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5 October 2011

Learning the craft of violin-making

While my website needs much more time and work for the updates I decided to publish a quick note to reflect the changes which took place in my apprenticeship program during last year. Please, subscribe if you want to receive an update when the website will be renewed too.

Training in any craft was traditionally acquired through apprenticeship to a master. This was the time-honoured tradition before the invention of formal training as it is known today and is still the norm with the majority of living crafts. In my personal experience, apprenticeship was the perfect school.

A little of my own background
You can, naturally, skip this section and go straight to the available options described below or read on.

When I turned 11, I apprenticed to an instrument maker, Vladimir Oiberman. He did not make violins. He conducted an ethnomusicological research and in the course of five years created enough instruments for two folkloric orchestras. Through his efforts, the traditional instrumental music was resurrected from the complete oblivion. There was a sense of renaissance among the people living in that South Russian republic. Oiberman was my hero and I was sure I wanted to become an instrument maker. He taught me how to fix my violin, how to fix the violin of my brother, and how to make chin-rests which I sold to the musicians form the local philharmonic. At Oiberman’s workshop I have seen how much can be done from nothing, and how much happiness this can produce. “We use sources, but we use fantasy too when there are no other sources. There you find everything you need”.

At the age of 15 I moved to St.Petersburg and Oiberman advised me to continue violin-making under the guidance of a master in St.Petersburg. It took me 6 years to find such a master. Nobody would take me:  “why should I teach you? You will take my job!” If you searched for an apprenticeship, than the chances are you have already heard similar answers. In Russia there are no schools of violin-making where teachers teach how to make violins but sometimes openly admit, “This is the way I teach, but this is not the way I make”. At last I apprenticed to Vladimir Yakimenko, a remarkable violin-maker and pedagogue in St. Petersburg. He is the only maker in St.Petersburg with a studio full of pupils. I worked for him three years in exchange for professional training. The modest results of my labour were used in his violins so I was sure I was learning the real craft. There were no secrets. “Use your brain, don’t just cut, and cut and cut!”... I was fired after I heard this phrase but re-admitted two weeks later. “Life can be ugly at times, but you should never stop creating beauty”. This is when the profound connection between the life and what I was doing in violin-making was established once and for ever.

In 1994 I moved to Brussels in order to study violin history, aesthetics of baroque music, historical violin-playing techniques under Sigiswald Kuijken. I was inspired by his approach and decided to move my violin-making principles onto the same track, that of analyse, critical reassessment, questioning, research in the primary sources. I abandoned everything I learned and started reinventing the violin as if it still did not exist. Belgium and The Netherlands is the richest place in Europe, and perhaps in the world, when it comes to the tradition of historically, culturally informed approach to anything connected with the music. It was the best place to learn the violin-making anew. One of my favourite citations from Sigiswald’s rich repertoire, “It is the artistic idea that develops the right technique, not vice versa”. 

A bit of recent story
From 2005 to 2010 I lived in Tokyo. Daikanyama Academy of Music invited me to teach violin-making. I accepted the offer because I wanted to teach in order to learn. 
This experience developed my passion for teaching violin-making and lead me to the conclusion that: 
  1. I must to teach and pass the more ethical, more responsible attitude I inherited from H.I.P. musicians and instrument makers working in their circle. 
  2. Assist the young violin-makers to learn the craft when or if they do not want to go through the formal training. 
  3. To help my own workflow. 
I may sound strongly biased towards H.I.P or Early Music, but, in fact, I am not. I am strongly biased towards the primary sources and the idea that the violin is an object of cultural value and should not be taken off its roots. 

Available choices
There are three options. 
  1. Assistants
I employ assistants on per-job or per-hour basis. Assistants get paid for doing most of the rough work at my studio, sweeping the dust, preparing the moulds etc. This is a very basic work, which does not mean it is simple. I do not necessarily teach them as there is no time for that. There is a try-out period during which we figure out whether or not we can work together. Both the attitude and craftsmanship must be good and you have to be registered at a Dutch or EU KvK (Chamber of Commerce).
2. Apprentice-assistants
Apprentice-assistants learn the trade-secrets in exchange for their work. Naturally, their skills must be good indeed as well as there is a need for a good personal communication. 
3. Ordinary apprentices
Currently there are three ordinary apprenticeship programs to choose from: 
  • A. Make a copy of a Stradivari or some other violin from a poster using the common standard violin-making methods. Advantage: these methods are followed around the globe, East, West, North, South. No need in the advanced designing course because all you need is a poster and measurements. No advanced carving techniques, much of the work can be finished with scrapers and polished using modern materials and techniques. Alcohol based varnish similar to the varnish used in repair work. Such copies cannot be sold through my studio or with the mentioning in the label of “Badiarov Violins”, only the name of the apprentice.
  • B. Make a violin after my original model and keep it for yourself or sell on your own. Included: designing course in order to understand the model, advanced carving techniques (no use of the modern appliances which did not exist in the baroque period), oil based varnish. Such violins cannot be sold through my studio or with the mentioning in the label of the name “Badiarov Violins”, only the name of the apprentice.
  • C. Make two violins after my original model, keep one in the personal collection and sell one through my studio at a determined entry-price. Added value: designing course, advanced carving, oil based varnish, opportunity to continue making violins at my studio and the opportunity to earn back part or all cost of the training. Such violins must really be fine in order to earn the right to use the name “Badiarov Violins” in the label and sell them through my studio (a small commission for the use of Badiarov Violins will apply).
    Admission and trial periods
    Experience shows that more than half of the candidates drop out in the first two weeks or even less. I have no time to waste and I shall not waste the time and money of others. Please, do not hesitate to contact me for more details and the costs of the options A, B, and C.
    General requirements for assistants and apprentices
    They are expected to possess and develop the following qualities:
    1. To have passion for music and violin.
    2. To have interest in history of music, violin and art.
    3. To be able to communicate his or her interest and passion.
    4. To have good communication skills.
    5. To have a good discipline and ability to work hard. 
    6. To take initiative in personal development towards becoming a better craftsman/craftswoman.
    7. An ability to understand the tasks and work without constant supervision.
    8. An ability to ask questions.
    9. To think analytically.
    10. To develop an ability to conduct their own research.
    11. To develop awareness that the violin is not a consumer product but an object of cultural value.
    12. To have the desire to master every aspect of craft and bring its technical and artistic aspects to the highest possible level. 
    Number of places is very limited. At this moment one or maximum two apprentices could be taken in. 

    At this moment Russian, Italian, Spanish, French and Japanese are possible but the main language is English.

    Pictures by: 


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