By Elizabeth Winchester
Quincy Whitney is on a national fiddle hunt. Specifically, the author of American Luthier, which was published in April and chronicles the life of pioneering violinmaker Carleen Hutchins (1911-2009), is looking for the nearly 500 violins that Hutchins made. Meet Whitney, and learn more about her search, book, and Hutchins, at Bob Murphy’s Violin Shop at Murphy’s Music (447 Walt Whitman Road, Melville) on Wednesday, June 1, from 3 to 6 p.m.
Hutchins made her first instrument in 1949, at the age of 38. At the time, she was a trumpet-playing elementary school science teacher in New Jersey. When Hutchins was asked to play in a chamber music group at her school, she took up the viola. She wasn’t satisfied with the instrument she had bought, and since she was a skilled woodworker, she decided to build a better viola herself.
Over the next 50 years, working from her home—often in her kitchen—Hutchins carved violins, which was then only done by men. For centuries, violinmakers had relied on their intuition to carve the instruments. Most, including Bob Murphy, continue to do that. “I don’t use tools to tune my violins. I tune them with my ears,” says Murphy, who takes apart old violins and modernizes them. “It is more of an artistic approach than a scientific one.”
Hutchins was an artist and a scientist. She experimented with acoustics and developed a scientific technique that saves violinmakers time, and helps them carve with precision. She is celebrated for creating a family of eight violins, known as the violin octet, which vary in size and tone, and have a total string sound across the range of a piano. And she worked to create top-quality violins that cost less money so more students could have them.
Learn why Whitney wanted to write Hutchins’s story, and why even violinmakers who believe in an artistic approach to their craft, like Murphy, praise Hutchins’s methods and contributions. “Because of Hutchins,” says Whitney, “everything has changed in the violin-making world.” For more information about the June 1 book event contact Bob Murphy at 631-549-4510.
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