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When Cymbals Crash, There’s Zildjian

Students take a once-in-a-lifetime factory tour

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In the slide show above, Boston Symphony Orchestra principal timpanist Tim Genis, a lecturer at the College of Fine Arts, talks about how he finds a good pair of cymbals.

The Zildjian cymbal factory isn’t normally open to visitors.

But a group of Boston University percussion students got the chance to see how hand cymbals are made before selecting more than $20,000 of equipment donated to the University’s music program by Zildjian, a company that makes world-renowned cymbals at its factory in Norwell, Mass.

Zildjian has been making cymbals since 1623, when Avedis Zildjian, an Armenian alchemist in Constantinople, hit upon the combination of copper, tin, and traces of silver that gives the company’s instruments their unique sound quality. In Ottoman Turk, the family name, bestowed on Avedis by the Sultan, literally is synonymous with cymbal smithing. In the centuries since, Zildjian cymbals have become the world standard.

It remains a family concern: Craigie Zildjian (SED’76) is the CEO, her sister, Debbie Zildjian, vice president of human resources, and their daughters work for, or have interned at, Zildjian. The family recipe is still kept close to the vest.

Plastic goggles are handed out and students are inspected for closed-toed shoes before they head down the Drummers Hall of Fame hallway, dotted with photos of the Beatles, Gene Krupa, Tony Williams, and Buddy Rich.

Then into the factory. The tour laces past the melt room (where only four employees are allowed to enter), through the rolling mill and the hammering, shaping, stamping, and quality rooms. A guide carries drumsticks in his back pocket, convenient for striking the metal cylinders, which carry a pleasant tone even before they’re shaped.

Goggles are laid aside and white gloves come out in the orchestral room. Leather straps are fitted through each set of hand cymbals, and Boston Symphony Orchestra principal timpanist Tim Genis, a lecturer at the College of Fine Arts, lets students test cymbals for selection.

“Just to get an idea of the process, and to be able to pick out cymbals, is something that almost nobody is able to do,” says Genis, whose students selected 20 pairs from Zildjian for use at BU.

“As a professional musician, the chance to see how your instrument is made is huge,” he says. “And actually picking out hand cymbals isn’t something we get to do too often. It was a big deal for the students.”

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu.

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