A bit morbid, but...

August 5, 2019, 1:56 PM · A recent medical problem brought home the issue of mortality and while I've fully recovered I have come face-to-face with the fact that I'm mortal. While my wife and I have wills (that need to be updated) I have begun to think about what to do with my instrument.

To me it is more than just a violin, and has value that cannot be measured in money. At the same time we have no heirs (a choice we made before marriage). So there is no simple direction.

I've been inspired by the story of "Joe's Violin" and while my instrument's back-story isn't a tear-jerker, it does have a proud legacy of being a family instrument that belonged to my wife's great-grandfather who bought it in Sweden and brought it to America where it was played at family gatherings and in church for many decades. Then it languished in the attic until I found and restored it (and put way too much money into the restoration).

It's a nice violin and works well in a community orchestra. A friend says it's tone is sweet and pleasing. I still love it and someday hope that the next guardian will take good care of it despite it not having a high market value.

The day is coming when I will no longer be able to play and it will be time for the violin to go to another guardian.

I'm inviting your thoughts and suggestions. It will not be tomorrow, and hopefully not any time soon, but the day is coming and I want to be prepared.

Replies (13)

Edited: August 5, 2019, 2:37 PM · A dear friend passed late last year. It was expected. She was a cellist and bowmaker. I asked her who should have her cello, thinking that there was a particular person who it might bring happiness to, but she didn't. The maker was a friend, so I asked if it should go back to the maker, and she said no.
I found someone. The teacher knew this person and plays one of her bows, so I asked her if she had a student who would both benefit and honor our friend. She found someone, and when it next changes hands-which may be a long while since this should be a lifetime instrument for this person-hopefully they will tell the story of how the cello came to them.

So, if you want to choose the next custodian, start looking. If not, choose someone who you can trust to find the next custodian.

August 5, 2019, 2:47 PM · What about passing it on to a relative, and keeping it in the family??
Edited: August 5, 2019, 6:38 PM · I never paid much for any of my instruments ($5,000 for one of the cellos, but that was the most by at least 300%) but they are too valuable to me to consider unloading while I'm alive. My wife and I have decided who gets what (nothing to the 3 grandchildren) but each of our 3 children will get something they have long expressed an interest in and in that vein, our son (who has been musical all his life, will get my 4 violins, 3 cellos, 2 violas and 20 bows). He is free to keep the stuff, divvy it up to the rest of the family or sell it as he wishes. He does play the violin (all the plucked instruments and keyboards and has a recording studio: https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/JosephVictor1 ) -- and he has a new neighbor who is a retired violin-luthier and violinist, who might be helpfull to him if she outlives me.

We felt this will continue a connection to the instruments as long as someone in the family cares and provide for time for them to find caring new homes, if that is possible. Violin making in southeast Germany dates back 280 years in my wife's family (according to Henley) and our violin-playing granddaughter owns one of my violins and the family-made violin my wife's paternal grandfather immigrated to this country with 130 years ago and earned his living on as a professional violinist in New York.

August 5, 2019, 4:31 PM · I have a violin which was a bequest from a stranger. It’s a very nice violin and I have played it professionally for a few years now. The lady who owned it never married and had no children. She put a clause in her will that the violin was to be placed in the hands of a professional violinist. Through a chain of acquaintances, her executrix found me.
August 5, 2019, 4:33 PM · This seems like something where, given your interest in helping kids, the violin might be loaned to a student in need of something decently playable. You could find a friend to help figure out where it should go, and possibly establish a small foundation that would own the instrument and have a small amount of funding to do upkeep, insurance, etc.
Edited: August 5, 2019, 8:05 PM · I think we here tend to put far too much emphasis on the devices, as objects of possession, and a telling part of that is the first question which often comes to mind when considering one is 'how much is it worth / did it cost'?

I didn't find the story of "Joe's Violin" to be much of a tearjerker, but did find it to be somewhat tragic - to see the aspirations of the relatively disadvantaged children, in light of what might have been had they had the advantage of private lessons or even a knowledgeable parent at home to guide them. Hopefully my perspective is too negative, and things are actually better, or have become better through the attention and actions of others, but I know that it is the case the vast majority of people simply do not have access to good guidance and support in a such a difficult and uncommon undertaking as playing violin. However, even a little learning can be fruitful, as it's music education, so one need not reach a high level of accomplishment in order to benefit.

In light of that observation, and in having recalled some of George's posts about self-teaching and teaching others, I think the most suitable legacy for him would not be the device per se, but to encourage others to participate in music education; perhaps especially among those who are less fortunate. So I'd suggest bequeathing it to an institution or individual which participates in such education; perhaps specifying that it should go to such a teacher.

August 6, 2019, 6:55 AM · George, first of all I'm glad you weathered the storm. We'd like to have you around here for a while yet!

I know you've been teaching for a long time. Your students are your family to an extent as well. Is there a special student that maybe you had years ago who wants to return to the violin, or now has a child of his or her own that would benefit by having a violin? Just a couple of random thoughts there.

Edited: August 6, 2019, 7:43 AM · My mom had several family violins. Three of them were decent 100 year old German manufactured violins. When she could not play them any more, I persuaded here to sell the violins. She had also her very first 3/4 little violin. She learned to play on that violin and years later it was my first violin too. The luthier told here it had a good sound but more sentimental than money value. I asked the luthier to restore it and asked around for people who give violin lessons to kids whose parents can't really afford it. I found such a teacher and now we keep the violin and we provide it to a really cute little girl. They only pay for insurance.
This spring I took my mother to a pupil concert and she immediatly recognized her little violin (she had not met the girl before yet) and was very pleased with this arrangement.
When this girl grews out of the violin, we will provide it to another kid.
August 6, 2019, 7:56 AM · All my instruments will remain within the family. I am the 6th generation custodian of my favourite violin.
August 7, 2019, 9:19 AM · Thank you all. From your responses I now have a plan to work with one of the younger conductors in the Youth Orchestra program where my wife and I volunteer and make plans to pass along the violin to that person with the plan that it will be used by less wealthy students. I may also, in keeping with "Joe's Violin", include the back-story of the instrument.

Lyndon: We did think about family members (distant cousins because we are the end points of our branches of the family trees). Unfortunately, there are no current or budding musicians and all anyone wants to know is: "How much is is worth?" They are profoundly disappointed and disinterested when they realize that it is not a "valuable" instrument.

Paul: Thanks for the kind sentiments. My malady was an infection that formed in the area of a replaced hip. I was told that had I waited just one day I might well have died of septic shock. Yeah, it was that serious but all is well now. It was a real scare.

Edited: August 7, 2019, 12:21 PM · George -- holy moly! Infections like that can be very dangerous indeed. Regrettably they are relatively common complications of surgery. Please take care of yourself. Drink plenty of water and rest and listen to well-played violin music! Your idea to include some paperwork with the instrument is great, but it could get lost. Another thing you could do is put together a simple video showing your violin to the camera, explaining its characteristic/unique features, and then speaking aloud the text of the violin's story. Once on YouTube it should be there forever -- and your voice (and image if you wish) will be linked with it forever as well.
Edited: August 7, 2019, 5:48 PM · Nothing morbid... We are just custodians and violins mysteriously find violinists. I sometimes think of all previous custodians of my violins with a sense of gratitude and compassion for their own struggles and love of music. Gently wipe the rosin after each session, wrap it into a silk scarf, carefully close the lid and say a silent prayer.
August 7, 2019, 9:11 PM · I really like Rocky’s reply. I hope long after I’m gone someone will still give my fiddle yet another voice and it will continue on after my journey here is done.

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