at that point and I hadn’t developed a sense of craft aesthetics at that point either. At that point I doubt he would have even considered anything that I made to be associated with his brand name. Why should he have ? I was still unskilled and wet behind the ears.

My own apprentice experience: I’ve had some real earnest people come through the shop hoping to learn guitar or lute making. Some gave up after a few weeks realizing the notion was more romantic than the actual scraping and cutting. Others stuck it out and came away with an instrument but not the confidence to do it on their own. In all cases they cost me more in time and effort than the money that I was paid. In one case I had my novice scrape my rosewood sides for me. He seemed to be doing fine job until I looked at the sides to discover that they were 2mm at the ends 0.9mm in the center and anywhere from 1.3 to 0.45 mm at the edges. Now that’s the cost of an apprentice.

Post script : the banter on the politics of cheap continue….

Cheap cheap cheap.

The phrase redwingCheap Chinese made , harken back to the 50’s when Japanese  goods were the scorn and ridicule of the American market. Made in Japan was a running joke with stamped metal toys.  Now it’s cheap Pakistani made, before that it was cheap Korean made. It’s easy to be derisive of these products that come from abroad but let’s look at the perception of quality: Nobody complains about their cheap Chinese made Ipod, or their cheap Chinese made Iphone. Comes from Apple , must be above reproach isn’t that right? Nokia / Erikson phones, sounds Nordic doesn’t it? made in China. Cheap Japanese radios?  Sony changed that didn’t they?

Quite frankly I get pretty annoyed when I hear how people say that we should boycott Chinese goods because Chinese made goods are cheap and poorly made. They used to say the same about Japanese Goods until Honda and Toyota ate the Big3’s  lunch.  Of course then it became unAmerican to buy Japanese , because it undermined the US auto workers. So is it patriotic to buy shitty American cars like the fabled AMC  Pacer and Gremlin?  I don’t know about you , but I actually had a chance to drive a Pacer. It was something, it looked like a Jetsons space car and drove like a slug on amphetamines.  Maybe it could’ve made Ralph Nader’s  love to hate list but Ford got that  honor with  the exploding gas tank Pinto another hallmark of American innovation.  But speaking of cheap cars of that era, there was also the Datsun B210 Honey Bee, a Japanese  import that was the cheapest of the cheap. It was cheap, it looked like the worst limitation of a Detroit muscle car with its oversize black racing stripe, but it actually drove quite well and got very good gas mileage.  It wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t a BMW, it wasn’t sexy , it couldn’t pull 0 to 60 in  7 seconds , It didn’t have carpetting,  armrests,  moldings,  reclining seats but it got you there in reasonable comfort , at 39 mile per gallon.

All of the above brings me back to an on going  Early Guitars NING discussion about the Thomann Baroque Guitar.  Cheap, cheap, cheap, it seems to be the favorite perjorative for the early music message board crowd.The subject was the Thomann Baroque guitar ; see http://earlyguitar.ning.com/forum/topics/thomann-baroque-guitar-uk . For those of you who don’t know; this is a Baroque guitar offered up by Thomann at about $700. You can find these on Ebay and various Web offerings. It has the same lineage as the famous Paki Lutes.

The readers reaction to Rob McKillop’s video were varied: I found it interesting that some readers decried that it was a job killer for luthiers, inferring that the low price would drive shopmakers out of business.  A second series of remarks questioned whether it was ethical to buy such a thing because no one could possibly make such an instrument at such a low price without exploiting the workers in terms of wages and hours and possibly child labor (  inferring that such things happen in Southeastern countries and Asia) .  A few said it’s a lousy cheap instrument a waste of resources and money ;save your money and buy a real baroque guitar. And rest said it cheap, it may not be the cat’s meow but will do .

The first point: It’s a job killer . Maybe,  if you’re in the business of making inexpensive baroque guitars. Honestly, how many people know the difference between a baroque guitar and a Fender guitar?  How many people really, really ,really want a baroque guitar?  Very few , it’s an esoteric market.  For those who make the silly things the clientele is small and a paying customer is as rare as hen’s teeth. I could make a dozen of them and list them for $799 and it would take me years to sell them.  How many people in the world have a sign or business declaration ” Just baroque Guitars ?” . A quick search on Google : none.  You can’t kill an occupation that really doesn’t exist.

A quote from the American Guitar Society from a citation about Jack Sanders and his Strad baroque guitar copy:

Baroque guitars are just becoming popular again,” he says. “Thirty years ago, it was rare to hear this music played on period instruments, and few luthiers were making the instruments. Now, it is becoming commonplace for classical guitarists to perform on vihuela and Baroque guitar, as well as 19th century Romantic guitars.”

