Full Frame Essay: The Unseen Musical Magicians

Full Frame

“A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.” ~ Louis Nizer

The craftsmen at Carriage House Violins in Massachusetts don’t readily identify themselves as artists, but their immense skill and passion for repairing, restoring and building classical instruments contributes to every note their musician clients play.

“One of my first masters told me that I could become a doctor and make a lot more money in far less time than it would take to become a master luthier,” said luthier Colin Skofield. “I don’t think we’re as important as doctors, frankly — but I think the musicians might think we’re that important.”

Instruments hand-made by craftsman were the norm for many centuries throughout Europe, but in an era of globalization and mass production, the craft is being kept alive by luthiers worldwide.

“I don’t think that the art is dying, I don’t think there is a loss of information,” said bowmaker Jon Crumrine. “I think the big difference now in violin-making and bow-making is that it’s done worldwide.”

Becoming a master luthier is a life-long process that most craftsmen embrace in the pursuit of taking every instrument they encounter, and the musicians who play them, to their fullest musical potential. And along the way, they pay homage to tradition.

“The process of apprenticeship really is the art of imitation,” said luthier Michael Hartery. “This is the type of industry that you’ll spend a lifetime learning, but still in the end there’s always something to learn. I don’t think there’s ever an official end to an apprenticeship.”

If the passion and skill of the craftsmen at Carriage House Violins is any indication, then luthiers may be the unseen musical magicians who help bring music to life, but they are certainly artists as well.

The Unseen Musical Magicians

Classical instruments dating back hundreds of years – and valued at millions of dollars – are the most sought after instruments in the world – by both musicians and collectors. But for the craftsmen who have dedicated their lives’ work to repairing, restoring and copying these instruments, these instruments are a connection to a long tradition of bringing art to life.