Every year after Thanksgiving a shoebox is retrieved from the top shelf of a closet. Stuffed with holiday music, I wrap presents and make soup as north winds bring Arctic chill. Singers Gen-X’ers know not. Bing Crosby? Perry Como? You’ll get blank stares. Judy Garland singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Such a poignant statement she makes. How quickly two generations forget the 1944 musical Meet Me In St. Louis which brought Judy’s performance to the world.
After I plow through the standards one CD ends up in permanent rotation. For the remainder of the season, maybe into the New Year, Shawn Colvin’s 1998 release Holiday Songs and Lullabies is played over and over.
Vocals, instrumentation, arranging, I hate to use the word perfect. If we could ignore the teachings of a great tile setter Only God is Perfect, now would be the time. I discover something new with every listening.
Recorded in sweltering Austin Texas, waiting for Shawn’s baby to be born, her life and passion come through with every word and phrase. Doug Petty’s production is a labor of genius and love.
Shawn’s recording began as a youth. Receiving the book Lullabies & Night Songs from her parents when she was about eight. Singing Christmas carols in four-part harmony during car rides. All-year around. 🙂 This is an album of Shawn’s memories.
And mine also. New faces and smells and sounds. A foggy winter, rural mountain foothills, wolves howling at midnight. Steamy kitchens, multi-colored tissue across the table. Stacks of presents. Hobbies, crafts, hours fitting century-old instruments back together.
My apologies to Ms. Colvin for presuming to sum her life and passion in two hours on a Sunday morning. I make a second cup of coffee, listen to her CD again, and continue editing. After two decades her recording is still new. Still fresh. Maybe I’ve been working on this article not for two hours, but for two decades? The room is now quiet, my coffee cold. Where did the time go? Into memories born upon Shawn’s recordings?
The release’s artwork is original 1965 Maurice Sendak. I’d share inner fold J-card images from the CD but do not want another lawsuit for copyright infringement.
The 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis has been deemed “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress.
Photo by Michael Wilson
Coverdale Farm Preserve of Delaware Nature Society in historic Greenville finally had their festival. It must be October again! The perfect excuse to view crowds milling about crafts and activities – from a distance. A good hundred yards away, by the food trucks, is a covered sound stage. Five bluegrass and Old-Time bands are scheduled. Chair, book, snacks, ACTION!
Every group was great but I did notice a new face. Harrisburg native Henry Koretzky brought his 1989 Crafters of Tennessee mandolin. It sounded like a vintage Gibson mandolin – someone had even inlayed “The Gibson” into the headstock. A parts mandolin, its wood reportedly sourced from Gibson itself. The real story will never be known, having died with famous Dobro player and shop owner Tut Taylor.
For the traditional sounds of Appalachian old-time, bluegrass, and early country music, I now know where to find an expert. As well as perfect contra dance music. The Contra Rebels, with Barb Schmid on fiddle, Todd Clewell on banjo/fiddle/guitar, and Henry Koretzky on guitar/mandolin.
Special thanks to Tater Patch for performing one of my favorite tunes, Lazy John.
Another fantastic version of Lazy John is Roger Netherton’s 2016 rendition.
Behind many ten minute successes lie hours of preparation. According to my dentist during a little buffing after a $200 smear of white Bondo. Lately, at the secretive Luthier Laboratories, pushing boundaries past conventional instrument repair, we’ve found those preparation-to-execution numbers to be a bit skewed.
In this case, hours and hours were spent converting this “Sold For Parts” French violin into a viable instrument. As we near the final cavelletti, hands and clamps in piaffe and pirouette, this early 19th century Mirecourt nears a milestone. Sound post and tone tap, the first in 120+ years we surmise (the repairs of 1886 were never completed).
At every step, to poke, prod, shave, raise, lower, scrape, and in general convince the parts to obey, our Lie-Nielsen ⅜” chisel is there to assist. An extension of my fingers but with enhanced fingernails. A2 Tool Steel, hardened to Rockwell 60-62, cryogenically treated and double tempered.
Our mortised end block holds us up no longer. After this Mirecourt skipped the entire last century, we’ll soon be having a conversation. Talk about dropping out! Welcome back!
Smiles Horses thudding along the old Pony Express from Socorro. Northward I roll to happy honking horns and wide Kansas smiles. Inching my velocity up to the speed limit, a Man Of Purpose, intent on beating dusk. To the joy of traffic backed up behind me. But there was so much to see! Miles and miles of prairie, cattle, wheat, everything!
Monarch Highway Motoring southward, I recall grasslands preserved for butterflies and the generous Kansas rest stop welcome, “Camping Permitted”. This would be a rare planned stop amid our freewheeling northward meander in search of “what was”. Road & wind are our only influences. Stretching out for sleep fits in there as well.
The horizon has yanked itself up above the sun but the birds don’t know it yet. With plenty of light, we roll to a far spot, change into night duds (jeans, fleece top, bandana), and off to a soft spot under the trees. Only a couple of rough blankets and a cushion, but it is heaven! Dozing off to darkening skies, birds chirping … fading … fading … And wake up at first light, a solid unbroken eight hours of sleep! Far better than any motel room, and 100% cheaper! Where’s the tip jar? We owe nature a fat one for lulling us with her perfect Kansas breezes!
The sun rises faster Barely an hour into our morning I notice the Missouri sun seems awfully high in the sky. Time zones aside, surrounded by farmland, I can see why a farmer gets up so early. It is work from sun-up until sun-down; gotta leverage every minute.
