Saturday, November 25, 2006

different ears

About two years ago I travelled a bit around France and Spain.

Towards the end of the trip, a fiddler friend of mine joined me in Barcelona and we went on to Granada. He has been playing since he was a young child, originally preparing to be a concert violinist, and studied with some of the best. For the last ten years, however, he's been perfecting his fiddling as well - you name the style, he can play it. These years of experience combined with inborn talent make him an extraordinary musician, but he conducts himself with a genuine thoughtfulness and humility.

On the train to Granada, we met an artist from Austin and a young film maker from California, and we all became fast friends the way travellers do. For some reason, the artist had heard about a luthier at the far end of town, and when she heard my friend was a fiddler she suggested we go. We all stayed in the Albaizin, the old Moorish Quarter, near the Alhambra. I recommend it.

So one evening we set out to find the address of the luthier, weaving in and out of crowds and street sellers for over an hour, until we reached the shop. (Some places are open incredibly late in Spain, and open or closed at seemingly improbable hours - though I'm sure the rhythm seems perfectly natural to the locals).

My friend played almost every violin in the shop, calmly and politely selecting and rejecting instruments based on (to us) inscrutable criteria. We did deduce, however, that the ones he played for longer were probably the better ones. He seemed to sort of settle on one, and put it through its paces. We sat enraptured, listening, stealing delighted glances at each other, like we couldn't believe our luck -- a private performance, in this little shop, in Granada of all places!

After a while, the shop owner asked him, with great admiration, if he could make him a custom violin. "Anything you want," he said, "I will make it." My friend politely took the luthier's information but did not commit. We left excited!

I said, "Are you going to buy one? That was absolutely wonderful!" And he said, "That was fun, yeah, but those violins had no tone."


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