Pernambuco wood, which is native to the coast of Brazil in the Atlantic Forest, has been extracted from its natural habitat for nearly 400 years. When the Europeans colonized Brazil in the early 16th century, they found what became a valuable treasure for years to come. This treasure was pernambuco.
The wood was first used for dyes, and it quickly became a major industry within Europe. As time went on, Europeans realized the wood itself had another purpose. Eighteenth-century bowmakers, such as Francois Tourte, began to use pernambuco to make instrument bows. The endangered plight of pernambuco today is a result of its overuse throughout the centuries, as only a small percentage of the original forest remains.
So, what are the solutions and where is this issue headed? I’ve sought out five people who have their own roles within the music industry: a bowmaker, a teacher, a player, a luthier and a salesman. I asked each of them how they feel this issue is affecting their line of work, what their main concerns might be, what changes they would like to see, what their opinions are on substitute materials, as well as where they see the issue headed in the future.
So what does the future hold? Though some were more hopeful than others, each of the people I interviewed said an optimistic future is achievable with appropriate actions. This site serves to address ongoing concerns, while also shedding light on what can be done to avoid further endangerment of the pernambuco tree.
“The sound truly emanates from the stick, and if you don’t have the highest quality wood, no matter your skill, you’ll end up having a mediocre bow.”
“I always describe the matching of the bow to the instrument like a marriage. It’s a very personal relationship and you have to get them to work well together.”
“Playing with a pernambuco bow gives you the same feeling as when you’re playing in Carnegie Hall and feel how all the music in the room is transcending into the air. It has so much color and power that it gives off this feeling of a kaleidoscopic sound.”
“If you look at a nice piece [of pernambuco] and it’s properly finished you have a feeling that it’s three-dimensional. The way it refracts light is very beautiful, making you feel like you can look into it.”
“The ways the pernambuco bows play aren’t like anything else—there’s a smoothness to it in which it kind of plays itself.”