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Short Features

Karl Roy
Master violin maker Karl Roy helps a student apply veneer to the inside of a violin. Photo by Gary Samson

Music from Maple

Summer-workshop students learn from a master

See also:
Violin Institute faculty members

Jim Robinson, a ponytailed, 38-year-old cabinetmaker from Nottingham, N.H., is folded over a workbench in Putnam Hall with a wood gouge in his hand. Working deftly and patiently, he shaves thin curls from a flat piece of maple that is destined to become the belly of a violin. In the long workroom behind him, a half-dozen other students in Karl Roy's violin-making class are busy at their own benches, laboring over instruments in various stages of assembly.

This is Robinson's first summer workshop with Roy, a master violin maker from Germany. For six weeks, the cabinetmaker will concentrate on becoming a violin maker, working on two instruments simultaneously. He would like to get one of them finished "in the white" -- that is, complete but unvarnished -- by the end of the workshop. This is the beginning of the second week, and he has already made patterns and cut blanks for the various violin parts. Now he is painstakingly shaping the back and belly of the first instrument.

Robinson is one of 101 students attending UNH's Violin Craftsmanship Institute this year. They come from all over the United States and from as far away as Japan and Europe to learn how to repair or make a violin or bow. Some have signed up for a one-week workshop on a specific skill like "Bow Rehairing" or "Frog and Button Making in the French Tradition." Others are staying for two to four weeks to learn techniques in bow and violin repair. And some will spend most of their summer making instruments of their own.

Although the Violin Craftsmanship Institute has been conducted at UNH every summer for 27 years, Robinson heard about it only recently. He decided to sign up for six weeks, thinking that violin making would be an interesting hobby, and he might even want to do it professionally someday. "My great-grandfather was a fiddle maker," he says, "so if I become one, I'll be carrying on a bit of my family heritage."

In any given week, Roy has about 10 students in his violin-making class. Some, like Robinson, are working on their first violin. Others have been coming to the summer workshops for years and have made a dozen or more instruments. A few have become professionals and opened their own shops.

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