Newark student Marion Pollart took part in a team violin making project at RNCM, Manchester in March 2018. This is her account of her experience:
Thanks to the Thomas Jellis Trust, the Royal Northern College of Music commissions an instrument every year from a group of 4 English makers. The rules are simple: the four makers have to complete the instrument, set up in the white, in seven days. They work at the RNCM in order to raise the students’ awareness of violin making, anyone can come and are welcome to ask questions and watch the work in progress. This year the RNCM asked Marc Soubeyran, William Castle, Kai-Thomas Roth, and Tibor Szemmelveisz to provide two violins in a baroque set-up. The makers formed the habit of inviting a violin making student each year to help sorting drinks and food, who therefore gets the chance to see the different ways they work, to hear all the discussions about the style and construction of the instruments, to ask questions, to take photos, etc. I was kindly asked if I wanted to be part of this year’s project, and didn’t hesitate one second!
So on Saturday, right after my RAB Trust work experience with Helen Michetschläger, I crossed Manchester and arrived in the RNCM for 6 days of crazy violin making…
The program was tight, the days were long. The atmosphere was friendly, relaxed and focussed, but the makers didn’t stop working until the programme of the day was fulfilled, no matter how long they had to stay at the bench. Two violins in seven days, with the additional complexity of a baroque set-up!
The makers had chosen models inspired by two very different makers: Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu and Jakob Stainer. The Stainer was to be set up as in original condition; the del Gesu would receive a more “transitional” baroque set-up (that would still be the result of accurate historical research). Each maker had seen the two original instruments; the amount of information material was impressive and incredibly useful. I spent a good lot of time browsing through the close-up pictures of making details that they took from both original instruments.
And here I am now, back from this incredible experience, sitting and trying to put it into words. I received so much in just six days, it makes me struggle to express!
I tried my best to adapt to four makers I didn’t know, with their own personalities. I looked for places to sit where I could get a good view of what was going on without being on their way or hindering their work. It felt like four work experiences in one go.
Of course, each personality expressed itself in individual ways of looking at the instruments and also of producing the work. However, I quickly noticed two tendencies in the differences of their practical approach:
– William and Kai trained in Newark, Tibor in Mittenwald (Germany), and Mark in Brienz (Switzerland). When it came to sawing the outline of the plates, William adopted the Newark method of clamping it on a V board and sawing it sitting, whereas Tibor took out his framesaw, “clamped” the back between his foot and a low stool, and sawed the plate standing with a very impressive accuracy! I clearly felt similarities in Kai and William methods, something different in Marc’s, and something in Tibor’s approach reminded me of the first maker I ever met, André Theunis, who also learnt the craft in Mittenwald.
– Tibor was new to the project, while Marc, Kai and William had been on board from the beginning. I was amused to observe that the three of them had clearly been influenced by each other and had shared ideas for a few years already: they preferred scrub planes to gouges for arching and hollowing, had similar purfling markers, similar jigs to hold the plate while hollowing, secured the plates on platforms to work standing while arching and purfling…
Watching the creation of two violins simultaneously was very intense, and it means I couldn’t possibly catch everything that was happening all the time. But it also put me in the very lucky position to be able to witness directly different techniques for each stage of the making. While Kai clamped his scroll to his bench and worked vertically with his gouges, applying the pressure downwards, Marc sat down, held the scroll in his hand and used his gouges in a more horizontal way. It was a live demonstration that different techniques, when mastered, can all lead to a professional and convincing result.
Working in a very limited lapse of time, the four makers had to find a way to conciliate their distinct approaches and agree on the best thing to do step by step. It required trust and flexibility, and they doubtlessly enjoyed the exercise (before the project started, Marc told me: “we do not compromise; we discuss, listen, and find solutions!”). Listening to their morning conversation on why to do each stage this or that way, and which result they were exactly looking to achieve, was as enriching as watching them do the actual woodwork.
In addition to all of this, each of them was very open, available and generous to me. They encouraged me to ask questions any time they were less busy, and answered them all. They drew my attention to details they considered important. They shared their learning paths, their experience as self-employed violin makers, and their view on the market nowadays.
I come back from this experience with a fuller notebook, precious pictures, sharper eyes, and mostly a fresh impulse of hunger and enthusiasm towards violin making. A big, sincere thank you to William, Kai, Marc, Tibor, as well as to John Miles for the very good video of the event he produced, and the RNCM staff and students. Thank you to the RAB Trust for having given me such a precious opportunity!