Raising the bow

08:51, February 11, 2011      

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Chinese violin maker Jiang Zhengyi in his studio in Qingdao, Shandong Province on January 29. Photo: CFP

American violin-making is enjoying a rebirth, craftsmen say, despite the rapidly improving production by fellow makers in China, which artisans in the US see both as a threat - and a boon - to their livelihood.

Even with US interest in classical music slipping, and some orchestras folding in harsh economic times, support for the artisans' business is such that hundreds of individual American violin-makers are thriving.

"Violin and bow making in this country is the best it's been in US history," and the instruments being produced are among the world's finest, Jerry Pasewicz, who heads the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, a collection of 180 top US artisans, said.

US still top dog

Whether China can mount a serious threat to the high end of the craft - known as lutherie - is in dispute. Some believe it will take several decades before Chinese instruments, which now dominate the student market, come close to rivaling the best violins of Europe and the United States.

But China's massive production ramp up over the past decade is introducing large numbers of aspiring musicians, including thousands in China itself, to the art of playing the violin.

"As they start to grow up, they seek a better instrument," said Pasewicz, who has been making violins for three decades and owns a shop in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Jiang Feng, a violin maker in Michigan, said the current state of American lutherie is nothing short of "a renaissance," thanks to institutions like the Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Chicago School of Violin Making. "In the past 15 or 20 years it's increased a few hundred percent," he said of the number of US makers. But "the only reason we exist at all is that people are playing the violin."

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