The art of violin maintenance

Published Nov 23, 2013, 6:05 pm IST
Updated Mar 18, 2019, 7:55 pm IST

India has produced many an eminent violinist. Music lovers around the world throng the country to learn playing the instrument from the ace players themselves. However, the musicians from India fly abroad to maintain and repair their instruments because of a dearth of awareness amidst violin makers, repairers and technicians who need resources to fix the bowed instrument without inflicting further damage. It was with this thought that Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan, popular violinist and son of legendary musician Lalgudi Jayaraman, started holding a ‘Violin Restoration Workshop’ to aid local violin makers learn European-style violin repair and restoration of the delicate instrument. Krishnan has flown down James Wimmer, a professional violin maker from Santa Barbara, California, to conduct the workshop that is sponsored by the Lalgudi Trust, founded by his father. Krishnan and Wimmer tell DC about how it all began.

“Although the violin was introduced to us during the British era, the beautiful instrument is now present everywhere. Not only do Carnatic musicians use the instrument, it plays an integral part in film music too. And whenever we face difficulties with our instrument or if we have to give it to our repairers for maintenance, our heart skips a beat as our violins mostly come back in a worse condition. So we had to take help of experts in foreign countries to fix them,” says Krishnan.  “Our craftsmen never had the opportunity of following a scientific way of treating our instrument. They don’t have enough awareness and they can’t afford to learn too,” observes Krishnan. A few months ago, when Krishnan was in Hyderabad, he was approached by a bunch of music lovers, who underscored the importance of carrying out a workshop to help local violin makers learn the nuances of maintenance and repair. “I have been thinking of this project for a long time. But we could work it out only this year. I’m so glad that Jim (James Wimmer) could accommodate this in his schedule,” says Krishnan.

The workshop is a 21-day programme, which will be conducted till November 28. James says, “I was planning to go to Nepal this November and do some trekking in the Himalayas, but when Krishnan asked if I could create time for this, I realised that there is nothing more gratifying than sharing what I have learnt,” laughs James. “When Krishnan contacted me, I understood that he has a bigger vision. I was intimidated. The magnitude of his love for the art form is enormous. And their family’s love for music is inexplicable and I must say that I took advantage of it,” reveals James.

Lalgudi Krishnan got acquainted with James Wimmer in 1998 through a common friend in Santa Barbara. Krishnan says, “When I was about to enter Jim’s house, I heard him listening to my father’s concert that happened in 1967. I was moved.” James visited India to meet the maestro, and even learnt to play his compositions, effortlessly excelling at it.

James Wimmer was a performing musician till 1980 and travelled extensively on concert tours. “I was tired of all the travelling that I did and so I decided to take up making violins. What I see in India is a phenomenon. The love for the instrument and music is amazing. But I also realised that they would need help in maintaining the instrument. And thanks to Krishnan and the Lalgudi Trust, I’m now introduced to the pleasure of sharing what I have learnt,” says James.

The violin maker brought many tools from the USA. The participants of this unique workshop are given time to replicate the fine tools that are used to repair a violin. “We even use some simple items. For example, we used Fevicol glue to stick wood. And I brought bow hair and glue that’s made of rabbit skin and many more tools that are important to maintain a violin,” says James. Since 1985, James has been visiting many markets to choose fitting tools that would aid the maintenance procedure. “Technology might have grown massively, but the method and tools that we use in making and repairing a violin have not changed,” says James, as he talks about the intricacies of the craft. The well-known violin maker was trained in Germany, under the mentorship of master violin makers Wolfgang Uebel and Herbert Rainer Knobel. James thoroughly understands how an instrument has to be chiselled to suit Carnatic musicians for he learnt the traditional repertoire under the tutelage of Ramanujam in Varanasi.

At the moment, seven students have been attending the workshop, where James provides comprehensive training in the craft, while he is helped by his assistant Alexandra Armanino. “For the first time in India, we have designed and created an exclusive table that will be used to work on the instrument. Even before we began the workshop, Alexandra emailed us the picture of a typical table and we customised one for our students,” says Krishnan. “We could have finished the workshop in seven days. But I want the participants to imbibe the learning firmly and so this 21-day programe is a great opportunity for them,” says James.

The Lalgudi Trust has helped the participants learn the art of restoring an instrument free of cost and they have gone a step further by awarding a stipend to the attendees. Unfortunately, a few days ago, Lalgudi Krishnan’s mother passed away, but he insisted that the workshop continue for it would have been the desire of their mother too, who inaugurated it. “The main objective of the programme is to make students understand the beautiful craft, who, in turn, will spread and share what they have learnt. So, it is like sowing a seed for a banyan tree that will grow to be big. We are so glad that we are going to be pioneers of it,” says Krishnan. “I’m truly in awe of people’s love for music and I’m happy about making few other enthusiasts learn the art, which will bring a great relief for many musicians,” concludes James.




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