We had a very nice visit from Saravanapriyan, who was here from the bay area visiting his parents. Of course, Saravanapriyan was instrumental in getting me connected with Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan, but when he was here, like so many in the Indian community, he asked how he could be of help in the workshop itself. After some consideration, I asked him to please conduct some interviews with the students in Tamil language so that they would feel comfortable away from Alex’ and my prying ears. The first round of interviews tended to be polite and full of some of the usual praise which one might expect, so I asked the guys to please do a second round of interviews with Saravanapriyan, in which they pointed out things about our teaching method, anecdotes about us personally and anything which they find amusing about being caged up with us. The second session got lively very quickly, and I enjoyed watching Saravanapriyan laughing along with the gang as they chanted, mimicked Alex and me, and clearly had some enjoyable moments to relate. Even though it was all in Tamil language, the tone of enjoyment was clear. I still chuckle to myself when I think back on that afternoon’s interviews.
At first, my intention was to somehow edit this concept into a prose piece, but the snippets and thoughts as translated by Saravanapriyan really do stand alone, so I’ve decided to leave them unedited for your enjoyment. I’ll add clarification in parentheses for those of you for whom some concepts may be foreign or some arcane violin maker practice.
Tomorrow is their graduation ceremony. They will receive a certificate of completion of the course along with some tools which will help them continue working in their “new” European repair manner. We wish them all the best. Here are their ratings of us, verbatim.
Individual Interview collection from four of the students (transcribed from recording):
- Eye-opener into the authentic European style violin repair and restoration.
- Highly beneficial insight into subtleties of violin repair.
- Amazed at the technique by which sound post is cut and fit to match the surface curvature.
- Learnt several concepts in customizing violin set-up and improving tonal quality.
- Our future repair work in India will tremendously improve after this workshop and we will have 100% customer satisfaction.
- Very thankful to G.J.R. Krishnan and Lalgudi Trust in funding and organizing this workshop and opening the doors to violin restoration craftsmen.
- Very thankful also to Saravanapriyan in connecting Jim with GJR Krishnan for this violin restoration workshop.
- Can never escape from Alex’s wrath! She looks for 100% perfection.
- Alex is a very good assistant to Jim and highly talented.
- Jim is highly encouraging, yet strict in imparting the techniques.
- Dream come true, never imagined we would be working together with a master luthier such as Jim Wimmer.
- Very interested in learning to make the violin from scratch.
- Learnt technical depth for professional violin repair / restoration.
- Very logical approach to Jim’s instruction method.
- Very fortunate to be part of this workshop.
- Very technical and scientific approach to violin restoration.
- Learnt so much about the right tools to be used in violin restoration. Never seen the sound post tool ever before!
- Amazed to see the cut business card technique will come in handy in fitting the sound post! (The cut business card is a simple aid for measuring and making readily visible the position of the sound post.)
- Willing to learn European violin crafting by hand and establish Jim’s field office in India and manufacture great violins.
- Memorable experience.
- Very thankful to G.J.R. Krishnan in organizing this workshop.
- Very thankful also to Saravanapriyan in connecting Jim with GJR Krishnan and making this workshop possible.
- Jim is a nice guru, very patient with us and takes time to share and explain several difficult concepts.
- Alex is very enthusiastic.
- Amazed to note that both Jim and Alex are like Indians and freely mingle with us. (I like this one!)
- Jim is open-hearted and very positive.
- Surprised to know that Jim is vegetarian. Amazed to see two Americans eating with their hands from banana leaf. Their motivation for learning Tamil is heartening. Both Alex and Jim will start speaking Tamil very fluently by the time they leave for the US!
- We learnt how to handle and sharpen tools, working with bench grinder and water stones, bridge work, sound post, fingerboard dressing.
- Took 1.5 days to set the bridge and it was very frustrating but at the end very rewarding!
- Very delighted to hear Jim and Alex play their folk fiddle tunes. My favourite is the “Old Granny on the Treadmill.” Jim showed with his playing variations, the energetic granny becoming a tired one after running on the treadmill! (This appreciation of our fiddle music and other traditions is completely new for me. When I first came to India, no one was interested in hearing me play anything but Indian scales and sounds on the violin. The advent of the internet, with youtube, etc. has changed that aesthetic forever.)
- Never dreamt of learning European violin restoration.
