Discovering Vancouver's hidden music makers

(Page 3 of 4)

For this reason, he makes regular pilgrimages to Mittenwald in southern Bavaria—a haven of fine European woods—to buy the Swiss pear, German spruce and boxwood his instruments need. He jokes about the time he beat the Steinway buyers there, leaving them only leftovers. Other woods, such as American poplar, come from the US East Coast.

The workshop has one harpsichord in the works and Craig showed me various phases of its construction. He showed me blueprints made from measurements taken in Europe, which he laid over the instrument, like a dressmaker. In the corner, piles of pear wood, cherry, popular, German spruce, and boxwood waited to be shaped into the exquisite instruments I’d just seen in his house and would one day grace the concert halls of Vancouver and the world.

More about Craig Tomlinson

Craig’s French double harpsichord is making the rounds of Vancouver’s venues and ensembles during the festive season (and beyond):

  • It just finished a stint at the Orpheum with the Bach Choir and the Vancouver Symphony for performances of Handel's Messiah.
  • Pacific Baroque Orchestra will use it December 18, 19, 2010 for Winter: Cold Genius-England; March 26, 27, 2011 for Spring: O Primavera; and May 28, 29, 2011 for Summer: The Sun King-France.
  • The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra uses it May 20, 21, 2011 at the Chan for Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.
  • Vancouver Opera will be using the French harpsichord and/or the fortepiano for Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito on February 5, 8, 10 and 12, 2011.

You can visit Craig Tomlinson’s website at

David Gowman

Out of the context of David Gowman’s community, it’s hard to know how to describe his horns and, indeed, his community. I’m confused whether to say trumpets (as his business card states) or trombones (many are distinctly trombone shaped), but everyone calls them horns (not horns in the pure sense of French horns, but more in the anything-you-can-blow-into horns sense). There are natural horns, that is, French horns without valves, but David’s horns aren’t made of brass (or horn), and most definitely not French (although, there’s an Italian one in the works—more on that later). David Gowman’s horns are little more than weeds—made of weeds and underbrush woods that many people would deem little more than kindling. They could be called “weed horns” or “weedwinds”, but I’ll just call them horns too.


In 2002, David made his first elderberry horn while working as a camp caretaker in Roberts Creek. One day, he was passing the time hollowing out an elderberry branch with a heated coat hanger and, when he tried playing the branch, its first note transformed him from visual artist into musical instrument maker in a single “honk”.

After the elderberry horn, others were to follow and his artist studio filled with many increasingly exotic horns made from empress wood, papier mâché, old felt hats, and giant hogweed (also called giant cow parsnip or Heracleum mantegazzianum), an invasive species currently subject to a city-wide program of expunging them from the region. One man’s toxic weed is another man’s work of art.

Although Gowman trained as a visual artist, his past music experience comes from choirs and piano lessons, he has no formal brass instrument training. So having just invented a new musical instrument, he wasted no time showing up at music events with his new horns. He quickly acquired the name Mr. Fire-Man, and soon formed his own band called, Legion of Flying Monkeys Horn Orchestra (LFMHO).

I got a tour of David’s Gastown workshop located in one of the adjoining apartments he shares with his artist wife, Sharon Kallis. Given David’s public persona as artist/madman, his workshop displays a concise timeline of instruments from fresh cut raw materials to finished product hanging neatly from hooks or sorted in corners. The walls are adored with many of his fine paintings (he still paints avidly).

More in Culture

Pie à la Modulus: Hot, Sweet & Savory

Music on Main's annual Festival serves up varied fare citywide

Spin cycle in the Cosmic Laundromat

Gamers "click" IRL through VR role-playing in multimedia staging of 3,000 year old Chinese classic

Holy Dips at Vancouver Sangam

Indian Summer Fest treats local palates to mixed masala of arts, laughs and ideas
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.