The sun also reminds me of another issue: hunger and thirst. Sweet Springs is the first exit after I think of caffeine, so we take it. Eschewing service station coffee, we delve southward and find Downtown. Wow! Jackpot! Sweet Springs, platted in 1838. We park by the Old City Hall c.1891 and smell food. Right up the block, a business for all occasions. The de facto City Hall, maybe? 🙂
Sausage, milk, flour, butter Sausage gravy on biscuits made from scratch every day is a favorite, Parrish tells me. A perfect start. Last Chance Saloon is regular stop from here on out!
Individual Time Grudgingly we re-enter the Interstate. Missouri rolls by. Windows down, crops and soil smell familiar. Long walks amid barns and fields as a kid. Driving Down The Highway. Without radio, plenty of time to think. New ideas. Hmmmmm Individual time: I decide when I want it to be 5am, Noon, 9pm, whatever. My clock is my own and computers figure out how to mesh my life with the world. New songs. New plans for new trips. Missouri farmland smells like childhood. Innocence. Imagination.
While purchasing another Asian-made Craftsman 5-pc. mini-pliers set – can’t have too many of these! – I spied this Hook And Pick Set. Craftsman, guaranteed for life, padded handles, just the right length. Length for what? I did not know yet.
Sometimes nudging a violin sound post wants a thin strong piece of steel with a tip of peculiar shape. These picks had those attributes and more. They arrived with my sturdy mini needle-nose pliers, package contents noted, then drawered unopened. I was pleased to see the Made In USA logo. It meant the steel tips would probably not bend out of shape upon first use.
Finally, the right job. All my gear is packed for a luthier skills exhibition in Omaha and Olivia’s violin is making an emergency pit stop. Wow, Hercules must have cranked her chinrest onto the violin body. The turn bolts turn not, bending my make-shift turn-key. A right angle hook from the Craftsman set is perfect.
Its tip handles the job without complaint, bending, or chipping. Of note, the pick tip would not insert far enough through the turn bolt hole to scrape the violin ribs if one worked without care. All situations are different. Gouge fine wood in haste, repair at leisure. These are rugged tools for delicate jobs. Further inquiry reveals a range of Craftsman hook and pick sets for all occasions.
The 4-pc hook and pick set with cushioned grip handles comes with four instruments, a straight pick, a hook pick, a 90 degree pick and a complex pick. – Sears Craftsman 41634
One of the handiest items on my workbench is the Juzek peg shaper. Nearly every violin in line exhibits peg issues. An ill-fitted “emergency” peg, in place for decades, inexorably ruining the peg box due to ignorance, empty pockets, or economy. Absent pegs. No pegs. Archaic peg hole taper.
With a peg shaper we’re able to fit a new set of pegs “from scratch” any time we choose. Last week it almost didn’t happen, though. What started as a routine shaving experience became a scraping. Hardwood dust was produced with no significant reduction in peg diameter.
Upon advice from every point of the windrose, we’ve recently delved into the dark arts of metal sharpening. Just as my forbearers scraped early bronze blades across stone, we remove the peg sharpener’s blade and scrape it across our new Gator Sharpening Stone.
Held at the manufacturer’s proscribed angle, eased by a 99.5% water mixture with natural lubricants added, a circular action was initiated. Just like on an old Daniel Boone movie. Three times we reinstall and test. It works! Also of import, we’ve learned the limitations of our small one-grit stone.
Clyde’s Hardware Store, closing its doors forever, managed to save their last stone for me. My first sharpening stone. We’ll be adding to our collection in future articles, but for now, we achieve an adequate edge with the Gator.
Special thanks to Philadelphia luthier David Michie. His customers, Academy Of Music, Curtis, and Kimmel Center musicians, bring him an endless array of stringed instruments for refurbishment and repair. Cast-off violin pegs from these instruments soften our learning curve and now grace student violins across the Western Hemisphere.
The ideal violin neck is subjective. It changes as you grow, develop, and mature. Perfect today is old hat tomorrow. The neck itself moves, as does the fingerboard. Not as quickly as our tastes but more like a painting of a slow tortoise.
The fingerboard is shaped with a radius across it’s width. The other direction, parallel with the strings, looks flat. But it is actually curved. String height is so low on a violin that without longitudinal concavity – the fingerboard’s scoop – vibrating strings would buzz against the fingerboard.
When a favored fiddler’s favorite fingerboard appeared beyond flat, clearly convex along its length, it was time to learn the art of the scoop. After chipping up a few natty practice fingerboards, I tried a good one. It was easier. Quality wood shaves more cleanly. “Scraping” of the fingerboard was performed. Seemingly random, together the strokes produced a concave surface to the fingerboard. Nearly flat along the high E edge. Visually pronounced along the low G. Gradations in between. Finally, comparison of the newly scooped violin fingerboard with my Products Engineering Corporation straight edge. Convex no more. Just the right amount of concavity.
After the scraping comes the sanding. Dusty thirsty work with multiple grits of scratch cloth. 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1,000. The glossy finish I want? The easy way is to dump sealer over it, a thick polymer coating. But tradition prefers bare wood. We scraped and sanded the old sealer off the fingerboard during the scooping. The reshaped wood now prefers special attention. The musician wants skin-smooth wood under their fingertips. A natural shine is wanted.
Micro Mesh makes it easy. With products developed for fine art restoration, our slat of century-old ebony is no challenge. Working up through the colored grits, the wood begins gleaming at about 6,000 grit. But do we stop? No! All the way to 12,000 grit, buffing like the best Park Avenue manicurist. The wood shines!
We started using Micro Mesh Buffing Sticks a few years back, touching up a bit of mandolin here and there. Then discovered an ebony violin nut can be made to shine. After a few more fingerboard refurbishments, we’re sold on Micro Mesh. Fingerboard sealers we’ll save for fretted instruments. All of our fine stringed instrument fingerboards are going out the door bare wood shining. Sparkling like Eve’s smile ≈≈≈