Violinmaking Schools in America...


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also in Clarmont California they have excellent workshop hosted by violin maker Jim Brown and with instruction given by Michael Darnton. Michael came from the Bien and Fushi shop. Jim does a very good job taking care of those that attend. they also have a bow making workshop led by Lynn Hanning. and it is cheaper the attending a full semester at a regular school as well you only have to attend most a week at a time and just take it slowly or you can go the full three weeks. STRONGLY RECOMMEND IT.

Info given here:

http://www.scvmw.com/

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Ernie,

When you say the three schools in America, are you referring to The Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake, The Chicago School of Violin Making, and the Bennet Street School in Boston?

Are you looking for a place to study for an extended period of time or something shorter like what Joshua is referring to? I think they are different experiences and will probably serve different purposes, however I have seen master craftsmen come out of many different programs and experiences. Ultimately you will get out of any educational opportunity what you put into it. You can of course give yourself more chances for success based on the time and resources you have to put into it.

I can give you a pretty candid opinion of the three main full-time schools, as I did a fair amount of research before going myself, although my info may be a bit outdated now. I had a great experience at the school I attended and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, but I have worked with people who have attended lots of places including some European ones and also people who went the route of only working in shops for their training and these experiences seem to have different strengths . Send me a personal message if you want me to share. I'm not sure if a public forum is the right place for me to go into detail.

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I'm willing to ruffle some feathers by suggesting something, though I don't know about the quality of the schools on any educational scale, or any of the nuts and bolts of going there.

When I've seen work from makers who've gone to any of them, the ones that have always impressed me the most turn out to have been to North Bennett. I don't know what they do there, but the people who come out seem to learn the basics very well without becoming clones of the system they learned under--their work is completely competent, but also individual. The other schools, I far too often think "well, that looks like a school violin", even from makers who've left there years previously, whereas the NB people come out with more developed, sophisticated personal styles that hold up better in the long run. In my opinion.

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Well, I got up this morning and checked my e-mail and saw a response to my post last night with some requests to share. Rather than respond to each individually as that will take some time, I guess I will post my thoughts publicly. I was afraid of ruffling feathers as Michael put it, but I think he already drew first blood and I don't think what I have to say will really ruffle any major feathers. I need some time to put my thoughts together, so I will post tomorrow. I'm heading to work right now and don't have the time, but I think it is important to give people info as I would have liked someone to put their thoughts down for me. I will of course be a little biased as I had a good experience, but I'm pretty good at being objective and I actually think there are many paths to success and have good things to say about every program.

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Don't forget this one.

http://www.newworldschool.cc/home.html

I went to check it out years ago and was very impressed. Circumstances did not allow me to attended, but I really liked the feel, the course structure, and the class size.

Good performance and serious effort is expected from the students, and it's in the middle of no where, so it's hard to escape! ;)

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When I've seen work from makers who've gone to any of them, the ones that have always impressed me the most turn out to have been to North Bennett. I don't know what they do there, but the people who come out seem to learn the basics very well without becoming clones of the system they learned under--their work is completely competent, but also individual. The other schools, I far too often think "well, that looks like a school violin", even from makers who've left there years previously, whereas the NB people come out with more developed, sophisticated personal styles that hold up better in the long run. In my opinion.

MD,

Consider the source: Roman Barnas, Kevin Kelly, Marilyn Wallin, Arthur Toman, Ray Melhanson this is just the tip of the iceburg of those who have directed this program.

Joe

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When I think of the North Bennett School, I think of Marilyn Wallin, with her involvement as a teacher and, I believe, administrator there. Marilyn was trained at the Chicago School, I believe. It would be easy to list names of good makers graduating from all three schools, North Bennett, Chicago, Salt Lake City. None has a monopoly on producing competent makers.

Before committing to one school, visiting each of the schools and having a hard look around would probably be a good idea.

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When I think of the North Bennett School, I think of Marilyn Wallin, with her involvement as a teacher and, I believe, administrator there. Marilyn was trained at the Chicago School, I believe. It would be easy to list names of good makers graduating from all three schools, North Bennett, Chicago, Salt Lake City. None has a monopoly on producing competent makers.

Before committing to one school, visiting each of the schools and having a hard look around would probably be a good idea.

Good advice.

Ignoring my personal bias (I serve on the board of one of the schools), each school has it's strengths and each school has probably had it's place at the top (of the three) at one point or another.

