MusicWood

March 19, 2016, 12:52 PM · This morning I saw the film MusicWood (2012), as part of the Environmental Film Festival that occurs at Augustana. I mentioned I would see it in yesterday's post, and I discussed wood there as well, but never in any of my previous posts have I been affected about wood and nature than I have been today!

The film began by discussing acoustic guitars (and every time I heard “guitar”, I would substitute “violin”, since both instruments use spruce for their tops and ebony for their fingerboards, although the focus was acoustic guitars and the specific type of spruce used) and how important music in general is for us. It mainly took place in Alaska in the largest rainforest area filled with trees (although Madagascar houses rosewood and ebony), but also filled with stumps, and places where the wood was cut down and possibly disposed of.

There were three battling corporations: the Greenpeace organization, who sought to protect the forest from all costs; the Sealaskan group, who was just cutting several sections of forest and wanting to keep it as their property, and the guitar organization (I forgot which company), who wanted the cutting down of trees to be more controlled. Basically, in Alaska was where they got all the spruce, so I presume some violin-makers from America (maybe with my violin!) used some of the spruce trees.

And they discussed how, if you look at the spruce and count the rings, you can tell these trees were 300-600 years old before they were cut to make these instruments, which shows, as they said in the video, these instruments are like living things in their own respect, ancient even if they were just now made. So even a violin made just yesterday can be looked at in a brand-new light from this perspective. I think this shows a brand-new respect for all musical instruments, specifically for us stringed instruments, violins, violas, even guitars. When I pick it up to play or practice it, I might now see my violin in a completely new light than before, by counting these tree rings and seeing the beauty just on how ancient the wood itself is.

forest

But it isn’t so easy to just make these instruments, because we need to have the wood to make them, and thousands of instruments are made and sold to musicians to play them. And we do not have an unlimited supply of wood on the planet, as much as it may seem we do. It’s easy to cut down trees, but it’s impossible to undo that. Cut down too many trees, and we're not only suffocating, but we're ruining the lives of many ecosystems in the process. We need these forests and trees to survive, but without harvesting their wood, we won't be able to create new instruments to play music. This is why MusicWood was created, an attempt on the three groups to try to come to solid ground on how the forest could be used so that nothing goes to waste, and so more musical instruments could be created. This is still being debated today, and a question was raised in the film that was never really answered: Is it right to cut down the forest to make music?

Some of the musicians discussed how their instruments breathe with life when they sound, and while they are guitarists, I think it of course applies to us violinists as well. But how much longer can we go on cutting down trees and creating new things from them? Trees are centuries old and take a long time to mature and develop, and of course, we cut them down so fast it's like a second from their point of view. Of course, there are plenty of violins that are already in existence, some from hundreds of years ago, but luthiers do not just want to stop making instruments. The film didn't really have any clear-cut solution, but I think it changes how I think of the world we all share: perhaps you see it in a new light, too.

The planet we live on is precious. All its materials are not unlimited. Yet music stands alone from every other craft, I think. It has a life and a mind of its own. We need to take from the earth in order to create it, but perhaps we can think of it as extending what Nature has already provided us, especially when an instrument is made entirely out of wood. I think Music is the Universe’s composition, and every instrument made adds another note to the piece. But while we should still be weary about how we use our trees, we cannot let music die! I hope we will come to a good conclusion about this for the sake of the future of the natural world of Planet Earth.

Replies

March 26, 2016 at 11:06 AM · I think I read in the "New Scientist" that Guadagnini, when pressed on his deathbed for the secret behind old Cremonese violin making, said "Use old wood" (I haven't been able to verify this on the internet), but I just wonder whether he was misinterpreted. Did he mean "Store the wood for ages", the traditional understanding (The New Scientist article suggested this might have been a cruel practial joke on his part), or did he mean "Use wood from old trees"?

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