Beg to differ Jack.  Most classical guitars stick to the classical guitar. I have yet to see a concert this year with a featured classical guitar player who would  whip out his Baroque guitar and say ” lemme play some Sanz and Corbetta  for you on the authentic Baroque guitar!”. The last person I saw do that was Michael Lorimer and that was 1975.  That was thirty five years ago. Few Luthiers , very few.

Ethical? It’s a slippery slope. You pay some one money for a product and it seems as if you were paying them a pittance.  But look at it this way: The average wage in China / India is about $5 a day. Granted $5 will buy you lunch and some change ( maybe…) in the US but in China a native lunch is probably about 75 cents ( mind you we’re not talking about going out to the Beijing MacDonald’s)  and probably even less in India. They don’t pay $1500 a month for a flat , they don’t have to pay $15 for a haircut.  Child labor? We can fool ourselves and say we only buy from makers who don’t use child labor, but in countries where destitution is rampant that’s what they do to survive. Making parts for cheap guitars and lutes is probably a lot more merciful than loading clay bricks or scavenging through dumps for a living  I don’t like it but it’s a fact of life in some countries even in the US. Think twice the next time you eat lettuce or strawberries.

Waste of resources? It’s relative to your perspective. As a waste of your personal resources ( meaning your money…) Personally I cringe when I see the thousands of guitars being made year after year and turned over as unwanted  junk. Prove it to yourself, go look at craigslist in the musical instrument listings and see how many cheap guitars are up for sale. Why do we keep buying this stuff? Because it’s cheap in our eyes and represents little economic harm to us if we decide it wasn’t the right decision. Making guitars that nobody wants is a real waste period. Thomann guitars may not be such a waste. Priced at under a thousand US dollars that’s still a lot of money certainly not $59.95 cheap. People who are economically challenged will have a realistic chance of playing a Baroque guitar without having to take a second mortgage.  From the perspective of wasting natural resources , it’s not so bad, they don’t use expensive endangered speices of lumber, it’s not decorated in Elephant Ivory, and I don’t know if the Nylo from which their strings are derived from are in any danger. Unless there’s absolutely no market for these things ,it’s  not such a terrible use of resources .  I’ve seen worse waste: Brazilian Rosewood guitars made by amatuers who really weren’t skilled enough to use the material,  Solid Honduras mahogany stair framing because a silicon valley tycoon could afford it.

The latest spin is that no one in the west could make one for less than a thousand dollars.  I could debate that and I have ( see Lute NING  under ask the builders )  . But that gets back to my initial question why would anyone build such a  thing in the first place?  There’s that movie quote ( Field of Dreams)  ” build it and they will come …”  But that’s  Hollywood.

When we talk about cost and perceived  quality basically it boils down to this:  As in the car market and the beer market and everything else we percieve quality and status through pricing.  Calvin Klein jeans must be better than Kmart jeans because  they cost more . Mercedes Benz must be better than KIA , why else would it cost more?  Gibson Guitars must be better than Epiphone even though it’s the same corporation.   Why else would the most most economically challenged class of people always strive for Mercedes and Designer jeans?

To end this rant, what’s  so wrong about driving a B210?

Addendum: Shortly after I posted this , the following message board topic came up : In a nutshell  the writer says he wants to study the lute and the responses are get a cheap starter and save your money for a real one and capping it so far , Cheap to you but expensive for me nonetheless. This topic comes up about every six months on the Dartmouth site as well.

http://lutegroup.ning.com/forum/topics/hello-advice-sought-from-a?xg_source=activity

To wit : the favorite topics on any lute discussion board  are:   Why gut strings are better than fake gut strings,  Thumb in or thumb out , Why aren’t there any cheap good  lutes, how do I tie my frets, and why Sting is or isn’t good for the Early Music Movement.

Chinese Made or Made in China?

commy lute

Okay , the jig is up . There are no more Chinese Lutes available. In a manner of speaking there never were any to begin with.  Made in China? No.

Master Lu and Master Zheng?  They never existed.

Chinese made  ? in a manner of speaking yes.  I’m Chinese .

For those very few people who inquired and bought one of my “Chinese ” lutes  they actually got one that was made by me in my shop. Seriously , did any of you think that the Chinese would break into the market and flood the world with lutes? Maybe , but not likely.

This whole Shenanigan started several years ago when a discussion came up on the Dartmouth Lute discussion forum when some readers started to whine about why there weren’t any quality inexpensive lutes on the market for beginners.  Some arguments that came forth were : it’s a limited market.  Nobody could do it and make a profit. Nobody has been clever enough to use state of the art design and industrial arts prototyping to make it cheap enough, and then proverbial cost , time ,quality triad argument.  As the economy shrank and my waiting list evaporated I was commiserating with another maker about the economy that same topic came up,  could we garner more business by making a lute that could appeal to guitar players and other would be lutenists without being terribly expensive and foster another wave of players ?

