Third Australasian Violin Makers’ Conference

AVMA Noticeboard News and Events Third Australasian Violin Makers’ Conference

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    9 to 11 May saw Gorman House Arts Centre in Canberra host the Third Australasian Violin Maker’s Conference.

    With the theme “Style by Design”, a dedicated team of organisers comprising Simon Daly, Jan Reksten, Rodney and Pam Hayward, led by Hugh Withycombe assembled an international panel of experts to address the theme.

    Patrick Robin (France), Raymond Schryer, (Canada), Peter Goodfellow (Scotland), Alan Coggins and John Johnston from Australia descended on the Olims Hotel, on Friday 8th for an informal gathering before facing the eagre crowd of violin aficionados who flooded the registration hall on Saturday morning.

    The day was led by Alan Coggins with a discussion and fascinating slide show of a number of prominent early Australian violin makers. A series of images of A E Smith’s work, for instance, one instrument from each decade of his working life, gave us an insight into the most significant makers of Australia’s past.

    Peter Goodfellow was next up – a Mittagong lad who trained in the UK and ended up staying there. Peter outlined the difficulties involved in working in an insular craft and the importance for personal development in actively seeking out learning opportunities and doggedly tracking down colleagues and groups of makers with whom information is openly shared. This was a particularly pertinent topic for Australasian luthiers for whom remoteness can sometimes seem challenging.

    Patrick Robin’s task was to explain the theories of Francois Denis who has, over many years, developed a plausible theory on how the old Italian masters designed their instruments. The system had to be simple enough for makers of the 17th and 18th centuries who may perhaps have been illiterate and or innumerate, to construct an instrument design of the most beautiful proportions, using little more than a rule and a set of compasses.

    Patrick, a long-time friend of Francois Denis, was able to demonstrate the beauty and simplicity of the method by showing the construction of the Andrea Amati “Conte Vitale” viola of 1676 then, by altering various proportions, changing the outline completely whilst retaining a clearly useful model.

    Raymond Schryer’s presentation addressed the difficulties in transforming available information on old instruments into useful tools that can be taken to the workbench. Many revered instruments are 300 years old, age and physical stress has taken its toll. Raymond was able to show CAT scan slides of old instruments which clearly showed distortions.

    From scans and plaster casts and by careful redrawing, arching templates can be produced using laser technology.

    With work over for the day we were all able to take in a truly fantastic performance by Tin Alley Quartet before retiring to a local Thai restaurant for dinner.

    Sunday started with Peter and Raymond discussing the resonant frequencies of whole body and individual parts of the violin, their relationship to each other and their potential effects on the finished instrument. The presentation concluded with a practical demonstration of bridge tuning using specially designed computer software.

    The following two presentations by Raymond and Patrick, punctuated by a ‘show and tell’ of delegate’s hand made instruments, illustrated the effect that a working method can have on style. They each talked us through a slide show depicting their personal method of executing edgework; two different methods … two different but brilliant end results!

    With the second day over, there was just enough time to whisk Raymond and Patrick, both keen fiddlers, off to a local pub session before the conference dinner at the Olims Hotel.

    Monday started with an informative and humorous presentation by John Johnston entitled “The Pochette : its construction, sound and relevance today”. John talked us through the building of two lovely pochettes he’d recently finished and was kind enough to share all his designs and dimensions with the audience.

    A panel discussion followed with the three international guests fielding questions from the audience before the official end of the conference in the form of a blind instrument sound trial which encouraged some light hearted banter and a little controversy with semi modern and new Australian instruments winning out over their older, more expensive Italian counterparts.

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