FACTOID: Sustainable Agriculture in the Music Industry

As we all know, the Chinese have grown their industries in the last couple of decades to become the global economic engine. This is both a good thing and a not so good thing. The rest of the world reaps the benefits of a strong trading partner, buying goods in local currencies that the Chinese have to trade or reinvest in the world’s economies. While Asian goods have carried a stigma of poor quality in the past, that is clearly no longer the case with many Chinese companies.



A rather brilliant example is Eastman, a company begun 20 years ago by a young Chinese graduate of Boston University. Eastman gained a huge following by focusing on the manufacture of quality stringed instruments, especially violins. They sent their builders to the top lutherie schools in the US and Europe to learn the traditional skills. But then they built a factory to produce hand-made violins in a production process, with specialist teams overseen by master luthiers carving bellies or scrolls or framing bodiesĀ  in a process inspired by the great workshops of Markneukirchen and elsewhere in the late 19th-early 20th century. They also focused on using the best possible materials they could find.


Eastman, now a major manufacturer of violins and bows, is keenly aware of the problems of sustainable resources. Violin woods are becoming scarcer all the time, most especially the tropical hardwoods like ebony and pernambuco (the historically prized species of mahogany used for violin bows). Eastman donates a percentage of all bow sales to the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative, an effort by world musicians, instrument makers, and manufacturers to save habitat and reforestation in the Atlantic rainforests of Brazil.


Over the years, Eastman has expanded its reach, first into handmade archtop guitars made in the same manner as its violins, and then into the woodwind and brass markets through acquisitions of American companies (like the flutemaker Haynes), and partnerships with Chinese companies. Most recently, Eastman acquired a Chinese company that primarily supplied clarinet and sax reeds to the Chinese market. They have focused on quality, noting that the reeds were well made, but the cane used was not the best. So they have secured a long-term exclusive source of caneĀ  (“Canne de Provence(Arundo donax )) from the Var region of southern France, considered to be the home of the world’s best reed cane.


A bassoon reed

Image via Wikipedia

(As an aside, woodwind players are notoriously persnickety about their reeds. And for good reason. The reed is in direct contact with the player’s mouth and must perform in an intimately responsive way. While most clarinet and sax players rely on quality manufactured reeds, double-reed players (oboe, bassoon, etc.) often learn to make their own reeds to their specific requirements. This is one of the few instances where the musician must learn a precision handcraft.)


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