Malaysian wins international award for making medieval musical instruments
Despite this being his first attempt at making a hurdy-gurdy from scratch, Andrew Tan recently won first prize in a competition, much to his surprise.
A hurdy-gurdy is a medieval European instrument and Italian luthier Tan won the gold prize for his reproduction of the instrument at the Malta International Baroque Instrument Competition in January.
“Winning the award means a lot to me. It was a challenge to build the room in the style of an old instrument. The rarity of its handcrafted today is indeed notable, ”said the 33-year-old in an email interview from Parma, Italy.
As a luthier, Tan makes and restores stringed instruments like violins, cellos and violas.
Former high school student Foon Yew developed an interest in making stringed instruments when he was the conductor of the school orchestra.
It was at university that he met a hurdy-gurdy for the first time.
“I was fascinated by the techniques used to build the ancient instrument. The methods are so different from the way instruments are built in modern times, ”says Tan, who has a degree in violin making from the Parma School of Violin Making.
While winning the gold medal may seem like luck for beginners, the craftsman admits that making the hurdy-gurdy was a painstaking effort.
To create the hand-cranked violin, Tan used an instrument blueprint and looked at research material from Italian museums and libraries. It took him two years to build the award-winning masterpiece.
“To build it you need to have skills in woodcarving and woodturning, and an understanding of the intricacies involved in handcrafted metal accessories. The judges were amazed that these elements were integrated harmoniously into the instrument, ”explains the trained violinist born in Johor Baru.
Tan’s work is specialized, especially in these days when assembly line musical instruments are at dime. But what makes Tan a cut above the rest is his interest in reproducing old violins. He is perhaps the only Malaysian who specializes in recreating stringed instruments made between the 13th and 18th centuries.
“Many European museums preserve the original state of old instruments because they do not wish to make them playable again. My role is to study these instruments, to reproduce them and to give a practical experience to those interested.
In the space of seven years as a luthier, Tan has reproduced some twenty old instruments, including the cello, the lute and the medieval hurdy-gurdy from the Baroque era.
He is also passionate about the research and conservation of European historical instruments.
“I like to study and preserve the history of violin making. Older instruments require more care because they are delicate and most of the time fragile.
“By practicing these long forgotten skills, I can understand the essence of ancient instruments and experience how quality instruments were made. Through conservation methods, we can uncover more historical roots and ‘secrets’ of instrument production that can be passed down from generation to generation, ”says Tan, who also deals with antique instruments owned by collectors. private.
He adds that there are different levels of preservation of an instrument. In some cases, it comes down to simple cleaning, restoring it to a playable state, or repairing damaged parts.
“My responsibility is to preserve the tradition and pass it on to maintain its vitality. “
The prolific craftsman has also made 30 commissioned instruments, including violins, violas and cellos for professional musicians.
“Before accepting a new ordered instrument, I discuss with the musician to understand the sound and the reaction he expects from the instrument. We draw plans and decide on materials, then select woods and estimate a time frame to complete the instrument.
“What I like about my job is the satisfaction of seeing musicians enjoy playing instruments that I have made to measure for them”, explains Tan, who charges between 62,500 RM (13,000 €) and RM86,600 (€ 18,000) for each part ordered.
The fees might seem a bit expensive, but Tan says making a violin takes a lot of work. Unknown to many, it takes him about a year to complete an ordered part.
“The materials could increase the preciousness of each instrument. Some instruments are made with mother of pearl inlays and animal bones, while others are handcrafted with intricate wood carving.
“The hardest part of making a violin is knowing the type of sound you want and the wood material that goes best with it,” says Tan, who is fluent in Italian.
Tan is also a member of Coro Paer, a Parma-based choir that specializes in recreating medieval music using old-style instruments. In the group, he sings and plays the medieval hurdy-gurdy, handmade by him.
Throughout the email interview, one can feel Tan’s enthusiasm for the preservation of ancient instruments. His vision is to bring together the most informative and historically accurate data on luthiers, while reproducing rare and forgotten instruments.
“I want to discover how luthiers worked and the geographical influences from various parts of Europe. Perhaps a study in the biography of a luthier could lead me to know the economic state he lived in, or diseases that could have killed an entire generation of luthiers, monarchs and political figures. Maybe I can find out how technological discovery and machine development may have changed the way instruments were made, ”says Tan, the eldest of two siblings.
One can only imagine Tan working on his next commissioned violin. While his nimble fingers can hurt him when working on hardwood, we imagine him smiling as he completes another masterpiece.
For more details, visit Tan’s Facebook page or follow his Instagram (@andreas_liutaio).