The Red Violin

Right off the top, this blog entry has nothing to do with music and hearing loss.  It does however have something to do with what happened last Thursday eve.  I was up in cottage country and my wife had bought two tickets to see the Red Violin.  This was in a small Adirondack town called Indian River.  There is a traffic light, a very interesting hardware store, a bar, and a gas station.  And, oh yes, an old movie theatre.  Depending on the evening the movie theatre can run movies such as Rocky Horror Picture Show, or something more current, such as The Godfather, part 1.

From time to time, the community theatre group becomes involved and that was actually what I had been expecting- a community theatre play about the 1998 Francois Girard film, starring Samuel Jackson, The Red Violin.  I had expected some local thespian to be the auctioneer, and another to perhaps act like the great master Antonio Stradivari.  What I got however, was a close up of the actual Red Violin; arguably the most famous musical instrument in the world.  I even got to have my picture taken with Elizabeth Pitcairn  (who held her violin tightly in both hands) and quite intelligently, kept me at bay with her other hand.

Very little is known about this mythical violin.  Most of what we saw in the 1998 movie was interesting but based on nothing more than the imagination of the writers.  We do know that shortly after Stradivari’s wife’s death, the violin disappeared.  (And there is no evidence that the red color was Mrs. Stradivari’s blood… another imaginative plot twist from the movie).

Eventually, this 1720 vintage Strad made its way into the hands of Felix Mendelssohn, the famous composer who many feel was the 19th century equivalent of Mozart.  We have all heard his music even if we didn’t know that it was a Mendelssohn piece; next time you watch the Bugs Bunny cartoons with your kids or grand kids, $10 says that you will be listening to a Mendelssohn piece.

In the 20th century the Red Violin was sold to a New York industrialist and after 40 years where it was kept in immaculate condition, Elizabeth Pitcairn’s grandfather bought it as a 16th birthday present. (I got a baseball glove). Elizabeth has had it now for 25 years …. so…. that makes her 29, I think.  In the picture, Elizabeth is holding a stuffed Adirondack black  bear, the unofficial mascot of the Adirondacks.  She was given this in lieu of payment and the theatre gave a donation instead to the Luzerne Music Festival (see below).

Marshall within several inches of the Red Violin (and Elizabeth Pitcairn as well!)
                Marshall within several inches of the Red Violin (and Elizabeth Pitcairn as well!)

The show was amazing and, like the old Carol Burnett shows, Elizabeth did a question and answer portion from the stage of the old movie theatre.  Apparently the Red Violin is male and answers to the name Felix; no, she doesn’t sleep with the violin; her secret hiding spot for it is…. (this part has been edited out for bloggish integrity...); all of the resonating wood (front, back, and sides) are original as is the finish.  She has a chin pad and neck brace for it which wasn’t there in the original, and there are silver wound string which I am sure that Stradivari hadn’t considered using; and apparently there is a rather large body guard somewhere hiding behind a door way so that I couldn’t get too close.

Elizabeth Pitcairn is an amazing musician and is very dedicated to bringing music to the youth of today.  She is president and artistic director of the Luzerne Music Festival and camp for young musicians.

So that was my vacation!  How was yours?

About Marshall Chasin

Marshall Chasin, AuD, is a clinical and research audiologist who has a special interest in the prevention of hearing loss for musicians, as well as the treatment of those who have hearing loss. I have other special interests such as clarinet and karate, but those may come out in the blog over time.