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Pocket Trumpets and Chicken-Feather Dusters—Innovations Shake Up Traditional Craft Industries

Old cell phones lying around unused at home can be connected to horns as amplified MP3 players. Musical instruments thus become decorative household items.

Old cell phones lying around unused at home can be connected to horns as amplified MP3 players. Musical instruments thus become decorative household items.

 

Should traditional crafts, crystallizations of our ancestors’ wisdom and technical mastery, be expected to die out as times change? Are they so easily replaced by the fresh and newfangled?

To promote brass instruments in Taiwan, Carol Brass (Hoxon Gakki Corporation) has shown great creativity in developing and marketing “mini pocket trumpets” and horns that amplify cell phone speakers. Their inventions have served to lengthen the reach of music. The designer Jiang Wen Zhong, meanwhile, has reduced the size of the traditional feather duster and added innovations to create a cleaning product that has found its therapeutic place on the desks of working professionals. Through their innovations, both are creatively working to extend the futures of traditional handicrafts.

 

By marketing mini pocket trumpets and other innovative instruments, Carl Lee, president of Carol Brass, is growing the numbers of Taiwan’s aspiring brass players.By marketing mini pocket trumpets and other innovative instruments, Carl Lee, president of Carol Brass, is growing the numbers of Taiwan’s aspiring brass players.

In the film Brassed Off, members of a British colliery brass band are despondent as local mines close. Their fighting spirit and hopes rejuvenate when a woman cornet player joins their group. It’s moving film. In particular, the touching melody of the flugelhorn solo in “Concierto de Aranjuez” revives the players’ hopes and prompts audiences to ponder the deep mysteries evoked by brass instruments.

First experience with horns

Upon arriving at the Carol Brass Tourism Factory in Chiayi’s Dapumei Industrial Park, one’s ears are flooded by a steady stream of children’s laughter. “Ha, ha, ha! It’s so much fun!” When children blow into a trumpet and hear it sound for the first time, they can’t help but laugh out loud. Music teacher Wang Man Chu instructs and encourages them: “Shape your lips like an M: Imagine there’s a fish bone on the tip of your tongue and you need to blow it out to create a sound.” When she blows out a melody, the students gather round and exclaim, “Wow!” Experiencing the clear bright highs of a brass instrument is truly uplifting.

The Carol Brass Tourism Factory offers the public an opportunity to experience brass instruments up close.The Carol Brass Tourism Factory offers the public an opportunity to experience brass instruments up close.

Customization and global marketing

The Carol Brass Tourism Factory was opened in 2015 by an established company with 30 years of experience making trumpets. For many visitors in their fifties and sixties, holding a trumpet and making a note with it for the first time realizes an unfulfilled musical dream from their childhoods.

In 1989, Carl K.A. Lee founded the company as an OEM producing horns—trumpets, trombones, flugelhorns and cornets—for foreign manufacturers. Although their quality was on par with large manufacturers, the profits were mostly taken by the trading company agents. In 2002 Lee decided to create his own brand—Carol—and to travel himself to trade fairs for orders. Then in 2011 the company redefined itself as Carol Brass.

In order to compete with major global manufacturers, Carol Brass has followed a strategy of emphasizing customization, allowing customers to make specifications about materials, mouthpieces, instrument bodies and even the thickness of the horn walls.

With their supple lips, children need only basic instruction to blow sounds from horns. Those notes bring a sense of excitement and accomplishment.With their supple lips, children need only basic instruction to blow sounds from horns. Those notes bring a sense of excitement and accomplishment.

With nimble production lines that allow the company to produce small quantities with great variety, CarolBrass is one of the few instrument manufacturers in Taiwan that handles the entire production process itself—from parts manufacture, to assembly, to marketing. A trumpet has more than 100 parts, requiring 240 standardized production processes. Through their precise designs and solder joints, the company’s engineers are able to create stably tuned instruments with beautiful color.

Shrinking trumpets, amplifying sound

Carol Brass sells its products to more than 30 countries around the world, including the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. But it was always a regret of Lee’s that the number of Taiwanese buying Carol Brass instruments remained low. Consequently, he decided to open the tourism factory, giving more people an introduction to the company. Many of them walk away with merchandise related to brass instruments.

Only one-third of the size of a regular trumpet, the mini pocket trumpet sacrifices nothing in terms of range and timbre.Only one-third of the size of a regular trumpet, the mini pocket trumpet sacrifices nothing in terms of range and timbre.

