Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dad's Fiddle Reborn

The story of me becoming a fiddler starts when I was a very young kid. There were large cupboards above my parent's clothes closet where seldom-used things were kept, and those storage spaces were the most magical destination in my young world. When I could get away with it I would find a way to get up into those cupboards and peek into the boxes that held Christmas decorations, old keepsakes and my Dad's violin. Dad studied with the first chair of the Minneapolis Symphony until the Great Depression hit in 1929 when he was 10 years old. Music fell by the wayside as he looked for ways to make money to help support his family.

The violin sat in its case for 64 years until his death in 1993, when Mom gave it to me. Becoming a fiddler had never been in my plan for life, but when I held that poor, decrepit instrument in my hands it felt like a door opened in my heart and the fiddle moved in beside the harp. I had the initial restoration done by a violin company south of Seattle, and not knowing any better, thought they had done a good job. I marveled at how incredibly difficult it was to get a good sound out of a violin and being who I am, I blamed my lack of talent.

After 14 years of dabbling at playing it I finally got to a place in my career and life where I could afford to spend a couple grand on a better violin. As it turns out, the poor set-up and repair work was at least partly to blame for my lack of progress. My new violin was a revelation. It was so much easier to play that I practiced for hours every day and my skills took a quantum leap forward.

Which brings me back to my Dad's violin. After getting my new one, I moved Dad's up to Lingoman's apartment for weekend use, but I never played it; I had been spoiled. A couple of weeks ago the radical weather fluctuations caused all the tuning pegs to let go and the bridge fell down. Non-players might not know, but the precise placement of the bridge, which is held in place by string tension, is a critical element in how an instrument sounds.

So I decided to bring Dad's violin into Lasley and Russ in Ballard to see what could be done. To my surprise, Duane Lasley thought that he could overhaul it and make it into a decent instrument. He took the top off, carved down some of the surfaces, sanded the fingerboard smooth, replaced the tail piece and tuning pegs and now it's almost as nice as my new violin. Duane tells me that it will continue to adjust and improve over time.

Well, Dad, the instrument you had to abandon at the beginning of the Great Depression has been reborn in your son's hands at the beginning of the Second Great Depression. I think I'm going to have to write a tune about that.


Hippy Goodwife said...

You know I have always loved the story of your Dad's fiddle, it's a beautiful testament. I hope to hear it play again one day ( is it back from Canadian exile permanently?)

It will make a fine tune!

Laura Courtney said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I'm looking forward to reading more adventures you and your dad's violin are sure to take.

Sworddancewarrior said...

I also inherited an instrument through my father - these ancestral instruments are important. Good for you for reclaiming it.

By the way, I've nominated you for a bloggy award. Here's the nomination post on my blog - your nomination is near the end.