If this violin could talk, I would love to hear the stories! When I was 13 years old, my family moved to Fort Worth (from Ponca City) and I needed a violin. Charlotte had one collecting dust and loaned it to me. I didn’t know how long the loan would last, but it was good for the moment.
Charlotte’s dad bought a violin for her from a band of gypsies in search of funds for medication. The red violin (painted with barn paint) was gonna get a makeover. In 1933, they refinished the instrument, removing most of the paint. As the story goes, Charlotte hated playing the violin but obliged her parents’ insistence. She was all too happy for the violin to be used by someone who would play it, and I was the lucky recipient.
10 years (or so) into my courtship with Barney (that’s what I named the violin), I sought to have the instrument appraised. Inside the F holes, I could see 2 labels. One was a Stradivarius label dated 1690, and the other was the 1933 label identifying Joseph Stamp as the refinisher. I was curious to determine the authenticity of the Stradivarius label. How cool would that be?
Come to find out, the fingerboard on the instrument was a quarter-inch longer than most standard violins. So the Stradivarius label was probably not authentic. When Mr. Stamp refinished the violin, the sanding to remove the paint rendered the wood too thin for any future refinishing, though it kept its reddish hue. This, of course, lowered the value of the violin considerably. But there was really no way to tell how old the instrument was, and by all indications, it had limited value.
For over 40 years, I played the violin. I minored in violin in college, so I played in many an orchestra and did my share of solo work with the instrument. Musicals, symphonies, chamber music engagements, and Christmas programs; this violin even survived a massive hail storm during an outdoor performance. Oh, the stories the violin could tell.
Before Charlotte died, she inquired if I was still using the violin. If not, she wanted to give it to someone in her family. If I was still using the instrument, she was fine with me continuing to do so. As history happened, I was still playing the violin. Now, though, I wanted to see if I could find someone in her family who might be interested in the violin.
I knew she had a son, but I did not know his name. Through a little investigative work, I found someone who might fit the bill. I sent a letter to see if he was the right person and provided my phone number. First try, and I found him. The violin is going back to the family whence it came. He even has a picture of Charlotte with the violin! Come to find out, he is friends with James Dick, a retired concert pianist and founder of the Round Top Festival Institute. I actually played the violin in a concert with him, many moons ago. (Oh, the onslaught of bugs in that outdoor concert!)
I set the messenger free—back into the world for more adventure. How did the gypsies come into the violin? Why was it painted in red barn paint? Such a sweet instrument with a nice mellow tone. How did that fingerboard get so long? And who put that Stradivarius label in there? Barney and I had quite a run together. Now, some 50 years later, I would love to hear the stories this violin could tell. That, my friends, is the story of my own red violin.