Violin Craftsmanship

Curiously, the violin is certainlyexpanding its market and the demand for craftsmanship at the playing level hasalways spurred craftsmanship at the instrument level.  More importantly, the same drivers are there,the sheer art in both the playing and the making.  Every instrument represents a new beginningin terms of achievement and the buyer will always be a connoisseur.

There is likely no instrumentmore demanding of the performer and the craftsman both

Most workers in wood get a greatdeal of satisfaction in turning out useable product.  The violin represents a master work.  For that reason it will forever be supportedand this is a pleasant surprise in the modern world.  Yet craftsmanship itself is finding a marketeverywhere and is resurging after a century of been discounted out.

Despite China,US violin-makers second fiddle to none

by Staff Writers

Washington (AFP) Feb 6, 2011

American violin-making is enjoying a rebirth, craftsmen say, despite therapidly improving production by fellow makers in China which artisans here see bothas a threat -- and a boon -- to their livelihood.

Even with USinterest in classical music slipping,and some orchestras folding in harsh economic times, support for the artisans'business is such that hundreds of individual American violin-makers arethriving.

"Violin and bowmaking in this country is the best it's been in US history,"and the instruments being produced are among the world's finest, JerryPasewicz, who heads the American Federation of Violin andBow Makers, a collection of 180 top US artisans, told AFP.

Whether China can mount a serious threat to the high end of the craft-- known as lutherie -- is in dispute; some believe it will take severaldecades before Chinese instruments, which now dominate the student market, comeclose to rivaling the best violins of Europe andthe United States.

But China's massiveproduction ramp up over the past decade is introducing large numbers ofaspiring musicians, including thousands in China itself, to the art of playingthe violin.

"As they start to grow up, they seek a better instrument,"said Pasewicz, who has been making violins for three decades and owns a shop inRaleigh,North Carolina.

Feng Jiang, a violin-maker in Michigan,says the state of American lutherie is nothing short of "a renaissance,"thanks to institutions like the ViolinMaking Schoolof America in Salt Lake City, Utah, andthe Chicago School of Violin Making.

"In the past 15 or 20 years it's increased a few hundredpercent," he says of the number of US makers.

But "the only reason we exist at all is that people are playingthe violin."

That is where Chinais having its dramatic impact. Violins were hardly played at all there untilMao Zedong, the founder of communist China, considered it arevolutionary instrument and workshops sprung up during the 1966-1976 CulturalRevolution.

The Asian giant has squashed European low-end makers and nowmanufactures the bulk of student instruments -- so many that it hasdramatically brought down entry-level costs for violinists and allowed dealersto set up broad rental networks.

Not just in the West, but in China, the largest untapped market.

Jiang has a foot in both worlds. As the son of a Chinese violin maker,Jiang built his first instrument in China as a youth in 1989. In thelate 1990s he moved to the United States, where he now makes six to eightviolins per year.

He sees tremendous potential for China'sartisans, several of whom have trained in Europe and the United States,closely studied ancient instruments by masters Antonio Stradivari and GiuseppeGuarneri del Gesu, and returned to improve the quality of violins in theirhomeland.

Still, "for the violins that professional people appreciate... Ithink we don't see a lot come from there," Jiang says.

But some believe China,with a 5,000-year history of craftsmanship and a reputation for rapidlyabsorbing the skills necessary to dominate an industry, will rival Westernproduction within a decade or two.

US luthier Christopher Germain routinelytravels from his Philadelphia workshop to China to meetfellow craftsmen, and says "all the components are in place for them"to become a force in the high-end industry.

"They do whatever they need to do to improve their product,"says Germain.

Dave Belazis of Foxes Music outside Washingtonsays that while China'scraftsmanship has "revolutionized the student violin industry," hedoubts their instruments will knock top American products off their perch.

"Americais producing some of the finest instruments in the world right now. It's thefirst time in the history of violin-making the Americans have an edge in theindustry," he said.
Americans have won gold at the International Triennale, known as theOlympics of violin-making, in Stradivari's home town of Cremona,Italy.USmaker Kelvin Scott won bronze at the latest competition, in 2009.

The very top tier of American luthiers number little more than a dozen,experts say. Among them is Christophe Landon who makes a handful of instrumentsa year, selling them to the world's greatest players for as much as $60,000.

Landon, who is French but has lived in New York for more than half his51 years, sees it not as an us-versus-them battle, but a global community whosesavvy use of the Internet has helped them share technological expertise.

"The level of violin-making is much higher than it used tobe," he said from his Manhattanstudio, where he is producing a replica of a true gem: a Guarneri violin datingfrom 1734 and valued at $4 million.

Expertise is rising worldwide, and he sees "fantastic"promise in Chinese makers as they absorb international skills and methods.

Violinist and dealer Stefan Hersh agreed that Chinese makers haveevolved quickly, but added: "I don't think that China as an entity will ever trulybe a threat to the top of the violin world."

Lower down the ladder is where the "China effect" is being felt,Hersh said, and that is what could squeeze mid-level and new American makers.

"Quality violins coming out of China make us all look over ourshoulders and do better work."

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