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Pauline Lerner

The value of a violin

August 7, 2006 at 7:50 AM


One of my students, age 6 ½ years, is wise beyond his age. He told me that a long time ago, before there were machines, people made things by hand. They really cared about what they made, so their things were of very high quality. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the beautiful, century old violin, battered and cracked in many places and almost beyond repair. The violin, aside from its severe damage, looks very pretty and sounds sweet and beautiful.

The neck had come apart from the body, and the violin had been very sloppily glued together. The button is severely cracked, and the ribs are separating from the body. There is a long crack under the tailpiece, and the bottom of the violin is coming apart. The bridge was really strange looking. I have seen warped bridges, but this one has a sharp angle bend in it. It rises perpendicular from the violin, as it should, and then takes a 45 degree turn. Under one foot of the bridge, on the side near the soundpost, is another long crack. The bridge is imprinted with the name of a good violin store near here, so it was not poorly made or poorly fitted. It’s not as if the violin fell on the floor once but was treated with care and respect the rest of the time. It is a matter of chronic abuse and/or neglect. I still can not comprehend how people can be so uncaring. I asked my luthier, who is well respected and honest, how much it would cost to repair the violin. He said, “About $1500,” and I felt very sick. I had my next series of questions prepared in advance. I asked what could be done to make it playable, how much it would cost, and how long it might last. The bottom line was that it could be made playable for about $170, and it might last for a few years.

How can one express the value of a violin? Certainly, it’s not about dollars. It’s about love, a very personal love. If the violin were mine, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend $170 on it. Even if I only had one year to play it, it would be well worth $170 to me. The violin belongs to a friend of mine who is not a musician. How can I explain it to him? I thought about the things that $170 could buy or not buy and did a few rough calculations. Here is what I came up with.

I can’t explain it. I can’t explain beauty and love.


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