William R. Cumpiano

Spanish Version

Institution: The Puerto Rican Cuatro Project

Position: coordinator

Research: The Puerto Rican Cuatro Project is an organization that strives to bring the work of Puerto Rican musical folk artists and artisans before a broader audience and create a greater understanding and appreciation of Puerto Rican musical culture and traditions. At the center of Puerto Rican culture we find its musical traditions, and at the center of Puerto Rican musical traditions we find the cuatro. The perennial love affair between Puerto Ricans and their native stringed instruments can be traced back to the seventeenth century. Over these great spans of time, the cuatro has served Puerto Rican society in significant ways: it inspirited their secular and religious festivities; it served as a companion in their pain and solitude. It attended their prayers and exaltations. From isolated communities deep in the island's interior to the cosmopolitan cities of San Juan, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles-as far even as Hawaii-the cuatro reminds Puerto Ricans of the common bond which unites them across distance and experience. Thus the cuatro has come to command a central position within the Puerto Rican cultural iconography, much like bagpipes serve the Scot and harps the Irish. At key moments in the island's history the cuatro served as a compelling symbol of national identity. To many, the cuatro symbolizes Puerto Rico. Over the last five years Juan Sotomayor, veteran staff member of the New York Times and William Cumpiano, teacher, author, and maker of stringed instruments, have been searching for what they call the "lost history" of the cuatro and of Puerto Rico's musical craft traditions. The two men came together when they discovered that they shared a passion for the cuatro, and an awareness that the body of traditions encircling it had never been comprehensively documented. They also shared the apprehension that crucial links in the cuatro's story were being cons tantly lost, surviving as they do in only the fleeting recollections of the Puerto Rican people. The result of this shared concern was the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project. The Cuatro Project would provide the means to rediscover and document this "lost history" and return it to the Puerto Rican people in ways most accesible to them

Over the years the staff of the Project has grown. Presently it consists of a coordinator, a researcher and a media specialist. The Project has been supported financially by several public, private and commercial entities and in personal terms by over a hundred participating artists, artisans and scholars, all sharing a deep affection for the cuatro and an appreciation of its importance to the cultural life of all Puerto Ricans.

Publications: To date, the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project has created: a historic chronology of Puerto Rican musical instrument traditions from the Discovery to the present day; a technical chronology following the evolution of the physical forms and craft techniques of the family of Puerto Rican stringed instruments; a collection of over a hundred transcribed interviews with the most prominent figures in the field; a collection of hundreds of new and recovered photographs and recordings; the production of a pilot video documentary, "In Search of the Puerto Rican Cuatro"; a collection of historic films on Puerto Rican musical craft traditions; the mounting of three major Cuatro festivals; and sponsorship of several live per formances and the organizing of several exhibits in the northeastern United States. The goals of the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project are to produce a textbook, a CD-ROM interactive electronic book; a companion CD recording; a feature-length video documentary (which has just received significant funding from the National Endowment for the Arts); a quarterly journal, an ongoing presence on the internet, and an ongoing series of public presentations and exhibits

Other: We would love to have a web page to put out all the text and audiovisual material that we have, but don't have the money or knowledge to do so. Although we have a good multimedia computer at our disposal, our computer literacy is fair to moderate.

Contact: ElJibaro@crocker.com