The Redwood Violin Project – Origins

by | Oct 25, 2020 | YPCO

I first had the idea of building a violin out of local materials back in 2015.  Starting from a personal interest in learning more about certain basic wood working processes, like making my own hide glue, the idea grew into a scheme involving first a blog, then the local press and eventually the Santa Rosa Symphony, local musicians and composers and even a documentary video.  At that point I collapsed under the weight of new ideas, and regular work and regular life took over again.  However I had been encouraged by the very positive responses I had received whenever I told people about the scheme, and I had never entirely let it go.  As the idea matured, the process of making the violin from scratch became less of the focus of the story and more of a vehicle with which to tell a bigger story about the County and its natural, commercial and cultural resources. It also illustrated for me the numerous ways in which we are reliant on each other as a community.

When COVID came, regular work slowed and regular life disappeared. As I was wondering how I could best make use of my time, I found the project coming back into my mind. I mentioned it to Aaron Westman, a violinist / violist and the director of Santa Rosa  Symphony’s Young People’s Chamber Orchestra (YPCO).  Aaron’s eyes lit up and we had a lengthy discussion in which Aaron suggested several more possibilities for the project that I had not thought of.

We took the idea to the Symphony, and before long we were meeting with members of the Symphony League, a fundraising group, and talking about how to make the project a reality. We became enamored with the idea of producing a documentary featuring local businesses, musicians and the process of making the violin. As the scope and quality of the documentary grew in our minds, so did the price tag in reality until at a certain point we realized that, if we didn’t keep things small and doable, nothing was going to happen.

The current thought is to go ahead and start collecting materials for the violin and record the process as a blog with possible occasional amateur video.  This may not have the glamour and glitz of the documentary, but in a way it is more in keeping with the original, do-it-yourself spirit of the project.  It would be wonderful to work with some of the very impressive professional video studios in the area, but perhaps that can wait for later. If the story is strong enough, it will find a way to get told.

What we do have so far is an agreement with the YPCO that they will be playing the finished Redwood Violin at their Spring 2021 concert.  The concert will feature one or more new pieces of music composed by members of the orchestra, and inspired by some aspect of Sonoma County.  In this alone I feel that we have already achieved one of the goals of the project, by focusing on our location and its talent.