19 September 2010

Cultural Heritage Weekend

Every September France celebrates its cultural heritage by opening the doors to its museums, libraries, historical monuments, gardens (public and private) and various government buildings for an entire weekend, all free of charge.

Music was an integral part of this year's heritage weekend, with the national orchestra of Lyon performing eight free concerts throughout the city on Sunday afternoon.

They played Mozart. They played Berlioz. They played Vivaldi, Dvorak, Bach and Brahms. And in the courtyard of the hôtel de ville, four cellists played melodies coming from the high Kenyan plateaus.

If you didn't want to listen to music, but rather wanted to see how it was 'made', luthier Christian Charlemagne, a stringed-instrument maker, offered free tours of his workshop with demonstrations of how violins (and cellos and altos) are made and repaired.

This man spends his days repairing old violins, some dating back to the 1700s. He explained that there are several factors which can damage a violin, including excess humidity and lack of playing.

Then he held up this violin in front of the lamp and said, "Worms are the worst."

If you look carefully, you can see the light shining through the bottom of the violin where the worms have eaten through the wood. This, he said, is the most difficult repair of all. (Click on the photo for a larger image.)

Walking out of the workshop and back onto the narrow cobblestone street after the tour, I mentally added another profession to the growing list of careers I would choose if I could do it all over again.

I'm not that skilled with my hands, and I've only just begun my fourth year of violin, but the thought of being able to unlock centuries' worth of music - past and future - all for the preservation of our cultural heritage, is for me a most enchanting prospect.

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