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Musical instruments

Fred Kamaka (left) with his brother Sam Kamaka Jr. Photo Tommy Shih
Spring 2017

Sweet strumming

Leaning back against a wall mounted with a variety of ukuleles, Fred Kamaka begins the story of his family’s 100-year-old ukulele business for a tour group at the factory in Honolulu.

“To be cool in the ’20s, you needed to have a coonskin cap and a uke in hand,” he says, “So my father started making ukuleles.”

A spry 91-year-old, Fred sprinkles the history with dry jokes, and periodically pulls down one of the ukuleles to musically punctuate a point.

His father, professional musician Samuel Kamaka Sr., traveled to New York and Europe and learned the luthier’s art before he returned to Hawai‘i and began … » More …

Keri McCarthy
Spring 2014

Music to a closed country

Keri McCarthy, associate professor of music, traveled to Burma [the Republic of Myanmar] last summer on a project to bring reed instruments to a country that had been politically and economically isolated for many decades. The largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, Burma is a mix of large cities, lush river valleys, steep mountains in the north, spectacular landscapes throughout, and a wealth of distinct cultures.

Political changes in the past three years have caused the country to slowly open to visitors and western culture. With help from a grant from WSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, McCarthy not only took advantage of this to … » More …

Spring 2011

Video: Finding the right note

“The heartbeat is the basis of rhythm.”

For 40 years, Washington State University alumnus John Elwood has followed that beat to create music and instruments.

Making something from nothing, to share with others, is his delight, he said. He carves wood into a variety of instruments. He also makes “canjos” – a take-off of a banjo made from string, a solid wood neck and a can. The can from Cougar Gold – a cheese made at the WSU Pullman creamery – is a local favorite

To learn more about Elwood, his music and the canjo, watch the video.

Spring 2011

Video: Canjo – John Elwood plays the Cougar fight song, “Shortnin’ Bread,” and his dulcimer

John Elwood, a maker of fine musical instruments and a 2001 graduate of Washington State University, crafts banjos from WSU cheese cans (like the iconic Cougar Gold).

Watch John play his “canjo” below and read more about his work in the spring 2011 issue.

Cougar fight song played on the canjo.

“Shortnin’ bread” played on the canjo (listen for the lyrical twist).

In addition to canjos, John plays folk music and creates whimsical and beautiful instruments like the goblin dulcimer … » More …

Spring 2011

Canjo

You’ve enjoyed the cheese, but what do you do with a Cougar Gold can?

John Elwood ’01 builds fine stringed instruments—dulcimers, mandolins, banjos, harpsichords— so using the iconic tin Cougar Gold can to craft a banjo seemed a logical choice. The Palouse-area resident created a canjo, a fretless, tunable instrument for all ages.

“These are three-string, robust instruments, have the scale dimensions of a violin, and are inexplicably pleasant to the ear,” says Elwood. “I blame it on the excellence of the cheese.”

His affection for WSU’s signature cheddar developed early as he helped his father, Lewis Elwood ’65, clean Troy Hall, the former … » More …

Fall 2009

Video: Poised for playing

Can trumpet players improve by changing the position of their feet and body? At Washington State University, honors student Leah Jordan and music professor David Turnbull measured trumpet students’ breathing and playing to analyze the difference a change of posture can make.

“Anyone who has taken music lessons has probably absorbed enough instructions about posture to feel like a raw recruit at basic training: Stand straight! Head up! Toes forward!

Leah Jordan, who is starting her senior year at Washington State University, says not to worry about forcing yourself into the “proper” position for playing an instrument. In fact, she says you’ll probably play better … » More …

Fall 2009

Poised for playing

Anyone who has taken music lessons has probably absorbed enough instructions about posture to feel like a raw recruit at basic training: Stand straight! Head up! Toes forward!

Leah Jordan, who is starting her senior year at Washington State University, says not to worry about forcing yourself into the “proper” position for playing an instrument. In fact, she says you’ll probably play better if you don’t—and she has the hard scientific evidence to prove it.

Jordan converted her personal experience as a trumpet player into an honors program research project that showed that most players play better if they stand the way their bodies naturally … » More …