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Students learn centuries-old skill at Chicago School of Violin Making

Posted at 4:24 PM, Feb 19, 2020

CHICAGO, Ill. – When it comes to the musical instruments, we hear every day, many are mass produced. But, there’s something about the sound that comes from a hand-crafted instrument. It’s a talent that takes years to learn.

Gently whittling away, the seasoned wood students are learning the age-old skill.

“Violin-making is mostly a craft but there is also art involved,” explained Antoine Nédélec, Director of the Chicago School of Violin Making.

The school is one of only three full-time violin making schools in the country.

The program takes three years. Students learn to make violins, violas and cellos.

“We do things almost identically as they did it four-hundred years ago,” said Nédélec. “There’s a few power tools here and there but really it’s almost the same.”

Mass produced violins normally cost less. But some argue they’re less durable and produce a less rich sound. It’s why the handmade instruments are still in demand.

“Pretty tedious process… trying to match a scroll,” said second year student Trevor Austin.

Austin comes from a family of violinmakers.

“Going forward I’d like to go into my family’s shop and work to eventually run it. So, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” he said.

Over the course of their three-year studies, students are required to build six instruments. Instructor Kristin Siegfried Ballenger says the last one must be constructed in six weeks without supervision.

“We’re here in case of emergencies but we want to be able to have the students prove that they are capable of working on their own in constructing instruments,” said Ballenger.

Kyung Hee came to the school from South Korea. So far, she’s completed two of the required six violins.

“I’m really happy that I made this one, because I was a little doubtful at first,” she said.

Claire Rowan, a third-year student says not everyone who learns the craft has a musical background.

“All of it was a learning curve since I never played violin growing up or at all and I only really enjoy crafting,” said Rowan. “So, even learning wood-working, learning how to use tools was really exciting.”

But the true test comes from the sound their instruments generate.

“You need to be good with your ears…. Because you need to know if it sounds good or not,” explained Nédélec.

It’s a testament to an artform created in the past and preserved for the future.