Monday 2nd April 20112
Rest and re creation
This was a restful day challenged only by my own quest for a balanced period of reflective personal solitude, occasional moments of interaction with a few friends and a couple or more hours watching, talking and listening to my friend Marty for the woodworking insights of a man completing a violin.
A violinmaker works
Marty as a good friend is something. His being is that something that he became and is. He is not trying to be, struggling to be or pretending to be. He seeks no acceptance from others, no confirmation of his being and no affirmation by way of validation by anyone. No organisation validates his work or qualifies him though he is, as I am, well qualified. I like being with my friend; our conversations play back to me for hours and days and weeks after we are together because the importance of them are indelibly ingrained in the ebb and flow of recollective thought. To watch the exactness of critical thinking, the exact response of each chisel and knife cut, is as if the violinist challenging each swift bow movement were anticipated by his hand and eye and heart. The twist of hand and wrist and arm demands the same preciseness. When I am there I simply sit, watch and see him think his work.
He lifts the violin once more to his open neck, places it beneath his chin and modulates with his left hand along the neck in feigned fingering whilst his right performs unconscious sweeps with an invisible bow. Sometimes there is silence, moments of blissful quiet between us as we each watch, think to engage the action of hand and eye. It’s every ounce surreal as if suspended within that sphere of creativity where speech and thought cease to invade the intimacy between a man and his work. His sphere of creativity is his. Though others come to see their instrument being made or to buy one from him, no commerce takes place here. No mass making, no haggling over prices, no bickering back and forth. That would be shameful. The air breaths peace that comes only from an ordered workingman in honest relationship to his work. Few men have this today. They will never know of what I am speaking and will never see, or feel or touch what Marty Macica has.
Around the bench
We talk about wood in from Europe and other wood cut in Virginia. Special woods used in our different work unites us as we talk of their growth rings, tightness of cells, workability and different knives that cut and shape beneath our hands. We discuss shape and contour and millimetres and such like that. We look at history, talk of Cremona and lapse into interests we have surrounding our personal gathering of tools. Two hours passes and soon we are into our third. It’s a rare pocket of time, a creative sphere others never enter. Our time eventually comes to a close, but we replay the content as we might a record in our minds. We listen for the harmony, the sympathetic resonance in the same way one guitar string plucked claims response from another stringed instrument in the same room.
Time stops for some
Violin making knows no such thing as time constraint in the realms others might find at least. A bit like making furniture – some times – not always. I spent the afternoon with Marty. He’s finishing this violin you see. I don’t know the lady who will soon play it. She must be very special because I hear Marty think as he makes, I watch his thought become process-driven through a knife and a chisel. He exudes solid confidence few men have as he removes thousandths of an inch to fit an unknown hand. Soon a new, unheard voice will come from its beautied shape and the work of many weeks will rejoin a dozen others.
Engaging the work
Marty shifts direction; he talks to me of his expectations from the instrument. He talks of his conscious decisions that will be reflected in the voice he is creating. The tools interchange repeatedly the whole time. I amuse myself, enjoy the watching instead of the doing and the scroll, the neck and the nape of the neck near ever greater levels of perfection. It’s no trivial thing to be what Marty is. I think some people could make a violin, but not many make violinmakers. I often ask myself whether violinmakers are instrument makers or woodworkers. No other sphere of woodworking reaches these heightened levels of excellence. One distinct factor separates the violinmaker from the woodworker. Not only does he work wood, but he carves and shapes a unique and distinct voice.
Marty works the purfling channels by hand. The intimate work twixt tool and hand know no equal. My eye follows Marty’s hand and the cutting edges of the tools he uses that separate the wanted from the unwanted. We sit and talk again. He slants the violin away from him, aligns it with his eye and looks down its length. He gauges fractions of the minutest degree by eye; the chisel reaches the excess, parts it from the whole and brushes it away. Beauty remains and silence breaks beyond the intenseness. We laugh, talk and resume. Violinmaking is very lovely really. Few know it.
The purity of violins in the white
An instrument still in the white is raw, pure. A man wrote years ago of expressed risk through freehanded work. This was any man who took the tool’s cutting edge without guide or machine and cut the path into the wood without faltering by the freedom of skill developed as a workman familiar with his tools and the wood he worked. Violin making is one such craft that beyond all others exemplifies a man whose skill reaches beyond the mereness of being just well trained. Watching Marty works to fractions of a millimetre much by feel and touch and reminds me of what I might find in Cremona through generations of violinmakers. Here, in his work, there is nothing hidden. As my hands caressed the beauty beyond each risk of handwork in this violin I felt the pulse and the heart of man skilled with his hands: A man that might one day stand before kings.