To answer that question I had to ask that real basic question: Is there even a market out there if the product existed? From there came inception of Make Superior Music Company in Jianqiang .  I made several copies of a Paul Thompson six course lute in Douglas fir and Englemen spruce. ALthough of humble materials these lutes played and sounded  as well as any lutes I’ve ever made.  I posted the lutes for sale  section at Dartmouth and  spread the word locally.  In the span of six months I got only a few inquirires: Two actually bought the lutes,  another committed and never sent the payment , two declined after some hemming and hawing , another  asked to reveal my source.  Those who actually bought the lutes were quite satisfied. But everyone else balked.  Some even asked for a lower price because they were after all ” Chinese” or “Cheap ” Imports.  In my scant correspondence it was amazing how many time the term “Cheap “  came up.

Local interest?  There’s a joke about about the death of  Calvin Coolidge . Upon the announcement of his death  his associates replied ” How could you tell?”  That’s about the size of  it. Shopped around to local players  and teachers they praised them but nobody bit.

In the span of six months  7 inquiries , one on line sale , one local sale  , one jilting at the altar,  one castigation and a few I changed my minds : not much demand  to support a cottage industry.  I examined the spectrum of the argument : Make fewer , charge more, make more charge less.  Both models generated about the same amount of business which leads one to conclude there really isn’t much of a market , at least not on the US.

I often wonder about the ebay lutes made by Middle East Music. I  see scores of them advertised at $400 to $700.  Do they ever get sold?

Would it have made a difference if I had said they were made by me ?  Probably not. But I laugh when I think of one local individual looking at it and castigating the poor craftsmanship. Maybe I am a hack after all …

Polish your wood sir?

Local Luteplayer and raconteur Alfred has been building a lute in my shop and he’s just about finished.  One of the last things to do is to apply finish , we chose to do French Polish. For those of you who don’t know; that’s shellac applied by rubbing with a pad or ” muncea” . The Shellac is applied sparingly with a pad lubricated with a dab of oil gradually building a very thin flexible film. One glides the pad on and gently rub in figure eights repeatedly until the finish builds . Of course there are two essential ingredients; the shellac , and the oil. Here our story begins from Alfred:

So the other day I went to get another bottle of mineral oil at Walgreens.  I
blazed around the place but could not locate it, so…

…I approached one of the clerks there.

___

Alfred: Hi, I’d like to find out whether you guys carry mineral oil - can you
help me?

Clerk: Certainly sir - what was that you needed again?

A: Mineral oil, please.

Clerk: For lubricating your car, sir?

A: No sir, I need it for use with - (thinks suddenly to self: do I actually need
to describe French Polishing for this guy?) - well, I use mineral oil in
finishing wood.

Clerk: Did you try a lumberyard, sir?

A: The lumberyard doesn’t carry mineral oil.  I was pretty sure I could find it
here at Walgreen’s…

Clerk: We don’t carry auto parts, sir.

A:  Yyyyyyyyyyyyyeahhhh…ummmm…okay so mineral oil is supposed to be pretty
common - I know baby oil contains a lot of mineral oil, but I don’t want to buy
baby oil because of the fragrance.

Clerk: You have a baby sir?

A: No sir, I do not.

Clerk: Whose baby did you need the oil for, sir?  Your sister’s?  Have you tried
baby powder?  Much better smell than baby oil, really…

A: What?  Um, no.  This is the stuff I need to help polish furniture…you know,
for finishing wood.

Clerk: Let me call my manager sir, so I can help you.

A: Thanks so much!

Clerk (to manager, who arrived promptly): Cathy, this gentleman would like some
mineral oil to polish furniture.

Cathy: Oh, sure - You couldn’t find that for him?  (rolls eyes) I’ll be right
back with some .

(returns with a can of Lemon Pledge)

Cathy: Here you are, sir.

A: Oh - I’m sorry, it wasn’t Lemon Pledge I wanted - it was simply a bottle of
mineral oil.  I used it to finish wood-

Cathy (turns to first clerk, and speaks to him in a low, conspiritorial voice):
Oh.  This guy is constipated.  Mineral oil is used for that.  He probably didn’t
want to discuss his constipation.

First Clerk:  You are having trouble going to the bathroom, sir?

A: What??  No.  I need mineral oil to assist me in the process of putting a
finish on wood.

First Clerk (smiling knowingly): Ahhhhh!!  I get it now - that’s right (air
quotes) for ‘finishing wood’, right? (winks and makes obscene gesture roughly
representative of a certain kind of repetitive hand motion.).

A: Well, I mean - huh?  (clerk bolts down another aisle, and returns with a
bottle of something called ‘personal lubricant’).

