The Education Journey of a Luthier

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Our drop-in session on the 12th March was an interesting discussion about sustainability and repairs, with members sharing concerns about the shortage of skilled technicians for all kinds of instrument.  This is something we’ll be discussing and addressing further in the coming months.

Today, we’re delighted to feature Alex Janonyte, a luthier who at 22, has joined Moseley Violins following her recent graduation from the Newark School of Violin Making.  Matt has been speaking with Alex to find out about her path into the industry and the passion she has for her craft.  It’s an inspiring story and includes MIA touchstones of education and diversity.

Hello Alex.  How did you get into to violin making?

I left school at 16 years old and having wanted to be a nursery worker from a very young age, I started a course in childcare. However, I soon decided that it wasn’t for me and I looked around for something else. Having played the double bass at school and in the Glasgow Youth Orchestra, I was attracted to a 2-year musical instrument making course at the local college.

I loved it! The course drew out my creativity and gave me new skills in wood-working. It pushed me beyond anything I had done before.  At the beginning of the course, I had to choose between making guitars or violins, and because I’m an orchestral string player I went for the violin option.

After finishing the course, I wanted to improve my skills further and I found out about the Newark College of Violin Making. I studied there for 3 years and got lots of workshop and making experience.

This year, when I graduated with a degree, I was pleased to have the opportunity to work at Moseley Violins, where I repair and restore all the instruments of the violin family.

It’s important to not allow yourself to think you can’t do something. Also, to keep trying different things until you find the thing you love to do.

What do you enjoy about being a Luthier?

I enjoy being able to lose myself in the task, focussing on using my skills and creativity to make something amazing.

I enjoy the challenges and problem-solving which many repairs present. There is not always one solution to achieve the best result and there is great satisfaction in making decisions that result in good outcomes.

I am learning to play the violin, and I really enjoy demonstrating the instrument to younger people who come to the shop for their first instrument. It’s inspirational to see them respond to the sound and see the beginnings of the passion that the violin can arouse.

What sort of instruments do you like to make and why?

At Newark, I fell in love with the Brescian-style of violin making from Italy.

I am drawn to that style because it was the beginning of violin-making as we know it today.  Instruments then were made quickly and by candlelight, and so tool marks still show on the instruments. They were still precisely made but have more character. I enjoy carving the inlay on the back of the instrument, in keeping with the Brescian-style, but sometimes I add in my own designs too. Stradivarius, the violin maker that most people have heard about, came later and was based in Cremona which had a different style of making.

What’s your experience of working in this traditionally male occupation?

In Glasgow, my college tutor warned me that most of the people on the course would be older men – and I was one of two women amongst 20 students.  In the trade, I think there is much more acceptance of women makers now. However, when I buy tools, the suppliers are not always convinced that I know how to use them.

At Newark, about a third of the students were women and from all around the World.  It was a very supportive and non-judgemental environment.

You moved to Moseley, during lockdown, how has that been?

I had worked at Moseley Violins for one day a week whilst in my final year at college so I knew the people there. Moseley Violins is a lovely place to work; very welcoming and supportive and the work is very interesting. There is always something new to see and learn.

Everyone I have met in Moseley has been very friendly and I love living in such a diverse and interesting community.

After lockdown lifts what do you hope to do?

I’d like to join a local orchestra and I am really looking forward to seeing live music again – especially at the Symphony Hall.

I’d like to continue making and to develop more of my own style. My main goal is to make a double bass, but I also would like to continue to repair and restore. I hope one day to be able to work on a famous instrument – either because of its maker or its player. Until then, I will enjoy developing and honing my skills and experience.