- Never been so happy in my life.
- Seems like I am learning the right method for the first time in my life.
- Was in a delusion all these years that current repair practices in India are very good but Jim’s method is the best!
- Can we have Jim and Alex settle down in Chennai, please? We would love to be with them full time and learn more!
- Willing to learn European violin crafting by hand and look forward to the next workshop.
- Jim is like a God to me, truly grateful for all his teaching.
- Learnt so much about the anatomy of the violin.
- Jim and Alex are very jovial but yet at the same time are serious when it comes to the work.
- My existence is justified by attending and learning in this workshop.
- Love the way they speak Tamil.
- Great cultural exchange.
- Need a longer time-frame for workshop.
- We would love to have this educative workshop at least once a year.
- (Alex and I had the most trouble in pronouncing his name – variations ranged from “Embarass“, “Ambarush”, “Ambress”, “Empress” and so on. Sounded very similar to Steve Martin’s various attempts at saying “Hamburger” in the movie “The Pink Panther”.)
- Had to translate from Malayalam with some difficulty.
- My experience [30 years] is more than Alex’s age, yet she knows more about effective ways of violin repair and restoration than what I know so far. By participating and learning in this workshop, I am confident that I will be able to improve my repair skills very fast.
Group Interview Snippets (transcribed from recording):
- How Jim asks not to do certain things: “Never…Never…Never…Ever…Never…Ever…” in a rhythmic and marching tone (Everyone chants in unison.) And also “Don’t…do…like…this…” (emphasizing.)
- If someone puts tools one over the other, Jim pretends to cry.
- Enjoyed Jim’s story about his master in Germany about how if someone placed tools on top of each other he would have to buy beer for everyone in the shop.
- It appeared as if someone tried to tighten a bolt with a vernier calliper when they were trying to measure it, and Jim got flustered.
- Jim and Alex playing fiddle and dancing and marching along in the room is a favorite. The boys have requested an encore!
- “Don’t disturb this is my tea time” Jim says and plays on his fiddle.
- Jim and Alex talk in Italian secretly if they are discussing something about the boys. If they ask Alex what they discussed about, Alex would say “oh.. only about something back in the US” (Actually, Alex is usually just reminding me in Italian that it is time to ring the lunch bell. But we can let them sweat it.)
- Jim is a great entertainer. His histrionics are awesome.
- Jim’s rapid change in facial expression to depict different emotions is similar to that of the legendary Tamil actor Sivaji Ganesan! Jim is also a Navarasa Nayagan! He can surely find a place in Kollywood (Tamil Cinema) (The “Navarasa” are the 9 emotions of human experience as expressed in the human face, used to depict these emotions in the Bharatiya Natyam classical dance of S. India, a beautiful and complex art form.)
- “This is Kung Fu Stance,” says Jim while he sharpens at the grinder when he places his feet wide apart, but technically he would say this is better for the back.
- After sharpening he would swish the knife around and say “I am the Samurai”and pretend to slice his head off at his neck.
- Jim is like a child, very playful, funny and greatly entertaining. If Anbarasu is the class comedian, Jim is the clown!
- Alex’s face is like a frozen picture, calm and composed when she tries to scold us for doing something wrong, “poker face”. Jim is the total opposite – his face depicts all the emotions so quickly!
- Alex will keep saying “Konjam.. Konjam..” (Tamil for “a little bit”) but will keep saying this for several hours until the work is perfect.
- Alex is the epitome of the bad cop (she is very strict). We haven’t been able to appease her with little treats to get her to be lenient (such as fetching her tea.)
- Anbarasu mimics Alex’s “Thank you.. Thank you..” Whenever some help Alex with something she says “Thank you.. Thank you..” (Anbarasu tried this with his assistant in his shop. He asked for a hammer and after he got it from his assistant, he said “thank you.. thank you..” and his assistant was totally stunned and stupefied.)
- Jim is a very kind and compassionate person. We love him!
- We all love Alex’s and Jim’s smiles. We will all be missing them sorely!
Alex and I can certainly assure these guys that we will soon be sorely missing them as well after tomorrow. We’ve already resolved to visit each and every one of them in their own shop setting and will certainly be blogging about our experiences with them there. They have all really risen to the occasion and have somehow managed to assimilate a mind boggling amount of new information in a very short time. We wish them all the very best with their future endeavours!