Making A Violin: How it Began
First of all I want to tell the story of how this crazy journey began. Of course, being a writer it starts with a story. Or the hope of a story. I was in story discovery mode, finding my way, finding my characters, searching for their story and I found that one of them was making a violin. Hmmmmm. Not sure how I ended up at that storyline, but go with the gifts. So being the good little researcher that I am, I promptly went online and watched some videos and ordered a few books about making a violin. but I still didn’t know what it felt like. I wanted to feel what it like to make an instrument. I called a local violin maker (luthier) and asked him if he could teach me how to make a violin. A bit naïve of me, as if it was something we could knock off in a weekend. He said, no, he didn’t do that, he didn’t take on people who wanted to make just one instrument, he only took on apprentices who were getting into the trade. Then I called another gentleman in town who makes violins and also repairs them. He said he’d be willing to talk about it. So my husband and I went to his studio. I’ve had him do repairs on my fiddle, so I knew the man. A crusty grumpy kind of fellow. Codger would describe him.
He took us to his garage which was filled with bits of violins, pieces of wood and fiddles that had been taken apart.
I wanted to take the process from the ground up, to actually start with the wedge and carve it to the final shape. He pulled out some pieces of wood that were almost finished, more like working from a kit and told me we could start from these. Then he began a long lecture about varnishes which I didn’t completely follow given that he was getting pretty technical. Then he stopped for a moment and looked at me. Why aren’t you taking notes? You know,” he said,” I don’t believe in women’s’ lib.”
I’m 62 years old and he is probably 75. I had no idea why he said that. Maybe because I wasn’t taking notes; or because I didn’t understand varnish, or because I just wanted to make a fiddle. Oh great. A grumpy misogynist. If I couldn’t find anyone else I would have worked with him, but his process wasn’t what I was looking for. I didn’t really know what I was looking for. One day I just thought instruments came from stores, and the next I wanted to make one. I had never even made a plain box out of wood. I’ve always been afraid of wood, afraid of the tools that woodworkers use.
“If I get three people who want to learn I’ll start a class, but in the mean time you might want to call……” and he gave me the name of someone else.
I didn’t want to wait for him to gather the number of people needed. I wanted to start yesterday. I’ll do anything to avoid actually writing a novel. I’ll take on a whole new career if need be, or so it seems.
At this point I was also doing some mental arithmetic about the likelihood of a town the size I lived in having three fiddle makers. I called the name I was given. He was not easy to get ahold of. I left several messages and no one called me back. I was beginning to think that this wasn’t going to be quite as easy as I thought. Finally I got the callback and I gave my pitch and John (I really can’t remember his name) said he’d be game to take it on but he thought that I was really interested in what someone named Brian Lisus was doing. So, there I was on my 4th person. So much for third time the charm, but 4 worked and I found Brian. Brian had recently moved from South Africa and he has been making violins for over 30 years and he also takes on students.
I went to his studio. To be fair, he is no longer in Santa Barbara, so the statistics of the number of violin makers in a small town was not destroyed. He is 45 minutes away. When you live in Santa Barbara a trip of 45 minutes back into the Ojai valley is a major excursion. People commute from Ojai to Santa Barbara all the time but Santa Barbara is one of those towns that suck you in and then you don’t ever leave, not by choice, not without kicking and screaming as if to leave is to leave paradise, to leave the Eden of Eden.
But Ojai is a paradise, too, of sorts. A quiet mountain town of artists and artisans and spiritual pilgrimages. Brian rents a small studio. He is a master. His instruments sing and I am so incredibly honored to have found him.