The Chicago school and Bennet street are governed by boards... not sure about SLC presently. Good people on those boards (OK... maybe with the exception of a guy with glasses and a beard who serves on the board for the Chicago school :)). Chicago is not-for-profit, not sure about the other two.

Students from all three schools have found places in the industry. I could produce a pretty convincing whos-who list for all three schools off the top of my head (but I'm not going to).

I've worked with recent grads who have shown promise from all three schools in the Oberlin Restoration workshops.

All three schools probably are, or will, face challenges as the industry changes (employment and post-school training opportunities are different now than they were a couple/few decades ago).

The location, and the access to good instruments, would be a significant factor for me.

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All three schools probably are, or will, face challenges as the industry changes (employment and post-school training opportunities are different now than they were a couple/few decades ago).

Could you elaborate? On where you think the field will be in 5? 10? 20 years?

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Ah, ever the voice of faith, hope and love...good cheer, and all.

Foreigners "took over" violin-making from Italy, a few hundred years ago...but it still flourishes there. Why would you think that China will take over the craft to the utter exclusion of non-Chinese? I expect anyone who aggressively pursues a trade has a chance of succeeding at it, especially in a country where it is essentially unregulated...the U.S.

I remember discussing with a maker in Germany some time ago, why they could not simply go into business, as they were making very good violins. This maker explained to me that unless you are certified a master maker by the government, you could not open a business, there, as a violinmaker. This maker explained to me the testing process, and it is actually pretty impressive...and possibly quite exclusive, as, no matter how good you are, if THEY don't say you are good, you can't do it, legally. Once the test had been passed the legal hurdles were behind, and the business began in earnest. (Clumsy wording, as I am avoiding identifying the maker, who is a current member of M-net.)

Here, you can go right ahead and call yourself a violinmaker...even if it isn't true. I have never labelled any instruments I did not make from scratch, but there are some who do. The reason I and other beginning makers, regardless of skill (or lack of such) and integrity (or lack of such) have trouble selling is not because of regulation, but because of either a lack of making skills or a lack of marketing skills...or both, of course.

I do see China as a growing threat to worldwide markets, simply because they are smart, energetic, hungry, and determined. Nothing wrong with any of that. It just lets me know I have to be all of the above if I hope to survive in a changing world.

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Ernie, here it goes. I will give some thoughts of mine on the education system as a whole and also the three schools you mentioned. I will be speaking from my experience, so keep in mind that I will be biased and most of the information I have is from the one school.

I originally looked into the three schools you mentioned-Chicago, Salt Lake, and Boston. It ultimately came down to what Jeff was talking about with location and opportunity to see nice instruments. I ended up going to Salt Lake. The location part was the fact that the city was in the mountains, the city was actually really beautiful and the cost of living was lower. As far as the opportunities to see nice instruments, Salt Lake had by far the most. At the time this was surprising to me. I would have thought Boston or Chicago had more, and frankly maybe they do now. I don't know. Salt Lake still has a class every Friday where the morning is spent looking at instruments and discussing everything pertinent to the maker of that instrument or instruments. Most of the time we had an actual instrument to view, but if there wasn't anything available, we viewed slides. At that time, there was nothing like that available at the other schools as an actual part of the curriculum. Chicago was the only thing that came close as they told me (when I visited) that the students had opportunities to visit local shops if they liked on their own time after school and maybe see some instruments. Obviously Chicago has a few shops around and it is a big city, so there were opportunities if I wanted to make them. There would be similar opportunities in Boston, especially with Reuning's shop in town. I believe he spends some time collaborating with the Bennet Street School now, so that would be valuable. When I was at Salt Lake we did get to see a lot of nice stuff every Friday like I said. Most months would include a different Strad or two in the mix; Del Gesus, not every week, but we got to see some. Then there were Seraphins, Montagnanas, Stainers, Vuillaumes, etc, etc. So there was no lack of seeing the real thing in my hands. For me, it was really valuable, because as I was working on a certain step, I usually got to examine that step on a classic instrument that Friday. Often the instruments would be available on request during the week too, if I wanted to see them. Also, Charlie (the head instructor) was very good at getting soloist to visit the school. Whenever someone came to play with the Utah Symphony, or some chamber concert they would often spend their morning at the school. While I was there, Hillary Hahn, Alban Gerhardt, Viviane Hagner, Leila Josephowicz and a number of others came to visit, show us their instruments, and most of them played our instruments as well and gave feedback. Viviane Hagner actually played the whole Bach Chaconne for us in a little private impromptu concert and it was awesome. Yo-yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman and others had come before I was attending, so I don't think that was a new phenomenon while I was there. They were usually very interesting people and I found it to be a fun experience. Things do change though. If you go to visit, the availability of instruments for viewing would be a good question to ask the different schools.

