End of life decisions

Edited: November 3, 2021, 8:32 AM · I have 3 violins which I treasure, more for the sound than any monetary value. One is over 100 years old, the other two (a Juzek and a Heberlein) go back to 1925. I've enjoyed playing them, but I've reached the point in life where I need to start planning what I would like my heirs to do with them when I am gone. I have 4 grandkids, ages 3-7, who will inherit other violins I set aside for them (1/2-3/4 size), but the three I mentioned would have value to someone older and more experienced. I don't think they should go in the attic, or be donated to Goodwill, so for my own peace of mind, I am looking into what I can do with them. I suppose selling each one to an interested musician might be an option, but since they were simply given to me or passed on over the years (I am 77) I think more about the pleasure angle then the monetary, and would feel better about carrying that attitude forward. Your thoughts?

Replies (18)

Edited: November 3, 2021, 10:55 PM · My instruments (4 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos and 21 bows) will all go to my son to do with as he wishes; one other cello has already gone to a son-in-law. My son is a life-long musician although he only started to play violin in his 40s and already has 3 violins that passed through my hands to his. He also has a recording studio, so who knows what and who those instruments might see and feel when they are his.

When your grandchildren are grown they will really treasure playing on their "grandfather's violin." I gave my own violinist granddaughter the "violin of her choice" from my "collection" when she was 10 years old and big enough to play a full-size (of course, she chose the instrument that was my favorite at the time). She also now has a violin from my wife's side of the family, made by an ancestor in 1845 and brought to America by my wife's grandfather in 1882 to earn his living as a violinist in New York City (he had 3 sons who formed a piano trio that played in the silent film theaters before leaving to "seek their fortunes" - my wife's father was the cellist in the trio).

ADDED: 11/3/21: Were it not for my progenys' involvement in music I would consider donating all my instruments to ELM (Enriching Lives through Music) a very active music group for children (mostly in our city's Latino community) in my city of San Rafael, CA. It is really an incredible program of over 100 kids that some players in my chamber orchestra rehearsed (dress rehearsal only) and performed with 2 or 3 times about 5 years before COVID. They have degree musicians as coaches/teachers for each section and the two concerts I performed with them the conductor was the asst. conductor for the LA Philharmonic (even though we are 450 miles north of there).

After the last ELM concert I was in (and after I had stopped teaching) I donated several bags of stuff like chinrests, shoulder rests, cello stops, rosin, etc. to ELM.
ELM: https://www.elmprogram.org/

November 3, 2021, 8:38 AM · Dear Skip - Thanks for that query.
When I was very young, my mother's old headmistress betqueathed me her full size Stainer model violin (Old German). Of course, it was smaller violins that my father taught me on and I played, but at the age of 8 I started to learn viola. My father moved the soundpost on that Stainer model backwards, and it became my viola until age about 10 or 11, after which he put the soundpost forward and it became my violin again, a little more dark toned than it had been, but eventually the tone got brighter (I later fell off a school stage with it, with consequences you can read about elsewhere on v.com if you are really interested, but it's not relevant to your question).
You don't need to assume that your grandchildren won't eventually want to play these full size instruments. Maybe you can find someone to keep them being played in the mean time, but it'll only be 3-4 years before your oldest has grown enough to play one of them as a violin.
November 3, 2021, 9:15 AM · My instruments are currently listed as being donated to a musicians trust in the future, one that loans out instruments to talented under 18s.

This might change if and when I have my own children.

November 3, 2021, 9:24 AM · I’m willing to accept donations!

Jokes aside, I’d like my instruments to be played and enjoyed. The ideal scenario is that your family members will keep playing them. The best scenario would be personally giving those instruments to your grown-up grandchildren by the time they can play, appreciate and enjoy them.

Sadly, it’s an uncertain situation. So if they’re not going to inherit them, and you’d feel better giving them for free, in your situation I’d either “carry with the tradition” by giving them to someone who likes it or needs it and who will play it… or I’d sell them and donate that money away to any charitable organization who will make good use of it by helping needy people.

November 3, 2021, 10:11 AM · In my area there is a nonprofit organization that accepts orchestra instruments for children who can't afford them. You might look and see if there is a similar outfit where you are. I have contacted this outfit in my area and that is where my beloved Karl and Hildie will go.
November 3, 2021, 2:47 PM · I have also thought about this.
I would bequeath one (or two) to my grandchildren, as a way to remember me so to speak.
And either the other one or two I would bequeath to a collage or music school, either to loan to students or maybe also with the idea of gifting them to a student they feel needs or deserves them.

Before doing so, I would contact colleges or music schools or teachers that I know and discuss the idea with them.
I would leave a note somewhere (testament, letter, violin case) explaining what I value in each violin so that heirs have an idea what to expect. Maybe something like "This violin is a xyz and ("only") worth abc $, but I love(d) playing it because..."

November 3, 2021, 2:59 PM · Most youth orchestras might want something for their less-affluent students to use while they figure out what their next instrument should be.
November 3, 2021, 3:34 PM · I think if you want to give your grandkids your violins, the thing to do is to give them to your kids. But don't tie their hands with "never to be sold" kind of stuff because their lives and their needs may diverge from yours after you are gone.

All my assets are bequeathed to a trust for our kids. They (and the executor) can figure out what to do with it. So simple.

