The “wrong” violin

Guarneri violin label

Guarneri violin label

You know the days…when everything seems to be going fine and then you get one of those phone calls from “left field”.

Some years ago while in my office at TV58, the receptionist calls me and says your wife is on line two and she doesn’t sound too happy.  “Hello” I say and I got back “You stupid bastard…you took the wrong violin”.  It all went down hill from there.

On March 25 2011, many, many years later, we take the “wrong” violin to be looked at and possibly restored … the rest of the story follows…

James Perry violin

My wife’s father was a publican, gentleman farmer, story teller and musician.  He played the piano, the violin and sang on “special” occasions. He entertained his four children and bride creatively because there was nothing else in those days.  He was a great husband, father and an inspiration to his children, especially my wife.  In that she was the only one of his children to immigrate to America, their relationship was most loving and a “bit” confrontational at times.

Mr. Purcell's old pub and house

I remember him fondly…and one such memory is about Shep #5.

He wanted to show off his newly trained sheep dog.  He called them all Shep and I think he had about 4 or 5 of them over the years.  I squeezed  into his mini car and Shep got into the back seat, to this day I have never seen a display of unconditional love between a man and an animal as I saw that day.  I will never forget it, Shep knew he had to perform and “Jack” would have accepted nothing less than a perfect show.  That I got, and to this day I love to watch those ESPN sheep dog competitions.  Shep 1-5 would have been a blue ribbon contender.

Jack died  March 25, 1987 and we left for Ireland the next day.

Death in Ireland is a celebration, a time to remember and a time to morn, and we did all.  Our stay lasted about ten days and the day before we were to leave Mary asked me to go into the sitting room and pick out the best of her father’s two violins to take back to the states.  That I did.  I even swapped cases and put what I thought was the violin and the case that was in the best condition aside for our trip back.

The Purcell’s old house is now an award winning restaurant called the Sha-Roe Bistro.

The building has been very sympathetically converted, with many details – an odd little insert in an uneven original corridor wall provides a shelf for a nightlight, for example, and a tiny old cottage window in the back of the dining room has been retained, allowing a peep into the kitchen.

Window to kitchen Sha-Roe

On winter nights, a welcoming log fire burns in the  sitting room and, in the dining room itself, a glowing stove in a big open stone fireplace has wood stacked up alongside ready for refills.

Colleen & John Sha-Roe sitting room

Back to the states and it must have been a year or two later when “that” phone call took place…and the conversation continued…

You do remember there was another violin left behind in the sitting room.  That one was given to Mary’s sister.

…Phyl wanted her violin fixed up so Des took it to be appraised and for an estimate to restore it… Phyl is Mary’s sister and Des is Phyl’s husband.  Well apparently the man that looked at the violin was so impressed with it that he told Des that he would hold onto it for a while so that he could do more research on it.  Des was not too comfortable with the man and his suggestion and left with the violin…he took it to someone else and then Mary asks me “do you know what they told him?”  I said “No I don’t”  “Well let me tell you Mr. “wrong” violin man…it’s a…his name starts with a ‘G’ and according to this guy some  people consider him to be as good as Stradivarius was.” “Oh” I said and Mary continued “He appraised it for some unbelievable amount and Des told him to restore it.”

Mary called the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s office the next day to ask for a referral to an “expert” on violins.  She then visits with that “expert” and was offered a written or a verbal appraisal on our violin.  The cost difference between the two is substantial and Mary opted for the verbal.  She was told who made it, where it was made, the time frame and the quality of the workmanship.

Our violin maker’s name did not start with a ‘G’ or a ‘S’ but with a ‘P’.  James Perry, the “world famous” musical instrument maker from Kilkenny Ireland.  He is recorded at Back Lane, Kilkenny, in 1790 and 1792 and had apparently been in the city from c. 1781.  His output included violins, violincellos, tenors, guitars, German flutes and fifes.  He is the cousin of Thomas, whose violins sell today for large sums of money.

He was a protege of the Ormond family.  His instruments were generally indifferent and without the slightest pretentious approaching artistic design.  Workmanship quite rough but not entirely unskilled.  Purfling sometimes scratched on instead of the usual inlay.  Often very weak fibred wood, now frequently worm-eaten.  Dark brown varnish generally but occasionally a brown of lighter  shade verging towards yellow.  Remarkably sweet tone but impoverished in roundness and strength.

Our violin is not worm-eaten and yellow.  The thing is over two hundred and thirty years old…for fuck sake.

This “expert” says he could restore it and it would be worth what we paid to have it restored.  She took it home and …

… the “wrong” violin has been buried in our basement for years and it has been only the last few that I have displayed it in our fireplace…yes  in our fireplace.  When anyone asked me about the violin I would then tell them this story.

Fireplace display with violin

…until …

We brought the “wrong” violin to a little Chinese gentleman for an estimate to restore it.  He looks at it and says…not too clearly I might add…”biolin berry, berry old…need lot of work”…and with much difficulty and time he proceeded to tell us what had to be done…and an hour later…I was exhausted before he told us what it would cost and then…he said “when I finish it will be berry beautiful”.

I was sold.

I wanted it done and Mary reluctantly agreed and we left leaving the “wrong” violin with Tuo.

Phyl’s violin is mounted on the wall of their home in Portmarnok, Ireland and it is not for sale.  It has been prominently displayed in their home for many years.

After two weeks, Tuo called … “Your biolin is finished.”

I picked up the “wrong” violin within minutes of the call … and it is indeed, berry, berry beautiful.  I hope to start lessons soon.

the "wrong" violin

This entry was posted in America, Art, Family, Ireland, Music, Stories, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The “wrong” violin

  1. Don Hoaglund says:

    Interesting story.
    I’ve been fiddling for some years now.
    I would like to see it.
    If your lessons go well perhaps we could jam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *