What would a luthier be doing in a place like Cyprus? Let me give you some insights. The island of Cyprus, located between Turkey and Egypt and facing Israel, isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when we think of classical music and violin making. However, there are many musicians that follow both a classical Western music education that also study high-level folk music. The first time I traveled to Cyprus was in 2013, exactly a decade ago. And consequently, I ended up returning there to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my first visit. Here are some memories I’d like to share here with you.
Cyprus in January, full of fruits, greenery and sunlight.
A Luthier in Cyprus
My first trip to Cyprus
The first time I ever traveled to this mediterranean island was just after the New Year 2013. I went there to work for a period of six months in Stepan Soultanian’s workshop. As a former student of the lutherie school in Newark, he occasionally hosts lutherie apprentices. It’s so important for luthiers to forge connections with more experienced mentors. It’s also an opportunity for them to go back in time and revisit moments when they were just beginning their careers.
When I reflect upon the time I spent at the workbench with Stepan Soultanian, I realize just how much I learned. In fact, I worked with him about 9 hours a day, 6 days a week. It’s clear to me that this apprenticeship left its mark on me.
An initial professional experience
At the time, I was fresh out of school. And despite having had some prior work experience, I still hadn’t yet realized what being a violin maker really entailed. That’s actually why I always recommend to current and future lutherie students to get professional experiences under their belts as soon as possible. This is twofold: one one hand, it shows the reality of the profession (this changes depending on the workshop) and on the other, it reveals if the profession is truly the right fit.
Anyway, to get back to my Cyprus internship, it was actually quite a shock to my system. Even after my prior experiences at a luthier between school and internships, I didn’t realize what a gulf there was still with the real world of professional lutherie. It’s even more difficult when the stakes are high.
An overly lenient education
Something I’ve noticed over the years is that the style of teaching in schools is sometimes too lenient, or perhaps too freestyle. I find that it’s no doubt more productive in a learning context to avoid too much freedom and personal bias. It’s better to devote learning to one unique method and to thoroughly master it before developing one’s personal style. However, these thoughts came to me well after my years in school, during which time I loved experimenting.
My second trip to Cyprus
Traveling to Cyprus for the second time made me realize just how quickly time flies. It had already been a decade since I had set foot on Cypriot soil. That said, I have seen Stepan since then during his travels, and we have always remained in touch. But it was a bittersweet feeling to come in contact again with this environment.
For luthiers living in Cyprus, all these sights, sounds and smells may seem normal. But for me, it all felt surreal. In Strasbourg, with luthiers and musicians constantly coming and going, there’s never a dull moment. Because of this, I found that these incredibly relaxing surroundings were conducive both to creation and to rest. What a pleasure it was, in this case, for the two of us to set about making new instruments, as we had done a decade prior.
Learning a new type of rigging that I’d never tried before.
A luthier in Cyprus
You’ll find in reading this that I’m already 6 months behind in publishing this article. Work has been so busy that I haven’t had the time to sit and write articles, work on the video blog and progress with all the other projects that are important to me. In fact, it’s something that frustrates me deeply.
But then again, that’s life! And since my return to the workshop, I’ve been able to get ahead on several projects. I’ve particularly been working hard to promote Stepan’s superb violons and cellos. Unfortunately, I’ve already sold the two I had since the beginning of the year. But I’d be delighted to show his models to you with videos, or even let you try them out at the workshop. But I suppose I’d have to carve out some time to do that now, wouldn’t I?!