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Sunday, September 22, 2013

#Violin Repairs and Sentimentality by John von Daler


                Violin building and maintenance have always been the domain of males over sixty. My #violin has always been repaired by old men.  What happens to the young men and women who study violinmaking for years and years? Do they put them in jars with holes in the lid like fireflies waiting to be freed  - and then forty years later miraculously liberate them as kindly old men?


                Ok, I've seen stores with staffs that included women. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I just have to see an old man examining my violin.
                Take Tulsa when I was four years old. Tulsa commenced its growth as a big city at the turn of last century. First Street was, in fact, the first street, so when I as a little boy visited Mr. Martin, the violin repairman, his shop on that very street was in the most dilapidated part of town, close to the train station. Not that that bothered Mr. Martin or me. He was clean, proud and good at his trade and he did not think of his own situation as poor or run-down. I got to see the trains. 
                Still, I think that his store became the ideal setting for me for the rest of my life: when you want your violin repaired or want new hair for your bow, you walk into a store on the ground floor of an old building. The room is pretty dark, empty except for some old autographed photographs of violinists in tuxedos on the walls. The counter at the end of the room stands in front of a door that frames the entrance to a little cubicle where a great mess of strange tools, wood shavings, and half-finished violins are strewn about under a great beam of light, like a Rembrandt still-life as yet unpainted.
                Mr. Martin, his hair a little awry, his pointed chin covered with gray stubble, comes out of the back and blinks at you with a kindly look. He brings with him the woody aroma of the special violin polish now called "Viol" that gives an aura to violin repair shops much like that of lubrication oil to garages, fried garlic to Italian restaurants, or chloride to swimming pools.
                He nods at you with a kindly smile, but his eyes are on the violin you are unpacking from the case you had placed on his glass counter beside the pen on a chain, the pad with receipts in duplicate and the rosin opened for use. Beneath the glass in pedagogical array, you can see the various stages of violin building from the raw wooden frame to the varnished, almost-finished violin itself minus strings and a bridge.
                He picks up the instrument with the polite familiarity of a doctor with a stethoscope at your chest. He even thumps the violin with his discolored fingers. He turns it over in the air, Hmm. Take a deep breath. Now cough. You can put your shirt on.
                He says a date for you to pick up the violin, asks for and is given a telephone number just in case and painstakingly writes out a receipt for the violin. Writing is not his thing. You have time to study the wrinkles under his eyes and to note the straggly hair in his eyebrows.
                Years later when I found my own "Mr. Martin" in Copenhagen, I put my violin case on his counter and left, receipt in hand. When I came back ten days later to pick up the repaired violin, the case was still on the counter. But it was filled with various kinds of small coins, all ready to make change if his customers should give him paper money.
                As he handed me the violin with one hand, he swept the change out of the case with the other one as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I packed the violin into its velour bed and closed the lid. As I left the store something in me wanted to go behind his little counter, kiss him on the forehead and say, You know you live on forever, don't you? But he would not have understood the gesture. The Mr. Martins of the world repair violins. They do that very, very well. There is no reason that they also should understand the incredible teary-eyed sentimentality of violinists. 

               


  My book,
"Pieces"
has no
need of repairs.
Buy it
here: 


















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