In order to increase the number of Taiwanese learning to play brass instruments, Lee thought long and hard and decided to work toward lowering the age required to learn these instruments. In 1998, Carol Brass specially released a special pocket trumpet for professional players that is about half the size of a regular trumpet, making it easy for musicians to carry a practice instrument with them when they travel. It is likewise well suited for lessons. Carol Brass then decided to “cause more trouble” by shrinking the trumpet still further. Such was the birth of the “mini pocket trumpet.”

“Mainly it was a matter of changing how the tubing was wound, such that the instrument is only about a third of the size of a typical trumpet and weighs 800 grams less.” They started with 3D modeling on a computer, explains Lee. They then went on to manufacture test models and make adjustments. The mini pocket trumpet has been patented in four places, including the United States and the EU. Whereas children previously couldn’t start practicing the trumpet until they were in third or fourth grade, now, thanks to the instrument’s smaller size, they can start learning it in their second year of nursery school.

Jiang Wen Zhong’s designs have put a new spin on traditional feather dusters.Jiang Wen Zhong’s designs have put a new spin on traditional feather dusters.

Great things do indeed sometimes come in small packages, and Carol Brass’s “mini” instruments have won OTOP product design awards from the Ministry of Economic Affairs for three years running. That’s a rare feat indeed.

Rebirth of old crafts via design

Designer Jiang Wen Zhong is also creatively bringing new vitality to traditional crafts with his chicken-­feather dusters and stands. Founder of the Hands craft studio, Jiang took the feather duster—a largely forgotten household item—and breathed new life into it by reducing it in size and turning it into a fluffy “healing utensil” that is installed in desktop stands and used for cleaning keyboards and wooden furniture.

The lead designer of Hands’ “Lucky Chicken” feather dusters, Jiang recalls attending a photographic exhibition and being moved by a photo of the master feather duster maker Chen Zhonglu in Changhua’s Puyan Township, together with his products. The sight of this nearly extinct household cleaning item brought back memories of childhood, when his grandmother would beat him with one. Later, when Jiang began to think about making culturally creative products, feather dusters once again floated into his mind.

From the first conception of a design to sketching and modelling, designers are always striving to make products that are both beautiful and functional. (photo by Jiang Wen Zhong, courtesy of Hands)From the first conception of a design to sketching and modelling, designers are always striving to make products that are both beautiful and functional. (photo by Jiang Wen Zhong, courtesy of Hands)

Jiang first looked for suitably grained and textured wood. Choosing beech and teak, he redesigned feather dusters’ handles, emphasizing comfortable holds. Then he reduced their size, choosing suitable feathers from hens’ bellies to create small “chickens.” Suited to dusting computer screens and keyboards, these fluffy little birds have given an old craft product a new lease on life.

To make the dusters easy to store, Jiang matches these “Lucky Chickens” with ceramic stands made by craftsmen in Yingge. Dusters matched with stands featuring gold inlaid beaks are known as “Gold Beaked Lucky Chickens.” These creative names put a fun spin on household items. In 2018 Hands’ Lucky Chickens won a Golden Pin Design Award.

Jiang persuaded Chen Zhonglu to make the feather dusters he had designed. Now, not even two years later, Chen has taken orders for more than 4000 of them, which are sold at the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park and branches of Maji Food & Deli.

Hands worked with master craftsman Chen Zhonglu, a maker of feather dusters, to extend the life of this traditional handicraft. (photo by Jiang Wen Zhong, courtesy of Hands)Hands worked with master craftsman Chen Zhonglu, a maker of feather dusters, to extend the life of this traditional handicraft. (photo by Jiang Wen Zhong, courtesy of Hands)

Applying design to bring a traditional handicraft back into our daily lives, Jiang says: “I have a long-term dream of bringing together traditional Taiwan crafts and resources in a manner akin to the Japanese retailer Muji, but featuring products that reflect Taiwan’s own unique lifestyle.”

His remark brings to mind a passage from “Records from Examination of Craftsmanship” in The Rites of Zhou: “Those with knowledge create. Those with skilled hands preserve those traditions. That is what we call craftsmanship.” Using design to give new life to a traditional craft is like blowing out a tune on a mini trumpet to herald a new direction for an industry, or dusting off a traditional handicraft with a chicken-feather duster to welcome a new spring.