Some of us remember the dream of the late 20th century. Substantial income was available for the taking for anyone willing to work hard and learn fast. Small businesses flourished. Severance packages were a reality. Then the tide of abundance receded as the economic tsunami of 2008 gathered strength and roared on to shore. Rob Gandara is one such Corvallis citizen who surfed that last wave, opening Carbony Celtic Winds before the storm hit.
Gandara came to Corvallis in January 1995, by way of Boston and Atlanta, to work for Hewlett-Packard. After 10 years as a senior member of HP’s technical staff, Gandara decided to accept their offer of a year’s salary to any employee who voluntarily left before the company officially downsized. “I’m one of those people who always worked summers. I went right to college, then went right to work,” he said. “There were some parts of the world that I’d never seen, so I just decided it was the one time in my life I’d be able to travel.”
Gandara brought his Galician gaita, Spain and Portugal’s version of bagpipes, with him, exploring and playing across Europe and into Asia. The idea to manufacture instruments out of a patented carbon fiber recipe dawned on him when the canter, or mouthpiece, broke after airline agents required him to check his instrument as baggage on a return flight from China.
Once back in Corvallis, Gandara applied his engineering experience and knowledge of tooling to firm up his idea. He then contacted Real Carbon of Hood River and pitched his idea to one of the co-owners, who also happened to be Scottish. They eventually gave him keys to the shop and thus Carbony Celtic Winds, a.k.a. Pipe Makers Union, LLC, was born in February 2006. “It got to the point where I figured that if I can enjoy making my own pieces, I can probably do it for other people,” Gandara said.
After purchasing a lathe with some unexpected casino winnings, Carbony Celtic Winds took off, offering a wide selection of instruments that includes Tabor whistles, Irish flutes, bagpipes, and didgeridoos.
Gandara has been involved with music his entire life, starting with clarinet in fifth grade to vocals for a Boston punk band during undergrad to symphony orchestra. However, he credits his business for making him a better musician since each instrument needs to be tested for quality. While Gandara is modest about his talent—pointing out the difference between sounding a note for quality assurance and playing professionally—his experience with Celtic instruments led him to develop a whistle based on Irish flutes, which plays truer than most. “If you learn a family of instruments, you can use the physics of one to make the other one better,” he said.
Gandara devotes most of his time to Carbony Celtic Winds. He spends his spare hours playing Galician gaita and Irish whistle in Ordinance, a local Celtic music band named after an incident in which Corvallis police asked him and his bandmates to leave the riverfront for busking. As it turned out, a local ordinance that allowed musicians to busk—introduced and led by Gandara while on the City Council—had just been passed.
When asked about his attraction to Celtic music, Gandara professed a love for all kinds of music. He noted, however, “It’s a type of music you can play gracefully into your older years. I don’t need to maintain a type of intensity or anger against society that I would with rock ’n’ roll.”
By Alicia James