Every year I offer a work experience placement to a violin making student through the scheme run by the RAB Trust. During one of the coldest and snowiest weeks of the year, Marion Pollart came to the workshop. She is from Belgium, fully trained as a conference interpreter, but having chosen a big career change, she’s now in her second year at the Newark School of Violin Making.
We had discussed in advance the work she would undertake, and decided that she would focus on making a scroll for the Guadagnini model violin that was her current project, as well as the setup of her first violin, which she had recently finished varnishing. We spent a long time with the scroll photographs, evaluating the features of the original violin and deciding how best to transfer them to the new scroll, discussing tools and techniques along the way. For the setup, firstly Marion reshaped the neck of the violin (neck shape is something I’m very picky about), then finished the fingerboard, nut and pegs. She had already fitted the soundpost so the final task was the bridge, the first one she’d ever done. It was quite a moment, late on Friday evening, to hear her first violin for the first time.
I like undertaking these weeks. For me it’s a nice opportunity to meet someone new and interesting, and to keep in touch with what life is like for students these days. Without the luxury we had of no fees and grants, many of them, Marion included, have to work weekends in order to support themselves and pay fees, which drastically cuts the time they have available at the bench. It’s a cliché to say that you learn by teaching but of course it’s true, and for this work experience, knowing we’d be doing bridges, I prepared a sheet with all the relevant measurements and their effect on the sound of the finished instrument, in conjunction with a couple of colleagues. I’m sure I’ll be referring to it myself!
For the students it’s a chance to learn from watching an experienced maker, and to raise all sorts of questions in a professional working environment, which is inevitably rather different from college. Although they are hampered by heavy fees, today’s students are also lucky in that work experience is much more widely available than it was to us as students forty years ago; this was the fourth such workshop that Marion had visited and unlikely to be the last.