Resounding in the Mountains: Musical Instrument Makers, Red Spruce, and Appalachian Forests

Authors: Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Environmental Perception, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Music, Forests, Craft Labor, Appalachia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 3:55 PM / 5:35 PM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Musical instrument makers in the state of West Virginia in the United States pursue “singing”, lively
instruments that capture ideals of musical tone and “re-enchant” (Jenkins 2000) their work and lives
through relationships with craft materials and the forest landscape. The main suitable tonewood for
instrument tops in Appalachia, red spruce (Picea rubens), intersects with makers’ desires to craft
instruments in the style of famed makers such as the CF Martin Company and the Gibson Company as
well as provide instruments imbued with a sense of place. While the demand for and symbolic import of
instruments made with local wood seems to grow, the availability of the requisite tree species is
dominated by resource materialities and temporalities (Ferry and Limbert 2008) of large land-owners
and timber producers that privilege timber harvest in short cycles that clash with the needs of musical
instrument crafters.
In this paper, I join efforts to explore and analyze the political ecology of musical instruments through
the affective material relationships (Bates 2012; Dudley 2014; Roda 2015; Qureshi 2000) and global
flows of craft materials (Martinez-Reyes 2015; Greenberg 2016) placed in an environment burdened
with local, regional, and national imaginaries and the futures and failures of capitalist modes of
production (Kingsolver 2011; Newfont 2012; Scott 2010). By presenting narratives collected through
ethnographic apprenticeships, interviews, and archival research, I argue that these makers navigate
unique approaches to the forest environment, the global exchange of sonic craft materials, and meaning
of their work through the craft of musical instruments.

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