. . . Laboring in the Dungeon. . .
I came late to the profession, having begun my career as a bassist and later as a high school orchestra director. I was thrown into violin work in the early 1970s when I needed to repair school instruments to keep my students playing. I ran a part-time shop in the evenings, on weekends, and during school vacations. I left public school work in 1980 and continued increasing my skills in repair and restoration. I didn’t start making violins professionally until I was in my forties, and then I was only able to do it part-time.
The focus of my work these days is creating new instruments, including the standard violin, viola, and cello as well as all instruments of the new violin family, including the basses. I’ve also designed a line of ergonomic violas to help ease the strain of playing these larger instruments. It’s sometimes hard to believe I’ve been doing this kind of work for almost 50 years. I guess it must agree with me!
. . . Karl Roy. . .
I began my formal training in the craft of lutherie under Karl Roy at the University of New Hampshire starting in the summer of 1974. Karl was then the Director of the State School for Violin Making in Bavaria, Germany. Without his patience, masterful teaching skills, and unwavering confidence that I really had some abilities hidden in me somewhere, I’d still be repairing plywood basses.
I feel lucky to have experienced, even in a truncated and interrupted way, the older method of education that existed between a master and his apprentices. Karl taught me much, but the lesson I valued most was how he trained me to be observant and to notice little things. It is a lesson I have put to good use in all the years since.
Karl is gone now, but I am glad that we have the Internet so I can thank him in front of the entire world.The craft of violin making, which was a dying art in the 1960s, now lives more strongly than ever, and all of us in it owe Karl Roy a debt of gratitude.
. . . Carleen Hutchins . .
Carleen came later in life to violin work so she could improve her factory viola and play chamber music with her friends. She received instruction in violin making from Carl Berger and S. F. Sacconi, training in violin acoustics from Frederick Saunders, assistance in scaling from John Schelleng, and help over years from top experts in the field of physics and acoustics such as Arthur Benade and Norman Pickering.
During her long and productive life, she wrote dozens of scholarly papers, edited two volumes on musical instrument acoustics, was made an honorary fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, held the society’s silver medal in acoustics, received two Guggenheim grants, and was the recipient of four honorary doctorates. She developed the theory of free plate tuning, which gave the violin maker an important new tool and, I think, changed forever the way that violins are made. What is even more astonishing, that she shared her findings and taught the technique to anyone who wanted to learn it.
I was among the few lucky ones to be a student of Carleen Hutchins. It was the experience of a lifetime, even though I had to walk that fine line between science and art. I am proud and humble to have studied with her in that famously underheated garage in Montclair, New Jersey. Carleen’s teaching is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about the New Violin Family. Carleen passed away on August 7, 2009, at the age of 98. Helping to make her dream successful remains one of just a few ways I can repay my teacher for her great gift.
- Aomori, Tomoya; contrabass violin; teacher Juilliard Prep Division; New York Classical Players
- Cohen, Bonnie; viola; freelance player, teacher; Washington, DC
- Crawford, Roberta; viola; founder and associate director, Finger Lakes Chamber Ensemble
- Ferebee, Lisa; cello; Taliesin Orchestra, Moments of Grace
- Forbes, Charles; cello; founder New York Camerata; principal, American Symphony Orchestra
- Forbes, Shane; alto violin
- Jordan, Daniel; violin (viola); concertmaster, Sarasota Symphony Orchestra*
- Martin, John; cello; principal, National Symphony Orchestra
- McLain, William; viola
- Moree, Debra; viola; professor, Ithaca College
- Olson, Ellen; viola; Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra; founder, San Marco Chamber Music Society
- Patterson, Carrick; alto violin
- Rostropich, Mstislav; cello virtuoso; conductor, National Symphony Orchestra
- Shade, Neil T.; alto violin
- Simken, Elizabeth; tenor; professor of cello at Ithaca College
- Smith, Allison; cello
- Smolen, Sera Jane; cello; clinician, college instructor, assistant director of New Directions Cello Festival
- Symers, Gary; contrabass violin, baritone violin
- Steck, Anne; viola; freelance violist, Washington Opera orchestra
- Tifford, Matthew; cello; professor, Salisbury University, Selma M. Levine School of Music
- Tobin, Patrick; contrabass violin, bass violin, soprano violin
- Unger, Paul; contrabass violin, assistant principal, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
- Van Patten, Barbara; cello; Baltimore Opera Orchestra, Fairfax Symphony Orchestra
*To keep the record straight, I made a viola for Dan when he was still a young violin student. My wife made him a beautiful 3/4 violin when he was a child prodigy in Georgia.