SCVMW 2015 – Wrap Up

Pomona College in Claremont, the location of the Violin Making Workshop.
Pomona College in Claremont, the location of the Violin Making Workshop.

I made it home after a great week of violin making. The workshop will continue for two more weeks, and some of the attendees will stay for the remaining sessions. Others will come and go.

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the workshop, three of which I have spent in attendance. For the anniversary, a number of us who had attended in prior years submitted “personalized” wood curls and chips to be framed and presented to Jim Brown and to Michael Darnton.

Jim Brown (left) and Michael Darnton (right) complete 10 years hosting and instructing the SCVMW.
Jim Brown (left) and Michael Darnton (right) complete ten years hosting and instructing the SCVMW.

Also for the 10-year anniversary, Jim arranged for a special concert to be held on the Saturday following the first week. Unfortunately, I was travelling home and missed my opportunity to attend that event. But the concert made a little splash in Claremont and came out in the local newspaper:

Dr. Sloan, pictured with Jim Brown on the cover of the Claremont Courier, occupied a workbench that neighbored my own. I watched with interest as he set the neck of the violin he has been making.
Dr. Sloan, pictured with Jim Brown on the cover of the Claremont Courier, occupied a workbench that neighbored my own. I watched with interest as he set the neck of the violin he has been making.

The best aspect of the workshop, by far, is the diversity of the people that I get to meet, and the stories and experiences they bring with them.

For instance, I met a woman who grew up in Berlin–a fine violist–who had once been an airline pilot. She married a violinist who plays with the LA Philharmonic, and he came along to the workshop with her and filled the halls with his violin music (plus, I got to hear a story from him about working with Yo Yo Ma).

There was also the British engineer who had lived in Chiswick in London, and he found that he couldn’t just sit at a computer all day long. So he bought an “old” house in the midlands–in some little village the name of which I can’t remember–where he set up a violin shop of his own. I said to him, “when you say ‘old,’ you must mean something different than when I say ‘old.’ I live in an ‘old’ house, you see; and it was built in the ’50s.” And he told me about his house, built some time around 1700, and the roof leaks into his attic bedroom. He has a little bay window in the front, just big enough for a single violin to stand in; and people can pass on the High Street and look in and see him working. All of his advertising is word-of-mouth–there is no web site or social media or facebook answering the needs of his business. The butcher is his neighbor and wakes him each morning with the pounding of the cleaver. I picture Doc Martin or Peter Kingdom from the BBC shows I see on television, and I have nostalgia for something I’ve never even experienced. Well, now I know an English maker, and he clued me in to François Denis and the Traité de Lutherie, for which I am grateful.

There was another woman who owns a foundation to help give music to those whose means do not allow for it, and she does work with Luthiers Without Borders, teaching the people of Haiti how to set up and maintain their own instruments. She first spent, I think, a dozen years in Cremona teaching herself the art of making and learning from the violin makers there. She has faithfully reproduced no less than Stradivari’s own personal masterpiece, the Hellier. There she was in Claremont, occupying the bench directly behind mine.

Of course, we had Dr. Sloan and his famous instruments; we had a Puerto Rican software engineer, a school teacher, a biologist who owns a sheep farm, and various others besides. One need not be a violin maker to take one’s fill of the lore and wisdom offered up by a dozen or more personalities, all of them different. And so my time was well-spent.

In the end, I made new acquaintances, learned new skills, and worked on quite a variety of different little projects. I snapped this rather blurry photo, just before leaving, of all the stuff I did work on during the week:

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