Saturday, June 6, 2009

All About the Music

Published in Directions 2008, a section of the Lincoln Journal-Star, March 2, 2008
Copyright Lee Enterprises, Inc. Mar 2, 2008. Used with permission.

Violin Shop offers special care and attention to violin-family instruments

When he was in high school, if you had told Henry Hultquist he would end up owning a violin shop, he would have thought you were crazy.

Although he loved music, he was a tuba player.

But while working in the music business, he saw a need for a place that specialized in the violin family of instruments.

"It's something that I kind of fell or was gently pushed into," he said.

Hultquist opened The Violin Shop in 1982, and since then he's focused exclusively on the violin, viola, cello and upright bass. Services include sales, rentals, appraisals and repairs.
It's important to provide specialized, knowledgeable service because violins aren't like other instruments, Hultquist said. No two are alike. Each is handmade, using living things such as trees, hide glue and horse hair.

They're works of art and take more maintenance than most band instruments, he said.

They also are unique in that they're the only instruments played with a bow.

"In a sense you're playing two instruments at once," Hultquist said. "You play the violin with your left hand and the bow with your right. And the two interact together."

The shop sells only quality instruments. Hultquist believes in keeping a large inventory on hand and letting each player make the choice. He's fond of the old country saying, "You can't sell out of an empty wagon."

The shop deals in new, used and what Hultquist describes as "old" instruments.

"In the violin business there's a distinction there. An 'old' violin would be 60 or 80 years old or older. There is a theory that old violins are better because, being constantly played, they vibrate more easily - similar to a conditioned athlete.

"If you have a violin that's been continuously played, that makes it easier for the sound to be produced."

When appraising instruments, he considers the quality of workmanship and looks strongly at condition.

Some instruments may have been well made originally but have "lived such a hard life" that it isn't worth spending the money to fix them. If it takes $200 to repair a $200 violin, it has no economic value. With that understanding, some patrons choose to have such a violin restored, however, because they remember a relative playing it or because it's been handed down for generations.

Carl Schneider, the shop's repair technician, takes the time to listen to the customers and find out exactly what their needs are. He's interested in how long they've owned the instrument, whether they are beginners or professional musicians and what kind of music they play.

Each instrument in the violin family needs to be adjusted for sound and playability in a process called "setting up." It's important to set up a violin with the customer in mind, Schneider said. For instance, most school rentals are set up for students to play as easily as possible, focusing on one note at a time. However, a folk musician may require a flatter bridge, making it easier to play two notes simultaneously.

"This is a unique business in that you are not necessarily selling a product," Schneider said. "It's a very personal thing. Some customers (who leave their instruments for repair) look like they're leaving a member of the family behind as they're going out the door. So there's a certain amount of trust that has to be there."

As a string bass player, Schneider understands how musicians form bonds with their instrument, and he feels privileged to be able to work with such delicate pieces. He treats each as if he's putting his own together.

A violin is a perfect balance of science, craft and art, Schneider said. The science involves the physics of how an instrument works and vibrates, the craft is how it's put together, and the art is in the beauty of the instrument.

"If any one of these three gets out of balance, you have an instrument that's just not quite right," he said. "You might have a scientifically perfect-sounding instrument, but it's ugly looking, and some of them look really nice and are carved beautifully, but they don't sound well.

"In repair you have to take that into account to try to assess the qualities of that instrument the best you can and work with it."

Such specialized care and service has kept The Violin Shop going for more than 25 years in its Near South location. Customers come not only from Lincoln but from Omaha, Grand Island and even northern Kansas. Some have moved to other states but bring their violins back for repair when they return to Lincoln to visit.

The violin family continues to be a popular choice for musicians, Hultquist said. It's used in nearly every genre of music, and there's something about violin music that grabs him emotionally.

Ultimately, owning a violin shop isn't about the business, he said. It's about the music.
It's about putting a violin into the hands of budding young artists and watching them grow as musicians. It's about attending a concert and knowing you had a part in it.

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