November 3, 2021, 9:44 PM · I plan to sell my best violin (Cison) and bow (J. Voirin) when I am no longer playing professionally. That’s always been the plan; the proceeds will be part of our retirement. I have another very fine violin, professional quality, that isn’t worth much on paper. I’m considering leaving it to one of my alma maters, Oberlin or Indiana, to be used by a student who has not yet acquired an adequate instrument (I myself was such a student while at Oberlin and used a school violin). My viola and picnic violin will probably go to the local youth orchestra.

None of my children play violin despite my best efforts early on. I would only consider leaving an instrument to a grandchild if I had one who was a serious student. Otherwise any bequeathed instrument would be a burden, not a blessing.

November 3, 2021, 10:52 PM · I don't expect to pass on my instruments for a few decades, but I've at least thought about it.

I'm definitely keeping my violin (1950s German workshop violin) in the family. It belonged to my great-uncle, so it has heirloom value even if it doesn't have a lot of value on paper. In fact, the relatively low resale value may even make it more suitable for keeping in the family, because it's fine for student or casual amateur use.

I'm less sure about what happens to my viola. It's a professional-quality instrument, so I would like it to be used by a competent, serious player. That might mean it either gets sold or goes to a university music program. Then again, it might be nice to keep a high-quality instrument in the family; I once shared a stand with someone playing a viola that a direct ancestor had purchased in the late 18th century, and I would love to start that kind of legacy.

November 7, 2021, 1:06 AM · I purchased a Stainer copy two or three years ago from a gentleman who had inherited his grandfather's violin. It had been sitting on his closet shelf since 1961.

They sound like nice violins. You might consider donating one or more to a college music department for them to loan to students who might not have the resources to purchase a good violin.

November 7, 2021, 8:51 AM · Enthusiasm can jump generations...
November 7, 2021, 9:15 AM · Dr. Milton Erickson put it best: "Life creates pain all by itself. Your responsibility is to create joy."
So that's not just by playing the violin.
November 7, 2021, 12:18 PM · Skip,

I'm also in my mid-70's and can see the day coming when my playing will simply stop. The combination of osteoarthritis and various injuries are going to end my playing. I only have one instrument which is over 100 years old and my wife and I are child-free.

I've made and agreement with a local friend who is a professional teacher and performer. She will take on the responsibility for being the instrument's guardian and make sure that it is cared for and played. I am also writing the history of the instrument and requesting that future musicians add to the story as the instrument moves from guardian to guardian (probably won't happen but I can hope...)

My dilemma is the Adolph C. Schuster*** bow that I have in addition to the original unidentified bow that came with the instrument. It is not a student level bow and some catalogues put a hefty price on similar bows.

November 7, 2021, 11:53 PM · Yes, enthusiasm can skip generations but in the meantime a fine violin needs to be played. Sitting on a closet shelf is the worst case scenario. If no family members are violinists at the time of my death, then the bequest of the violin becomes a burden. They have to find someone to play it and maintain it, or more likely, it ends up in a closet. I’d rather my instruments go directly into the hands of somebody who will play them.
Edited: November 8, 2021, 2:00 AM · Unlike the rest of my junk my violins are realizable assets that after my final resolution should be easy to sell at auction. If someone wants to play them instead that's great but I wouldn't force them on anyone as an "heirloom". A violist in my string quartet was cursed by the bequest of an instrument made by her uncle.
Edited: November 8, 2021, 5:05 AM · Steve - no one has the right to 'curse' someone with a hand-me-down. Time to make that instrument an out-of-my-hair-loom methinks!

I have a half sized instrument that both I and my sister took our first steps on that has more family significance than the far more valuable ones I currently have. It has no financial value but it would be wonderful if one of my grand-nieces or nephews played on it - but despite lots of possibles there does not seem to be one that shows an interest.

My other childhood violin - a moderately valuable full-sized Wolf Brother's (several $K) was essentially gifted to me (1 BP) by an ex-member of the Leicester symphony orchestra when my father and I were visiting people that had responded to an ad in the local paper. He was so excited to see me play I think I gave him enormous pleasure to pass it on to someone that might treasure it. He was right, its in my closet and does get the occasional outing and I have had if fully restored. However, this topic has made me think about doing the same thing; passing it on to a youngster with limited resources but a violinistic passion.

My main violin, a Bellini, will ultimately get sold as part of my assets and hopefully will go to person skilled enough to take full advantage.

Edited: November 9, 2021, 2:12 AM · It's worth bearing in mind that what's precious to you may be seen in an entirely different light by your loving children and charming grandchildren. For at least 30 years my family has been passing around a box of manuscripts of novels and short stories written by my aunt. Thus far nobody has had the courage to consign them to the fate we think their literary merit warrants.

But to argue the opposite angle, since 2011 I and a couple of others have been involved with a forgotten English violinist/composer, Percy Hilder Miles, some of whose manuscripts turned up uncatalogued in the library of the Royal Academy of Music. https://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Miles%2C_Percy_Hilder.

Percy died childless in 1922 and about 5 years ago we traced his likely heir to Calgary, Canada. Bill Miles already possessed (and played) a cello made by his grandfather but said he didn't think he had anything related to his great uncle Percy. However, after exploring his basement Bill came up with several bundles of manuscripts comprising 50 or more of Percy's compositions. Some have now been professionally recorded and the whole episode has had the effect of uniting family members across the globe.


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