Happy outcome to sad saga of a traveling oud

By Lindajoy Fenley

The oud–an ancient instrument born in Persia 3000 years before count according to Yaniv Taichman–is not always a good traveler. Yaniv’s own instrument began complaining in North Dakota during the first week of Sofi and the Baladis’ four-week Arts Midwest World Fest tour.

Accustomed to Israel’s Mediterranean climate, a small crack emerged on its face in North Dakota. Yaniv hoped wouldn’t be a serious problem for the instrument he acquired from Turkey about 15 years ago.

However, a few days before Halloween, the rest of the Baladis received a photo labeled “meanwhile… the horror,” on their smartphones.

Cracked and broken oud

The oud’s head had inexplicably snapped off the neck! The dry Dakota air was probably to blame.

Sofi and the Baladis performing on stage
Concert in Pierre, South Dakota

Sofi Tsedaka’s oud made its concert debut the next evening in Pierre, South Dakota while Yaniv’s lay uselessly in its case.

Meanwhile, World Fest Program Director Ken Carlson located a Minnesota luthier who was willing to attempt an emergency repair. We could have dropped it off during our long drive to Red Wing, but Yaniv declined to part with his broken treasure. He decided to continue using Sofi’s oud for the rest of the tour. He’d repair his in Israel where luthiers are more familiar with Middle Eastern instruments.

But another solution arose the next week.

Flyer for the college's instrument making program
Minnesota’s unique instrument program began in the mid 1970s and currently serves over 100 students who will receive one- or two-year certificates.

At the end of a workshop at Minnesota State College Southeast Tuesday, Yaniv showed interested students the problem. David Vincent, head of the college’s guitar construction and repair program, volunteered to glue the instrument back together. A longtime mandolin player, as well as head of the guitar building and repair program since 1984, Vincent was intrigued by the job. He said he could have the broken oud back in one piece for the concert at the Sheldon Theatre on Friday.

The instructor worked late on Wednesday and when his guitar students came to class Thursday, they saw the partially repaired instrument on a workbench.

Yaniv Taichman and David Vincent meet again at the guitar building workshop.

Thursday afternoon, after the Baladi’s two workshops – at Red Wing High School and the local 3M plant – Yaniv and I returned to the campus. The neck and head were reunited, but Vincent had one more task to complete. He needed to make a new nut to replace the one that had disappeared. The instructor had told Yaniv that he needed to look at another to do that part of the job. Although he has made or supervised the making of more than a thousand guitars, this was his first oud experience.

Detailed metric measurements were required for the repair.

We watched him work for a full hour: measuring, shaping, sanding a small piece of ebony wood and then sawing slots for the 11 new strings Yaniv would add once the job was done. That job required precise measurements and careful work.

After the repair was complete, Yaniv spent another 15 minutes restringing the instrument.

The result was wonderful. Yaniv’s oud is ready to weather the rest of the trip – the concert the next day and one more week in Iowa – before returning safely to Israel and the Mediterranean climate it prefers.

At Yaniv’s invitation, David Vincent tried playing the exotic instrument for the first time.

“What are the chances the oud would break just before we did a workshop at a college with instrument repair program,” Yaniv said after we returned to the hotel. “It must be a [good] sign.”

“This is a very big part of why we do what we do, to be part of an important art,” David Vincent, told Katryn Conlin, the college’s communications director. “It was very special to me to hear these fabulous musicians share their culture and tradition from halfway around the world, and to feel a part of it.”

Conlin not only posted photos of Sofi and the Baladi’s visit to the Minnesota State campus. She also wrote a story about the oud’s Midwestern saga.