Issue 13 T.O.C. – Kerry Lambertson – “The Fiddle’s Unfolding: Tracing a Folk Tradition”

This post is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Thirteen. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come. 

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Kerry Lambertson – “The Fiddle’s Unfolding: Tracing a Folk Tradition”

When we think of the violin and the music it makes, we tend to picture concert halls or posh chambers where the well-dressed elite gather. Historic makers such as Stradivari and Amati are highly sought by collectors today, with pristine examples sometimes fetching in the millions and living under glass in museums and private collections. But this is not the heart of the instrument.

Author and 2021 Mortise & Tenon Craft Research Grant recipient Kerry Lambertson shares his study of and passion for vernacular violin making. A maker and player himself, Lambertson takes us through the history of this unique instrument, which made headlines in the cities of Europe during a “Golden Age” in the 17th and 18th centuries but simultaneously spread to all the corners of the globe: Russia, Ireland, the Middle East, and northeastern Canada. “The violin lends itself uniquely well to this sort of journeying,” he notes, as it is light and portable and almost infinitely repairable. As folk traditions evolved around the world, the violin became an integral part of the sound of those traditions.

Rural makers may have utilized methods and woods considered “crude” by classical artisans, but the virtues of the instrument remained and were in some ways magnified by its adaptation by the masses. It became the fiddle, capable of the sweetest notes as well as the most fiery of jigs. “[The violin] is a symbol of refined culture, of centuries of evolution in craftsmanship, the maker measuring success in increments imperceptible to nearly everyone but themselves. It represents delicacy and civilization, the instrument of refined palates. And yet the violin is simultaneously elemental, animalistic, ungovernable.”

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