NWA workshop leader Carlos Flores organizes an exciting annual initiative called the Puerto Rican Tiple Project. It is a week-long workshop during which participants construct their very own Puerto Rican tiple under the guidance of the renowned guitar-maker William Cumpiano.
While the main activity of the Tiple Project is to construct an instrument, Carlos says that it also serves the greater purpose of maintaining the presence of the instrument as well as Puerto Rican music and culture. The tiple, which is a small, four- or five-stringed guitar-like instrument, most often used to plat traditional folk songs, has been around for hundreds of years. However, Carlos says, as its use has faded from Puerto Rican culture through the years, so has much of its history. This is why the Puerto Rican Tiple Project and other similar initiatives, such as Project KALINDA and the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project (both of which Carlos has been involved with) have taken on the important task of preserving the tiple and other instruments that face a similar fate.
Project participants began on a Tuesday with several pieces of wood and, with the tutelage of Cumpiano, finish by Sunday with a completed instrument, which they then get to keep. Many of the participants go on to take classes and learn to play their newly built tiples. Both Baba Tony Brown and Zoran Zeravica, two NWA writers who participated in the most recent project, expressed their amazement at beginning the week with several non-descript pieces of wood and transforming the raw material into a functional instrument throughout the week.
Baba Tony and Zoran entered the workshop for different reasons. Baba Tony, a storyteller by trade, was interested in exposing himself to a new culture through the workshop and gaining new material for his stories. Zoran, a woodworker by trade, wanted to construct something that was completely new to him as well as learn about the culture and stories surrounding the tiple. However, they each say they gained much more from their participation in the project than these initial goals. Both Baba Tony and Zoran spoke of the community that the project fosters. Their group was extremely diverse, and so each participant had a different perspective on the instrument and the culture surrounding it. This, Baba Tony and Zoran say, fostered a culture of sharing and fellowship within the group. Zoran noted that the group was made up of “people who might pass on the street and say ‘hi,’ but through this project [they] got to interact and get to know one another.”
Another aspect of the project that both Baba Tony and Zoran said they appreciated was the focus on preservation and the historical significance of the tiple – the reason Carlos works to keep it going year after year. Baba Tony said that, moving forward, he will make an effort to incorporate what he has learned of the tiple and Puerto Rican culture into his own storytelling saying, “History is history and we have to keep telling it.”
Does the Puerto Rican Tiple project sound like something you might be interested in supporting or even participating in? Contact Carlos at (773) 430-5929 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. You do not need any prior experience with woodworking or the instrument itself to participate – the project is open to all who are interested.
Editor’s Note: We should’ve mentioned that the Puerto Rican Tiple Project is hosted and sponsored by the San Lucas United Church of Christ, which is also where one of NWA’s weekly workshops is held, and co-sponsored by the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project. Funding for the project comes through fundraising and donations.
And, is there a musical instrument, tool, or another piece of your own culture that you are struggling to keep relevant? Tell us about it in the comments.