Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How to Make a Violin

I found the obituary for Carleen Hutchins to be quite fascinating, as I had never heard of her family of eight violin instruments (which differ from the standard string quartet instruments of violin, viola and cello (and even moreso the bass) by replicating precisely the timbre of the violin even at different octaves).

In particular, I liked the final story in the article, in part because of its Columbia connection:
Mrs. Hutchins was known for her pragmatism. In 1957 her friend Virginia Apgar, a doctor and amateur violin maker, began to covet a shelf made of perfect maple. The shelf was in a phone booth in the medical school of Columbia University, where Dr. Apgar taught.

One night she and Mrs. Hutchins stole into the building with some tools and a replacement shelf, stained to match. As Dr. Apgar stood guard, Mrs. Hutchins set to work. To their dismay, the new shelf was a quarter-inch too long.

Mrs. Hutchins had a saw, and there was a ladies’ room nearby. As The New York Times reported afterward, “a passing nurse stared in astonishment at the sounds coming through the door.”

Dr. Apgar could think quickly. (She had, after all, devised the Apgar score, used worldwide to measure the health of newborns.) “It’s the only time repairmen can work in there,” she said.

Spirited out of the hospital, the shelf made a magnificent viola back.

No comments: