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Scandinavian musicians share craft of violin building

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Arne Anderson has spent the majority of his life perfecting a musical craft. He studied violin building in Cremona, Italy. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal2 / 10
Paul and Arne brought along accordians to play for the small crowd. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal3 / 10
Stringed instruments like these require an immense amount of training to construct. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal4 / 10
Bob Anderson shared the stories of his instrument with the crowd. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal5 / 10
The Brainerd based Scandinavian quartet played several songs in addition to explaining the complex process of violin building. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal6 / 10
Arne Anderson holding his piano accordion. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal7 / 10
The quartet played Scandinavian and Finnish music. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal8 / 10
Every aspect of building a violin focuses on acoustic quality. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal9 / 10
Paul Wilson started studying violin building in 1995. Michael Denny/Wadena Pioneer Journal10 / 10

The Wadena City Library hosted a Brainerd based Scandinavian fiddle group, Thursday, Feb. 21. A small crowd gathered around the unique musicians as they prepared. They skillfully played stringed instruments as the library filled with beautiful folk music.

Arne Anderson, Paul Wilson, Mary Abendroth, and Bob Anderson are a traveling Scandinavian quartet that relish the opportunity to share their native musical style. Arne Anderson and Paul Wilson also enjoy sharing the artisanal craft of constructing violins.

Anderson had a love for woodwork and wrestling. So he set out to be a teacher and coach but his interests shifted when he attended junior college in Brainerd. He took music courses and realized his true passion was for music. He would eventually teach orchestra in Mankato but soon left to study abroad in London. His European adventure began and Anderson took this opportunity to explore the continent. Throughout his travels, most of which were on bike, he was offered an illustrious opportunity. Anderson was invited to study violin building in Cremona, Italy. He simply couldn't turn down the opportunity to fuse his love for music and wood working.

Italy is known for its musical instruments and is home to many legendary instrument builders. Anderson spent years learning how to make violins. His school had special access to violin molds produced by the famous Antonio Stradivari. Stradivari is known throughout the world to be a master violin builder that perfected the art form during the 17th and 18th centuries. Anderson explained how he used molds made by Stradivari to construct near perfect violins. He would take the molds and trace them before cutting the wood so his violins would retain the same shape as those produced Stradivari hundreds of years ago. He hoped that this would grant his instruments the same sound quality as the sought after Stradivari violins.

An original Stadivari violin can sell for over $9 million, according to Anderson. In his pursuit of building violins, he took as much inspiration from the old master as he could. This even involved getting wood from the same valley as Stradivari. This would take Anderson north of Italy to the Alps, specifically the Valley of Flames. This is where Anderson would find the finest materials for building his violins.

Anderson has lived a long life packed with musical endeavours. He started as a teacher, then a pupil, he would return to Minneapolis to operate his own music shop in downtown Minneapolis. Anderson relocated his business to his log home where he has been building violins for decades.

Anderson gave an abridged explanation of the steps that go into making a fine stringed instrument. Much of their construction depends on the quality of the wood. Once good materials have been acquired, he makes delicate measurements, then cuts, and shapes the pieces. The pieces are carefully assembled while making several sound improving marks and adjustments. After the violin has been put together varnish will be added. Special varnish gives the coat of a violin a brilliant shine. Varnish from the local hardware store simply won't do, jokingly remarked Anderson. The finish of the instrument will involve several coats and a lot of sanding. The entire process of making a single violin takes months and Anderson has personally built over 300 in his career. His violins sell for around $7,000 each.

Paul Wilson took a Folk Arts Apprenticeship grant to study violin building. His studies took place in 1995 and he has completed six violins. His initial passion for music did not involve violins. His love for music had more to do with the music of the 1960's like Bob Dylan or Neil Young. However, in his 20s his interests evolved to include his heritage. Folk music was in his blood. He received the grant and began studying the art of stringed instruments. Wilson explained how nice it was to have a close friend like Anderson, someone that has been building for half a century. He often goes to Anderson for advice and assistance.

The quartet played throughout the evening. Mary Abendroth played a special portable organ that transformed the sitting area of the library into a mini cathedral. The foundation of their music was supplied by Bob Anderson who played base. The large instrument towered over him as he strummed in time with the two violin players.

The musical performance was designed to celebrate Scandinavian and Finnish heritage, both of which are heavily imbued with music. The Wadena library hopes to have more space for such presentations after they move into a new building following renovations.

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