There are a few other strengths from Salt Lake. There was a drawing class every week that included drawing things like scrolls and corners and such. It may contribute to having one type of style as Michael put it coming out but I thought it was good exercise and is a nice way to train your eye. The opportunity for violin lessons is there and part of the tuition. They have a great violin teacher, and in my opinion most of the students didn't take this part seriously enough. You can really take advantage of that if you want and I think it is valuable. I believe Chicago did have lessons available, but I don't know about Bennet Street. Back to Salt Lake. I didn't study with the current varnish and set-up instructor but I know about him. From what I hear he is doing some great stuff with the students. He's much more thorough than past instructors that I have heard about and my own experience as well. He goes over making varnish, making pigments, numerous ground options, oil varnish and spirit, and is encouraging students to experiment on their own and guides them in this process. From what I can see he seems very dedicated and is doing well himself with instruments winning awards at the VSA conventions. He is also conducting an optional repair course during the summer that seems pretty thorough.

Chicago and Boston have a couple of advantages as I see it. Both cities have great orchestras. If this is something you are interested in-and let's face it, your eventual clientele is interested in it-the opportunities to see some great concerts will be available to you. This wasn't as important for me because I had good experiences playing and attending concerts before I went to violin making school, but if I hadn't this would have been an important factor to me. The Utah symphony is ok (here's the ruffling feathers part) and there are other musical things going on, but it hardly compares when you put it up against Boston or Chicago. Those two cities are well known for their orchestras. Also, Chicago and Boston are located in a part of the country with more violin makers. There is more going on in the east simply because there are more people and the cultural traditions are older. Salt Lake can be a little isolated. There is a lot going on in that town for its size, but it is the only show around, for quite some miles. Vegas is the closest at 6 hours away, and I hardly think it counts as a cultural center. Well, I guess it depends on what culture you are looking for :lol:

Cost. Salt Lake and Chicago school tuitions are similar in cost. The cost of living in Chicago will be more. Boston is much more as you mentioned already and the cost of living there is astronomical. However, Bennet Street is a nationally accredited school and you are able to get student loans for that program (or at least I think you are). Salt Lake is only accredited by the state of Utah and you cannot get student loans unless they are private and you will pay a lot more for interest with those. I think Charlie is working on national accreditation and you may want to ask him about that if you visit. Not sure about the national accreditation of Chicago. I seem to remember that it is not.

Thoughts on education as a whole. You can go work for a shop without going to school. I work with a couple of guys who didn't go to school and I would trust them to cut a bridge more than the most talented of any students just graduating. There is no substitute for shop experience. The key though is that it has to be a GOOD shop. You can learn all kinds of bad techniques and it will just set you back. It is getting harder to find people willing to train you. Michael alluded to this earlier and I agree with him. Not sure really why, but it is harder to find places like Weissharr, Morel, and Bein and Fushi these days. I suspect it has to do with markets (this would be a good thread topic-maybe I will start one). There are some shops out there though. The good thing about going to school is, you have a ready made network of people you go to school with. These people will be your eventual colleagues and it is a nice start. It also gives you a good basis and you will learn some good techniques to begin your career. If you can find an excellent shop that will train and hire you though, you could be well off to just start there, but finding a shop is the hard part. School is usually a way to open those doors to a job. I think most places hire people from a school program. If you manage to get a great job, everything else about making you can learn on your own while developing good restoration techniques. It just takes longer. Going to a week long course can be a good experience I would imagine, but you would probably get more out of a 3 year school. It's not a matter of bad instruction, quite the contrary in some cases, it's just that you can't learn this trade in a week. It takes a long time. Even after a 3 year program, you still don't really know that much! Some people can't afford the time or money so you do what you can though. For myself, I am happy I went to school. I don't feel intimidated about making a violin, and I feel more well rounded as a restorer. I would say I feel even happier though about getting a job where I work now. I learned an amazing amount of stuff from working, and I don't know if I would have gotten this opportunity without going to school. It's hard to know and is one of those "what if" questions that I won't be able to answer.

