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Samuel Thompson

Major Surgery

December 5, 2007 at 6:33 AM

Today I put my violin in a box. It is taking a trip to Boston for the equivalent of a yearly physical and major surgery.

In 1994, while a student at Oklahoma State University, I had the privilege of speaking with Victor Romanul, who said to me "If you're looking for a violin and want to buy a modern instrument, call Marilyn Wallin." Two years later, while looking for a new instrument, I found Ms. Wallin's number on an old slip of paper and called. "I'm finishing the varnish on one right now, will send it to you in two weeks," she said. After a week or two of testing I bought #81, made in 1996. This violin has been with me for many years, and it is the instrument on which I won the audition for substitute positions with the Houston Grand Opera, made my national debut with the National Repertory Orchestra, learned the Elgar Violin Concerto, and made my 2006 debut at the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

The last time I sent a violin away was in 1994, and that was painful - after it came home I had a pretty good run. This, however, feels different - this violin and I survived Hurricane Katrina, and this is the first time in two years that it will be out of my hands - and my sight - for longer than two days.

For years I have wanted to make a trip to Boston to meet Ms. Wallin, and I will be going there on Monday to have the fiddle adjusted "to me". About this I am extremely excited: Ms. Wallin and I have spoken many times about having a "public meeting" and it seems that luck and overwhelming necessity are meeting. This will also be my first trip to Boston. Nevertheless, it feels very strange putting the violin in a box now - tomorrow it will meet a FedEx/Kinko's employee and start the journey without me.

As instrumentalists, we all develop attachments to our instruments. There is something about stringed instruments, however, that is deeply personal. Toby Faber speaks quite candidly about the connection between violin and violinist in the preface of Stradivari's Genius. My attachment to this violin is odd: between 1998-1999 I played for someone who said "Tape yourself and see what your violin can take before you spend a lot of money." Wise advice. In the years following that statement I have received nothing but compliments on the violin, the craftsmanship, and the sound. Yes, it takes going out into the world and getting out of your head to really see sometimes. Of course, during the past two years I have had to play lots more concerts - and no one has spoken ill of "Agent 81". In fact, the response to the instrument has been overwhelmingly positive.

All praise aside: this feels like I am sending my child to summer camp for the first time.

Oddly, the day of preparation has been incredibly lucky for me. After calling the Perrin Violin Shop in Baltimore for a box I went in - and not only did they have the right shipping box, they also carry (IN the shop) the case that I have been eyeing for the past few months. Needless to say, when I get back (somewhere between sleep and playing Bach) I will be making a purchase.

But tomorrow, I will cry a bit, and learn to let go - learn to trust those who will be caring for "Agent 81" until we meet again...

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 5, 2007 at 6:50 AM
Why don't you take the violin with you personally? I think that would be much safer, and it would prevent separation anxiety.

I have a 9 year old student who is very musical and very smart. I told him that when he grows a bit bigger, he can get a new violin which sounds better than his current one. He said, "I don't want to stop playing this violin. I've been playing it for two years, and I love it." I told him that violinists see their instruments as part of themselves. They even put a little bit of their souls into their instruments. I told him that my violin used to belong to my teacher, and I feel like there is a bit of his soul in the violin. My student replied, "I don't believe in souls, but I see what you mean."

Soon you'll be reunited with your precious instrument and you'll meet and work with its maker. Hang in there. Good times are coming.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on December 5, 2007 at 11:30 AM
Enjoy your trip to Boston. Man, is it cold here right now! But with the snow on the ground it's looking pretty Christmas-y :)
From Samuel Thompson
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 9:08 AM
Thanks to the both of you for your was strange, yes, and I've had this feeling before.

I am, however, not fretting - have been loaned a pretty good fiddle on which I can prepare for a concert that takes place next week...


From John Allison
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 2:53 PM
I can understand the anxiety. I don't know if it's my OCD, but I really, really do not like being separated from my violin. If I am going to be anywhere away from home overnight, it has to go with me. I have to practice, everyday or I feel bad.

Now that I have re-read this, I realise that I've got issues.

This place is kind of like a support group though!

I love Boston, I'm envious of your trip!

From Ray Randall
Posted on December 6, 2007 at 2:52 PM
I had to say goodbye to my beloved instrument for almost a month while the neck was raised and new bridge and soundpost put in. The Luthier who did the superb work told be he was going to be overseas during that time and I would be without the violin for about a month. He did offer to loan me a very nice Galiano, but I needed the time off. Was I worried? You bet I was and separation anxiety kicked in.
With much trepidation my wife and I went to pick it up hoping against hope that it would sound at least as good as before. It did not sound the same, it was better if that was possible. He also informed me that my teacher, a violinist high in the first section of the SLSO had called and we were to stop by her house on the way home so she could check it out also. We were both anxious I think. She was very plesed with the work done and the sound also.
A string instrument can't help but become part of you, it is your voice. When it leaves you for awhile of course you will worry. If you don't then something is wrong.

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