Ottawa Symphony Orchestra challenges instrument makers to prevent injury with a new “ergonomic” instrument

This is the first prototype of a violin-like instrument made with the aid of a 3D printer for the Ottawa Symphony. A version will be used in a unique concert on Nov. 4 at Ottawa City Hall which will open the OSO season.

The Ottawa Symphony Orchestra is opening up its project to 3D print new musical instruments to a wider community with what it is calling a national 3D Printed Musical Instrument Challenge aimed at designing a cost-effective “ergonomically optimized instrument that leverages the power of 3D printing (metal or polymer) for its fabrication.”

The competition, open to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, runs until midnight on April 15.

The OSO noted, in a media release Thursday afternoon, that there is an epidemic of performance injuries affecting musicians and music students. Music schools are responding to this growing problem with preventive education and by including medical professionals on campuses. The new challenge aims to try to address problems caused by instrument design.

“We want to do better for the next generation of musicians. 3D printing creates the opportunity to build structures that just weren’t possible before this technology. Our objective is to inspire designers, as individuals or teams, to engage in this multi-disciplinary challenge. We aim to help musicians excel in their craft, while pushing the boundaries of what is possible through improvements in design,” said Frank Defalco, of Canada Makes, which is a network of private, public, academic and non-profit entities dedicated to promoting the adoption and development of what is known as advanced and additive manufacturing (AM) in Canada.

“Today, with 3D printing, we want to see what kinds of instruments can be created with this new technology,” said OSO’s music director Alain Trudel.

The winning entry will receive what is being called the KUN Prize, worth more than $35,000, which includes a fabrication and fitting budget, performance of the new instrument at the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra’s 2018 3D StringTheory concert next fall and a $5,000 cash prize. The KUN Prize is sponsored by Marina Kun, president of KUN Shoulder Rests Inc. The fabrication of the instrument is being sponsored by Precision ADM and Axis Prototype Inc. Marina Kun has created a global business out of a shoulder rest designed and patented by her late husband Joseph, an Ottawa area violin maker. The KUN company is one of the only Canadian companies to be a major manufacturer in the music world.

The OSO’s 3D StringTheory Project aims to explore what role new technology can in creating create new instruments. To that end the OSO has commissioned Ottawa violin maker Charline Dequincey and the Industrial Technology Centre in Winnipeg to create original 3D-printed string instruments. The composer Harry Stafylakis has been commissioned to write music inspired by these new sounds. 

The project will also feature other competitions, the release said, that will involve youth, university students and professionals. The 3D Printed Musical Instrument Challenge is the first competition to be announced, the OSO said.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.