By Jessica Lambert, Artistic Director
I began violin lessons when I was about halfway through kindergarten and I still have my first violin. It is a 1/4 size Shiro Suzuki model made in “Matsumot” Japan. I immediately loved its beautiful golden-orange color as well as the rosin and the clever little box it fit into, and then the compartment of the case that fit into. (I have noticed this over the years – kids adore their rosin and rosin cases!).
When I was about 8 years old I moved up to a 1/2 size. I was starting to perform in public and that instrument was a loan from a collector. I was told it was an Amati but I don’t know any details. I have photos of the two of us and it was exquisite. It had a rich mahogany color with a translucent varnish that brought out the perfect grain of the wood. Really an exceptional violin for a little kid and I was so happy and proud to play it.
I played two 3/4 size violins. I remember only the second one – a big gold violin with a bold sound and I clearly remember the pegs were not plain ebony. They had ornamental gold insets with gold beads at the tips and I thought they were heavenly! I felt like a professional.
And then I had several full size violins of increasing value and quality. My first full size was a violin I bought myself at the age of 12. A neighbor had a garage sale and I acquired a French workshop violin and cheap bow for $25! I emptied my bank account (a paper bag in my closet) for the purchase and played that fiddle for many months. Then my parents were able to purchase a better violin, a Roth, and on and on until I finally bought my current violin in 1993.
It was made by Gaetano Gadda in Mantua in 1953. Gadda lived from 1900-1956 and was the sole student of the great maker Scarampella. Evidently, Scarampella bought his eggs from the small Gadda farm outside Mantua and the eggs were delivered by bicycle by the young Gaetano. Over time, Scarampella came to like the boy and accepted him as his only apprentice. The two had a close relationship for decades and many of Gadda’s instruments look like his teacher’s violins. However, my violin comes from the end of his life when he was experimenting with his own models. One peculiar feature is the f-holes: they are strangely narrow. My violin has a confident, bold scroll, his characteristic soft varnish, and the back and ribs are of maple with a dramatic flame.
There is a flaw on my violin that makes me chuckle. Along the left side of my violin, next to the black stripes (called purfling), his knife slipped and there is a 1” gash in the wood. I imagine there was some impressive Italian cursing when that happened! I am relieved he finished the violin despite the scar in the wood. I have never tired of the tone and personality of my violin. I love the way it looks, I love the warmth of its sound and the expressive possibilities we explore together. You see, I consider my violin to be a living partner in my music-making!