Sunday, May 5, 2013

Saying Good-bye

This is Richard Kriehn, who is one of the greatest mandolin players, ever, and he's an amazingly-good fiddler/violinist and guitarist, to boot.  This photo is from what may be our last session (at least here in my studio), where we recorded our version of Vivaldi's Lute Concerto in D--he plays the lute part on the mandolin, and I play the orchestra on the gourd banjo.  This will either turn up on one of his records or one of mine.  Or something.  We did it because it's so cool, but we had no specific plans for it.  Anyway, he has been in the area about ten years, and we've worked on a whole bunch of projects together, including his mandolin CD, "From Here to There."  He has had great success in the last few years, as he joined "Guy's All-Star Shoe Band" on Prairie Home Companion, and found a venue for his extraordinary musical skills.  It was amazing to me (and yet not all that surprising) that Washington State University could not get it together to offer him a permanent position to keep him here, but they didn't, and this week he and his family are moving back to Minnesota, where he can really take advantage of this great gig he's gotten.  If you have to say good-bye to someone, the ideal situation is like this, where you know that they are going on to greater things.  Godspeed, Richard!

I had to say good-bye to another old friend this week, my 1840 C. F. Hartmann violin.  I have had this violin for almost thirty years.  Previously it was owned by a fairly well-known Irish fiddler here in the Pacific Northwest, Randall Bays.  I purchased it in 1984 at the NW Folklife Festival musical instrument auction.  It needed some work!  It had a short "transitional baroque" neck, which would have been cool to keep, but the neck and pegbox were severely worn to the point of self-destruction and unplayability (apparently a previous owner had a weird condition where the chemicals on their skin ate wood...I've seen this a couple of times...these people should be playing brass instruments!), so I did a scroll graft.  I did this myself because I didn't have the big bucks it would take to pay a luthier to do it, but it is a pretty difficult operation in the best of circumstances and for a variety of reasons this was an especially difficult graft.  I did have a luthier do a neck reset afterwards ('way cheaper than doing a graft).  Actually, luthiers screwed up the neck on several occasions over the years (technically there were four neck resets), and then finally Paul Hill of Moscow, ID made everything all right about five years ago.  If you are ever in the Palouse region, Paul is the guy you want to work on your stringed instruments.

If you go back a few months in this blog, you can find the story of my violin rescue, where Paul Hill set-up an amazing-sounding c. 1800 Saxon violin I bought in an auction last fall.  The Hartmann is a noble instrument, but the anonymous much-repaired old Saxon has a transcendental sound, and thus my old friend had to sit around ever since, lonely in its case.  Over the years, I had done some research to find out about C. F. Hartmann and this violin.  Trained in the traditional violin-making region of Saxony (now in Southern Germany), at 19 he was brought from Neukirchen to America around 1839 by a cabinet-maker who got in trouble with the luthiers' guild in that region because he made guitars:  C. F. Martin.  This violin's label lists Hartmann as a "Manufacturer of violins, guitars, etc" in Nazareth, PA and is dated 1840.  It may be the first violin Hartmann made in America, and I knew that it could be historically important, because Martin went on to be one of the most important guitar makers in the world.

Over the last few months I started to think about how I could sell this violin, since I really hated seeing it just sit there.  As what it is generically, an early 19th-c. Markneukirchen style violin by a young master luthier, it had some value, but I knew that I had to try to find someone who understood what this instrument really was.  Everyone I discussed this with who knew the violin world told me I had to get it to David Bromberg, who has gone on from a fabulous career as a blues-to-bluegrass guitar-player/singer to being the authority on American violin-making.  He has a violin shop in Wilmington, Delaware, and a well-known outstanding collection of American violins, and sure enough, he wanted this fiddle (he said it is the earliest professional-quality violin made in America that he has seen).  So yesterday, I carefully packaged up my old friend and sent it on to what really is a better place, a spot in David Bromberg's wonderful collection.  If you are ever in Wilmington, Delaware, stop by his shop and say hello to my old violin.