If you want to become a professional violin-maker, there are three places in the U.S. where you can learn how to do it: Boston, Salt Lake City and the Chicago suburb of Skokie.
The Chicago School of Violin Making is a three-year, full-time trade school founded in 1975. Currently, 26 students are studying at the school. They range in age from their 20s to 60s and have come from as far as China, Hong Kong, Canada and Korea.
Many of them also play violin.
Antoine Nédélec, an award-winning violin-maker himself, is the school’s executive director and lead teacher. He says the violin as we know it was invented in the 16th century in Cremona, Italy. “And there hasn’t been much change in the design of the violin. There actually hasn’t been much change in the way we make them,” he said. “Probably 99% of the work is done by hand.”
The program is hands-on from day one, he says. “As soon as they arrive, they get started on making their very first violin. By the time they’re done with school, they’ll have made six instruments. The very last one of them, they’re capable of making completely on their own, without any instruction.”
Andrée Simard is a longtime professional violist from Quebec. She says playing a viola and making one are more similar than you might think.
“If you practice an instrument, you zone in and you spend hours on detail and it applies a lot to the making here. When you bow, you have to use finesse. It’s like that with the tools – when you start you really grab the tools too tight. But as you get more advanced, you get more gentle – so there’s a lot in common.”
The Chicago School of Violin Making was founded at Kenneth Warren and Son, an internationally known violin shop in Chicago that needed more qualified workers. The school is now an independent nonprofit.