My first introduction to the violin, as near as I can recall, was when I was ten or eleven years old. Like many youngsters, I was "introduced" to a series of musical instruments during my formative years. Given that the piano had been a failure, the violin seemed the next logical choice. Unfortunately, the violin was also not a success, due in no small part to a school yard bully and a broken violin case.
All was not lost though, through the high school band I discovered jazz. Until university took away most of my free time I greatly enjoyed playing horn with my buddies. I had to hang it up soon after university as finding time and people to play with just became too much.
I spent many years teaching and conducting research at the university level. I became very interested in how physics could be applied to biological problems. Using the principles of mechanics and dynamics I was trying to explain the structures and actions of living organisms. In a sense, this was a form of reverse engineering which led me, of course, into studying "real" engineering. I was also interested in the culture of marine organisms, an interest which led me into the business of aquaculture.
My interest in aquaculture resulted in the start up of three different companies and my eventual departure from academia. I spent many years raising money, writing business plans and trying to manage small companies. I have had some successes. All three companies are still in business and I hold a number of patents.
During these years I did not lose my interest in music. I followed the revival of the Celtic music traditions with great interest. Starting with the first releases of the Chieftains I have amassed a fair collection of traditional music. I had also became interested in instrument making. I made flutes and whistles for several years as a hobby. Being of a scientific bent I developed a mathematical model of the acoustical properties of the flute. Since I did not play it was not as satisfying as I could have wished.
Then one day my other half decided that I needed to make music again. Christmas morning brought me a brand-new fiddle. Few times in my life have I been caught me as completely unawares as that morning. It was a perfect thing to do. I now play the fiddle tunes I love and I have fallen in love with the instrument itself. And, of course, within months I was interested in building them.
I had been a woodworker all my life. In addition to the flutes I have made everything from art bowls to fine furniture. Fiddle making is fine work but well within my abilities. But what made a good violin? This I resolved to find out.
As a person with scientific training my first step was to study the literature on the violin. Several journals publish articles on violin acoustics but only one, the Journal of the Catgut Acoustical Society, virtually focuses on the violin alone. I joined the society and ordered all of the back issues. I also read every book I could get my hands on that related to violins.
I spent a year or so digesting all this information. Much of the colloquial information was contradictory. Surprisingly little concrete information was available on the master instruments. What information was available was usualy subjective opinion rather than objective measurement. The recent literature was better, but still inconclusive. It seemed that violins were a classic messy problem.....not unlike many I had worked on in my other lives.
I was hooked.
I have now taken a step back from my other business interests to build fine fiddles full time. I find it satisfying to design and build fine instruments. It is a joy to hear them play a fine violin concerto or the Mason's Apron. I hope that my violins will have a long life of their own, satisfying generations of fine musicians.
T.B. (Ted) White