Clerk: Here you are sir!!  (winks, and beams)

A: This is not what I need.  I need a small bottle of mineral oil which is used
for a wood finishing process called French Polishing.  French Polishing is not a
sexual act; it is the act of applying a certain kind of finish to unfinished
wood
.  The last time I bought some it was in a 16-fluid oz bottle, and I bought
it at a Walgreen’s.  I am fairly certain that you carry it here.

Clerk: Have you tried the Castro Walgreen’s, sir?  They have - er - they carry
lots of - um - interesting products for ‘finishing wood’ (makes air quotes
 again).

A (realizing that he has somehow been transported to an alternate universe, one
in which everything is very Seinfeldian): Okay.  Let me be straight.  Yeah, I’m
constipated and I need mineral oil so I can go to the bathroom!  Can’t you help
me find some?  I looked around the store but couldn’t find it.

Clerk (whom I really give points to for remaining polite and helpful and
gracious): I would suggest suppositories, sir.  They’re really much better than
mineral oil.

A: So you *do* have mineral oil?

Clerk: Oh yes.  It’s right over here (goes to a nearby shelf, pulls a bottle of
mineral oil off the very back of the very bottom shelf, and hands it to me). 
Here you are, sir!  Thanks for shopping with us!  But wouldn’t you like me to
show you the suppositories and other constipation products?

A: No; this will do nicely.  Thank you for your kind assistance, sir!  (dashes
to counter)

Rosewood!

For those of you who buy instruments made of rosewood please have a look at the latest National Geographic Magazine . There’s a report on Madagascar and the illicit rosewood trade. It really put in perspective what we are giving up in the world to have our exotic woods. Some of you may argue that this is about illegal harvesting and poaching and that you may buy from a certified legal source. The problem is as the reporter states, corruption and indifference makes it hard to discern what is legally taken and what is not.

Anyone reading this feel free to comment what your reaction was . I welcome an open dialogue on this most important matter.

Addendum: If you read any of the guitar forums you’ll see that many builders have realised what an ecological disaster this is fostering
To read what some builders are saying try this :

http://www.acousticguitar.com/ubbcgi/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=12&t=004293#000003

On the other hand there are other forums where the readers have suggested that in light of the the ban on Madagasscar  Rosewood  they should buy up whatever is available ASAP. Nothing like a ban to spur more more self serving behaviour…

editorial note

For those of you who just want to look at the pictures go to custom strings and click the link to my Flickr  photo cache.

Reports of my death are bit premature , still

Mel Wong — choreographer known for strength onstage

July 23, 2003|By Steven Winn, Chronicle Arts and Culture Critic
(Page 2 of 2)

“Mel was very easygoing, but he was also quite playful as a person and an artist,” said UC Santa Cruz theater Professor James Bierman.

That quality, Bierman said, was instrumental in his teaching. “He managed to make all of his students look good onstage, no matter what their skill level might be.” One of his students, who worked as a striptease dancer, parodied that craft in a memorable fully clothed piece choreographed by Mr. Wong.

Recent reports from the Lute NING board reported Larry Brown’s website being inactive and then a post appeared with an obituary for Larry Brown. As it turns out with a sort of happy ending it turned out that the Larry Brown that died was a guitar repairperson not the lute builder. Larry is still alive and making lutes in Asheville NC it is last reported.

Which brings up the above obituary. Contrary to what people may want to think I still have INDY status ( I’m not dead yet…).  I’m still here maybe not prodigiously making lutes but working still.

Several years ago some of my colleagues found a feature article showing Mel Wong ( the other one ) in costume performing in a what appears to be a rather unfortunate costume- it looked like an oversize adult diaper. I got heckeled on that one for months. And as it turns out he was a very gifted dancer whom I knew nothing about.  All the obits that I saw praised his creativity, strength and athleticism. When I keel over at the workbench I hope that my acquaintenances could say half that much about me.

Train wrecks and things we can’t avert our eyes from

Trainwrecks , we’re horrified when we hear about them but we just can’t say no to having a look.  Eric’s lute took a fall and this is what happened. Not the end of the world but pretty distressing just the same.

yoshida

This one belongs to Jason Yoshida a Los Angeles based lutenist. Again resting on a chair and and unknowing brush by led it to the floor. It was pretty specatcular. The impact shattered the top and the bowl staves actaully came off the head block. It actually was repaired and restored to playing condition . You can hear the lute with it’s new top on this link:

http://www.jasonyoshida.com/instruments/baroque_lute.htm

Ramirez wreck

Ramirez  1 a  1979 the Segovia endorsed model.    A wonderful example of what happens when you practice all day and ignore your wife ( not mine!)  She threw it down the stairs and you see the end results.  They got divorced , sigh…

A drop, a kick and goal!

A local lutenist Eric had an unfortunate brush by and kerplunk!

baroqen guitar

And this is what happens when you don’t latch your case before you say good bye…

I’ll post more train wrecks as I find them in my files.

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