Making beautiful music together – Chicago Sun-Times

Violins for sale at Sapp Violin in Batavia.

Mersap explained that the price of a violin is determined by three factors. As she leaves the bright and airy store she and her husband Greg run in Batavia, Mel explained her sup: Two, materials. And the third is the name of the luthier who made it.

“You’ll notice I didn’t say ‘sound,'” she added. “Sound is subjective. You can change that.

In fact, most of the old masterpieces such as the Amati, Guernari and Stradivari have been modernized over the years with longer necks and fingerboards to suit modern musical tastes.

Unfortunately, I am not in the violin market. However, I visited Sapp’s violin earlier this month. At a time when the volatile future of journalism is being debated, uttering positive remarks and conversing with colleagues in a rapidly shrinking profession, observing that “they are still making violins” may try to proceed.

So for some, even the antiques trade is thriving.

I was wondering, what about the violin business? Home to some of the world’s greatest orchestras, Chicago is rightfully the center of violin craftsmanship. After my visit to Sapp, Chicago Magazine in January took a closer look at John Becker, creator of the fine arts building of multi-million dollar instruments for musical stars such as Joshua Bell.

So how do you get into the violin making business?


Gregory Sapp has been making violins for over 40 years.

Greg Sapp, a music education major at Duquesne College in the mid-1970s, noticed something that was common among people with artistic ambitions.

“This is not going to work.”

Luckily, in fourth grade, he had a class called “Creative Personality,” which is exactly what it was called in the 1970s. His last project was to create an Eastern European folk instrument called a ‘purim’.

“It’s like a mandolin,” Greg said, pointing to the uru instrument on the wall. “I was the only one in my class who built something this functional.”

It wasn’t a complete coincidence. His father was a woodworker and singer.

Greg moved to Chicago in 1978 and attended the Kenneth Warren & Son School of Violin Making (now the Chicago School of Violin Making). He also bumps into Mel, whose car breaks down and needs a lift to the station. When Greg told her he was going to attend violin school, Mel knew he was going to give her unprecedented chills, so she thought he was lying to her.

“How do you find these people?” she asked herself.

Now, 69, Greg spends his time building and repairing violins, and Mel is writing a book. The business is strong and he has three employees. Aubrey Alexander was busy with work when I visited.

Aubrey Alexander, violin maker at Sapp Violins in Batavia, uses plastic liners and counterfoam to stabilize the top of his violin during violin construction. She also fishes.

Aubrey Alexander, violin maker at Sapp Violins in Batavia, uses plastic liners and counterfoam to stabilize the top of his violin during violin construction. She also fishes. “Most of what I do is just making violins and fishing and brewing coffee,” she said.

“I have always been in tune with the violin. No fancy intentions,” Alexander explained of her vocational choice. “I’m not very good at socializing.”

how did she get started?

“When I was eight, my mother took me in when my sister’s violin was being repaired. Alexander, 39, was immediately fascinated by tools and instruments,” he says. increase.

What is it like to make a violin by hand?

“I start to associate personality with instruments,” she said. “They have their own personality. I name the instruments. I gender them. This is a boy. That’s a girl.”

how can she say Today is a difficult question. You can’t just flip the violin over and check.

“It’s a matter of feel and how you relate to the instrument,” she said. “If it bothers you, it’s a boy.”

I recognize that most of her instruments are girls. For example, her last cello was named “Ophelia” after a Luminez song.

Sapp also tends to personify musical instruments.

Violin is “Moody”. They wait for a buyer like puppies in a pet store. “Some instruments are more liked by children than others,” Mel said. The violin chooses its final owner like the wand in the Harry Potter books.

“The way I see it, all these instruments are waiting for the person,” she said.

Dealing with stringed instruments is a long process. Building a violin can take years (new projects tend to be put aside for impending repairs, which itself can take months). Violin makers are rarely in a hurry. I wondered if he needed a hobby, and if so, what Alexander does to relax from violin making. She told me that she loves fishing, especially bass fishing.

“When I’m not wearing wood shavings up to my elbows, I wear water lily leaves up to my elbows,” she said. “Most of the time it’s just making violins, fishing and making coffee.”

Speaking of trees. The top of the violin is spruce, the back, sides, neck and scroll are maple. Two types of wood, soft spruce and hard maple, combine to create an ideal sound. with healthy time.

It’s important to let the wood age, but Sapp pays hundreds of dollars apiece for tiny pieces of lumber that have been neglected for decades. Everyone agrees that there is a need.

Playing “allows you to continue doing what you want,” says Greg.

It sounds almost spiritual, I observed.

“Oh, Juju personification,” Mel said with a laugh.

And on that note – sorry, couldn’t resist – we get to us Fine, pronounced No commissiona musical term at the end of a composition.


Aubrey Alexander’s name peeks out of the violins she made. She considers her own instruments male or female and names them after her.

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