Omaha to host international violin making competition

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March 5th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Crafting a violin is patient, intensive work. And the techniques employed by violin makers around the world have remained almost exactly the same for hundreds of years. The art of crafting a violin will be highlighted in a worldwide competition to be held in Omaha this month.

Mark Womack works on his 366th violin at A. Cavallo Violins in Omaha. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“I have a set of calibers to tell me where I’m at… it’s looking pretty good,” said Mark Womack, as he carefully reduced the thickness of a raw piece of wood – slowly shaving off a millimeter and a half with a small scraping tool.

Womack is a violin maker-in residence at A. Cavallo Violins in Omaha. He was working on his 366th instrument, which could sell for up to $20,000.

Needless to say, it’s patient work. “Yes, yes and yes,” Womack said with a laugh. “It’s only taken me 30 years to learn it.”

“Violins are works of art,” said Alexander Ross, president of A. Cavallo Violins. The shop is hosting an international violin making competition at the end of March: The Art of Sound.

Young violin maker, Dirk Henry, working on his fourth instrument. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“It’s a very complex task, and … it’s never been able to be done in any kind of production fashion,” he said. “There’s no one in the world that’s ever made a workshop, where, Henry Ford style, they have guys doing each part, and part of it is done by machine and it comes out just as nice. It doesn’t. It just doesn’t and that’s the facts.”

“This is a great time to be here,” said William Wolcott, sales manager at A. Cavallo. “We’re seeing a violin being born…it’s coming out of the womb.” Wolcott pointed to the work of Dirk Henry, a young violin maker, who is only on his fourth instrument. He was adding the finishing touches to his piece.

“The outcome of the instrument’s very rewarding,” he said. “Just seeing it all come together.”

Alexander Ross is the president of A. Cavallo Violins, which will host an international violin making competition March 29-31 at the Hot Shops Art Center. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

Henry is self-taught. He learned most of what he knows – at least enough to get him started before he knocked on the doors of A. Cavallo – through online tutorials.

“I wasn’t very happy with the violin I had and I enjoyed woodworking,” he said. “A friend had talked about building a violin. So I said, why not?”

Ross said Henry brought in the violin he’d made himself, and blew them away. “I said ‘Wow, this is really good.” Ross picked up a finished violin, crafted by Henry, from a row of instruments he’d laid out to demonstrate how each hand-crafted violin has its own unique sound. Ross said Henry’s instruments typically have a delicate, dainty quality, while Womack’s instruments have a rich, masculine quality. “It’s a very big, generous kind of sound,” he said, as he played a few notes on each.

The techniques used by Womack and Henry, and violin makers around the world, have barely changed from the days of legendary maker Stradivarius in the 1600s and 1700s, Ross said. And the quality today, he said, is just as good, if not better. In fact, he said violin making is currently at an apex – the highest quality it’s been in 200 years.

“And the last one,” he said picking up a delicate instrument crafted by Italian violin maker Lucas Salvadore. “This is really a beauty queen,” Ross said. “I’ve heard rumors his work is so slow because it’s so exact.”

The work of about 30 violin makers around the world will be featured at the violin making competition, which begins March 29th. It will judged over three days, and Ross said it will focus more on the individuality of the pieces than technical precision – a significant difference to most violin making competitions.

On the final night of judging, March 31, there’ll be a reception and dinner at the Hot Shops Arts Center in north downtown Omaha. The competing violins will be on display beginning March 31, and will then move back to the A. Cavallo shop in Countryside Village, to be exhibited, along with another 120 violins through April 21st. A closing event of wine, food, and music will be hosted April 20th at 7pm.

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