Ultimately, you can be successful wherever you go, and I actually think it matters more what you do after school. If you look at the "who's who" list from any of the schools, you will find that most of those people went to work at great places after school. Very, very few of them simply went to school and that was it. This is getting really long and nobody is probably going to read it, but I hope it helps. Good luck!

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Ultimately, you can be successful wherever you go, and I actually think it matters more what you do after school. If you look at the "who's who" list from any of the schools, you will find that most of those people went to work at great places after school. Very, very few of them simply went to school and that was it. This is getting really long and nobody is probably going to read it, but I hope it helps. Good luck!

Great post and very insightful for anybody interested in what goes on in a maker's training.

It sounds like the best experience is the recognized school followed by great shop. That makes sense.

I would think that one of the disadvantages of solely shop training instead of school training would be that in the shop, as a beginner, one might be relegated to simple jobs that have to be done in order to deal with business flow, and what's necessary to maintain good business flow and what is needed in order to learn new skills might be at conflict. You might be relegated to low level jobs for a long time, if that's what the business needs done.

I state that as a hunch, not from experience of any kind.

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I would think that one of the disadvantages of solely shop training instead of school training would be that in the shop, as a beginner, one might be relegated to simple jobs that have to be done in order to deal with business flow, and what's necessary to maintain good business flow and what is needed in order to learn new skills might be at conflict. You might be relegated to low level jobs for a long time, if that's what the business needs done.

I state that as a hunch, not from experience of any kind.

This may or may not be true. For me this was true. I hit the ground running as soon as I started and I haven't had to spend any time on rental instruments and such. However, this may be more of a matter of lucky timing and personnel changes for me rather than school training. I know some school colleagues who have had to spend a lot more time than I did "paying dues" and believe me I do feel very fortunate. Hard work will give you more opportunities, but there is always a little luck involved too.

Set-up is always valuable for anybody and rentals can still be good training as long as the shop you work for expects a very high standard for the rentals, which we do.

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I would think that one of the disadvantages of solely shop training instead of school training would be that in the shop, as a beginner, one might be relegated to simple jobs that have to be done in order to deal with business flow, and what's necessary to maintain good business flow and what is needed in order to learn new skills might be at conflict. You might be relegated to low level jobs for a long time, if that's what the business needs done.

Possibly true in a shop that does low end stuff. At Bein and Fushi, I, with virtually no experience with hand tools (ex-guitar maker = as many power tools as possible), was taking tops off and doing bass bars and neck sets, and grafts, within a couple of weeks. That's what they needed done to keep the shop flowing, and they threw you in the deep end. They had very high standards, and no reluctance to keep them, so the first six months were very rough. My first bass bar was on a cello, it took two days to fit, and I went through all of one blank and most of another before the person who was teaching me said "Well. . . .. I guessssss it will do." Which meant that the chalk fit was 100%, but he could see that a few spots were compressing the chalk more or less than the rest.

I also learned, eventually, that they had chewed through nearly 70 apprentices to staff the shop--it was sink or swim, and only the best and toughest survived. I came too late for this, but I heard about Black Fridays when they had more trainees, when Bob would stroll back into the shop, and ask the manager how people were doing. Any falling behind or even a wavering in the force, and it was "You--OUT!" with the wave of his hand. People apparently would keep their heads down and hope not to be noticed.

On the other hand, I did come out of it with some very solid skills.

At that time, people with previous experience or training were specifically NOT welcome. They didn't want people who'd learned wrong at school who needed to be untrained or who thought they were already hotshots and couldn't be educated.

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I would think that one of the disadvantages of solely shop training instead of school training would be that in the shop, as a beginner, one might be relegated to simple jobs that have to be done in order to deal with business flow, and what's necessary to maintain good business flow and what is needed in order to learn new skills might be at conflict. You might be relegated to low level jobs for a long time, if that's what the business needs done.

I would somewhat agree to that based on my own experience - I started in my teens, so I'm not sure what else would be appropriate. The advantage, I suppose, repetitive tasks (setting up rentals) allow you to gain speed and develop instincts.

Jeff actually sent me a bill last week and I think I will have to get a second job.

You could always offer to go to Michigan and polish the undersides of his fingerboards :P

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