The 2009 Violinmaking Workshop

Posted by Michael Doran on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

I have returned from the Violin Society of America’s Violin Making workshop in Oberlin, Ohio. I feel like I am just settling back into my normal routine. The workshop is a unique experience. About 40 professional makers from around the world come together to learn from each other and work side-by-side for two weeks. Each year there is a topic that we focus on and each year we make a group instrument. Chris Germain directs the workshop and thinks of it as graduate school for violin-makers. There are a few people who give lectures and some who manage the progress of the group instrument, but we are all teachers and students.

The Oberlin workshop was founded on the idea that if we all share our knowledge we are all to benefit.  It was a real honor to be selected to go to the workshop. After my first experience last year I was very excited to attend again this year. The focus this year was cellos. Specifically, we made a copy of the Joseph Guarneri filius Andrea 1692 cello that currently resides in the Royal Academy Museum in London. Some people had access to the original in the past and they brought tracings of the outlines and arches as well reams of pictures of the instrument. Though we couldn’t get the Royal Academy to loan us the cello for the workshop, we did have an Andrea Guarneri cello from the same time period that was available for study for the two weeks.

We all arrived with suitcases full of wood and tools. The Oberlin college makes their sculpture studio open to us and we transform it into our workshop. We set up benches in the center in groups of three or four and people also work at a long bench that runs the length of the room by the window. People are open and friendly, since some of us have traveled very far we cannot bring all of the things we are used to having in our own shops so people are always borrowing tools from others. The group cooks meals together and most of us sleep in the dorms provided by the school. But everyone settles into their own rhythm. Some are early risers and some work late into the hours of the morning. I tried to be working by 7:30 am and I made myself go to bed at 1:00 am. I was in heaven. It’s wonderful because, truth be told, all violin-makers are just a bit crazy but at least in Oberlin we are all the same kind of crazy.  By the end of the two weeks we had made a cello in the white (no small task- even for forty people) and next year we will varnish it together. I made tremendous progress on my own cello as well and got some great feedback on my work.