The Providence and Provenance of Two Violins
While I was gathering my head for what to write about today, I was comparing life [today] to a verse from the book of Jeremiah [31:12] that says:
They will be like a well-watered garden,
and they will sorrow no more.
This is a story about what happened over a few days, a time reminding me that often, out of the corner of our eye when we least expect it, our lives throws us a little bit of magic.
Another quarter has rolled by and it was time again to visit our auctioneer friends for their big quarterly catalog auction. This is an every-3-months sale at the finer end of antiques. To set the stage there were 696 lots in the auction and the sale starts at #100 and proceeds through the catalog, one sale at a time, running at a clip of 80-90 sales per hour. Do the math. You are there a while.
This is not a party that is strongly advisable for one who has energy issues. But it’s a once a quarter trip and I love it like other people love spectator sports.
We went to a preview party Thursday night for wine and nosh, and folks mingled around the neatly set up auction lots, handled the jewelry, stuck tiny flashlights up the backsides of grandfather clocks, and generally did what Antique Nerds do before spending more than my house payment on a pottery jug … or a painting of a cow.
I worked my way around the room and back into a corner, behind the guns and swords. There I found two violins sitting alone on a huge desk.
They were two very old violins, both from the first years of the 20th century. The oldest was in its original casket-shaped wooden case with slide hooks to close. The case was something that you’d stick the instrument in and put it in a vault, but nothing that could be carried around today I would be afraid the latches would free, and the violin would tumble out, turning into a nice heap of kindling and gut. That is never a good day for the owner of said instrument. I picked it up and gave it a few turns with open strings – not playing any other notes just bowing the strings. It was quite nice! The old fiddle didn’t have that nasty green sound that you hear in a cheap and freshly-made factory violin shaped object from China.
She was old, old wood, and bench-made. A craftsman had pulled this wood with their hands until it was a perfect balance. It had been refinished many years ago, and had a few life dings and repairs around the bottom half (the lower bout,) but nothing unusual for the age. Sooner, she will need to be restored: top re-set and maybe re-finished. I’m wasn’t so sure at first sight. The color is a very dark brown, and the 2-piece tiger maple on the back is the color of artfully-done cappuccino. It has a Stradivarius shape which is smaller in the upper bout, has a slim waist and a nice regular bottom, so it sings among the higher registers. The problem nowadays is that a new student violin in this shape can sound brittle and downright chirpy.
It was horribly out of tune.
Ad yet I could hear the warm potential the violin had, and thought:
that would be a great instrument to try!
And then I picked up her sister: a much newer, Italian violin. Before appraisal, I guessed around 1920 from the sound and feel. A much bulkier, almost heavy violin, this one had the heft of a viola with a huge boxwood chin rest to match the tail piece and the gold-trimmed finely-carved tuning pins.
Somebody loved this instrument for all it’s physical foibles!
It’s very clunky looking at first sight – it has the thickest finger board I’ve ever seen on a violin and the trim all makes it look heavier than it really is. This one is in the Guarnieri shape, so it’s much wider in the lower bout which gives a more mellow tone that almost prays among the lower notes. My former cello was a Guarnieri and this violin reminded me of the first time I that cello; it reminded me of what the term dulcet means. This one came packed in a high end protective case and two bows: an inexpensive German rosewood and needing a re-hair, and a Pernambuco wood bow (Brazil Wood – becoming more rare as the trees come close to extinction) That bo was as light as air. The bow fairly well molded itself to my hand. It reminded me of that moment in Harry Potter in which Mr. Olivander said:
The wizard doesn’t pick the want.
The wand picks the wizard.
I pulled the bow across the open strings and the best explanation is that this violin produces a sound that is the musical equivalent of chocolate. The violin was such an odd looking thing, and so unexpectedly beautiful that I decided on the spot that, even though I had no violin playing experience, I had to have this instrument.
in the numeric sequence of sales, the older violin was catalog #569 and the one I wanted most was #570. What if I skipped on the first, then lost the second? There was some [spiritual/emotional] danger that I could go home with neither.
Such a trauma. Such stress.
… Or at least it would have been a few years ago. After going through the ups and downs on life’s little dance, I’ve learned that my stressing over events does nothing to change them. I simply do what I can with what I have. I delegate (gladly!) to my support folks. I control what is within my power to control, and I leave the rest to…
Just like the Providence that led me to that back corner, to see those two violins.
One small note here: I didn’t actually play the violin, and yet here I’m considering (well – more than just considering, more like scheming) two of them! A violin is strung differently from the cello: think: remove one lower string on the bottom, and add one higher string on top.Cello playing is forever gone to me because of the dusting of neuropathy that remains in my fingers. I have long since returned to my deep roots of classical piano.
I had this thought while having God’s Own Grace of being able to sleep on it before the auction, of what it would look like to teach myself the violin (if that’s even possible) based on what I already know of playing strings. And if not (insert Plan B here!) I certainly have very good teachers here from my cello days who can hook me up with the right teacher for a needy adult student like me. This was a lot to mull over and sleep on for the two days between my first picking up those two instruments and when time would come to put money on the line.
What to do? What to do?