By BERNIE DWYER
HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 13.- In May 2006 an Irish piano tuner, Ciaran Ryan, visited Cuba as part of an international piano tuner’s brigade organized by tuner Ben Treuhaft from New York. The trip proved to be the beginning of a new Irish-Cuba connection.
Treuhaft had initiated a scheme whereby unwanted pianos from the US could be shipped to Cuba where he perceived there was a distinct shortage of instruments due to the ravages of heat, humidity and termite infestation. A lack of equipment and tools, exacerbated by the US trade, cultural and economic blockade, contributed greatly to the problems faced by tuners, technicians and musicians alike.
Ryan’s curiosity was aroused, and on his return to Ireland he set about organizing two fundraising concerts with the help of the music community. These concerts were a huge success and Ryan returned to Cuba in February 2007 along with two fellow tuners, Paul Wade and Alex Jeffers, to assess how best this money could be used.
They identified some pianos for restoration and ran an intensive three week workshop for young trainee Cuban tuners at the Escuela National de Arte in Havana.
In Havana, Ciaran also came into contact with the Cuban Ministry for Culture and after consultation with them and his Irish colleagues, it was decided that an organization be set up to explore the possibilities of exchange and collaboration between Ireland and Cuba, not only in Ryan’s specialist area, piano tuning and restoration, but also in other areas of the arts.
Back in Ireland, this organization was given a name “Una Corda” and with the close participation of the Cuban Ambassador in Ireland, Noel Carrillo, it set about its tasks.
One was to use some of the money raised at the concerts in Ireland to purchase piano supplies, strings felts, hammers and tools to send to the students in Havana. This was done by word of mouth -if an Irish tourist was traveling to Cuba, he or she could take a small bag of supplies in their luggage, weighing no more than a kilo, and meet with Alexis Sanchez, a piano technician , in Havana. These supplies would then be passed on to other students and also some of the more elderly blind piano tuners, whose work is threatened by lack of equipment. This scheme has proved phenomenally successful; to date, more than 120 bags have made their way to Cuba with travelers all too eager to help in such an unusual and worthy project.
The second task was somewhat larger in its scope. In Central Havana, the National Piano Workshop has long since fallen into disrepair through years of neglect through lack of resources and the effects of the US blockade. This building was earmarked as an ideal place to channel some of the Irish money and effort and it is hoped that in Spring 2009, work will begin on bringing this building back to life as a center for repair, restoration and teaching.
Meanwhile, the contact with the Ministry of Culture was strengthening and in October 2008, Leonore de la Rosa, a ministry official with responsibility for International Collaboration, visited Ireland. She met with Ryan who, with colleague Ellen Cranitch, a musician and broadcaster, and fellow tuner Alex Jeffers, had organized a series of meetings with key Arts Institutions throughout Ireland, such as the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, The Newpark Music Centre, The Institute of Art, Design and Technology and the National Sculpture Factory, among others.
This provided vigorous and enthusiastic exchange and sowed the seeds for cultural engagement involving students of art, music, and dance as well as professional practitioners in these areas.
At present these connections are being consolidated and it is hoped that in time, Cuban artists can come to Ireland to study and teach and Irish artists can visit Cuba to savor the rich cultural life there.
(Originally published by http://www.cubarte-english.cult.cu)