Omaha to host international violin making competition
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.
â€œI have a set of calibers to tell me where Iâ€™m atâ€¦ itâ€™s looking pretty good,â€ said Mark Womack, as he carefully reduced the thickness of a raw piece of wood â€“ 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, itâ€™s patient work. â€œYes, yes and yes,â€ Womack said with a laugh. â€œItâ€™s only taken me 30 years to learn it.â€
â€œViolins are works of art,â€ 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.
â€œItâ€™s a very complex task, and â€¦ itâ€™s never been able to be done in any kind of production fashion,â€ he said. â€œThereâ€™s no one in the world thatâ€™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 doesnâ€™t. It just doesnâ€™t and thatâ€™s the facts.â€
â€œThis is a great time to be here,â€ said William Wolcott, sales manager at A. Cavallo. â€œWeâ€™re seeing a violin being bornâ€¦itâ€™s coming out of the womb.â€ 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.
â€œThe outcome of the instrumentâ€™s very rewarding,â€ he said. â€œJust seeing it all come together.â€
Henry is self-taught. He learned most of what he knows â€“ at least enough to get him started before he knocked on the doors of A. Cavallo â€“ through online tutorials.
â€œI wasnâ€™t very happy with the violin I had and I enjoyed woodworking,â€ he said. â€œA friend had talked about building a violin. So I said, why not?â€
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 heâ€™d laid out to demonstrate how each hand-crafted violin has its own unique sound. Ross said Henryâ€™s instruments typically have a delicate, dainty quality, while Womackâ€™s instruments have a rich, masculine quality. â€œItâ€™s a very big, generous kind of sound,â€ 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 â€“ the highest quality itâ€™s been in 200 years.
â€œAnd the last one,â€ he said picking up a delicate instrument crafted by Italian violin maker Lucas Salvadore. â€œThis is really a beauty queen,â€ Ross said. â€œIâ€™ve heard rumors his work is so slow because itâ€™s so exact.â€
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 â€“ a significant difference to most violin making competitions.
On the final night of judging, March 31, thereâ€™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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