Listening to violin music always makes me think about my dad who was a talented violinist and luthier – a maker of violins. As I wrote this month’s feature about Flint Symphony Orchestra violinist, Alesia Byrd Johnson, I thought of him.
I have many fond memories about my dad and the violin. He learned to play the instrument at a very young age, after receiving a violin and 25 lessons as a gift from his father. He gave me that violin when my first son was born, hoping to pass the gift of music on to his grandson.
Dad played the violin in the symphony orchestra in Cumberland, MD, where I grew up. I remember when my mother took me and my siblings to see a play in town, “Oklahoma,” as Dad was a violinist in the orchestra. One of my fondest memories as a young girl was sitting on a stool in his workshop watching him make violins, carving and shaping the wood and stringing the bows with real horsehair.
My dad had a natural ear for music. When I practiced a piece of classical music on the piano, he would often join in on his violin. After my parents retired and moved to Annapolis, MD, Dad continued to play the violin but no longer made them. In 2009, he became very ill and faced a long recovery time. To cheer him up, my brother bought him a violin-building kit. Once again, he became a violin maker and over the next couple years, built 13 beautiful violins that were kept on display in a glass cabinet.
Shortly after my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary and his 90th birthday in November 2013, my dad passed away. I was fortunate to have been by his side when the time came. When I returned to Michigan, I was sad, and the holidays are even more difficult when you are mourning the loss of a loved one.
On Christmas Eve that year, my elderly neighbor invited me to attend a church service with her. I was looking forward to it, as there is nothing I enjoy more than the celebration and the music of Christmas. To my surprise, a special guest was performing that evening – a violinist. I closed my eyes as I listened to the familiar, melodious sound, thought about Dad and knew in my heart that I had just received a very special gift.
It has been said that music is a way to express feelings that you have no other way to express. It can be relaxing and fun, or it can calm you when you are having a bad day. Music can be a source of inspiration. For me, violin music heals my soul, and I thank my dad for sharing with me his love of music – and his love of the violin.