Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Praise the Lord with Stringed Instruments (Psalm 150:4)

The Hollywood family recently had the honor of hosting our pastor, the Rev. Dr. Fred "Fritz" Baue, whom we have known and loved for some 15 years.  He is the one who first suggested that I consider attending seminary.

Dr. Baue is not only a faithful Lutheran pastor (recently retired), he is a profound theologian who authored "A Lutheran Manifesto," has published several books (including his latest on biblical creationism), edited for Concordia Publishing House, been on Issues, etc. just last year, lectured in 2007 as part of the faculty (under the one and only Rev. Dr. John Warwick Montgomery) of the International Academy of Apologetics and Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, holds a Ph.D. in English literature, is a storyteller/bard/bon-vivant/raconteur, is a smoker of pipes and cigars and a drinker of "Lutheran beverages" - as well as being a devoted husband and father.

He's also a musician.

That is an understatement!  He is a composer of church hymnody, classical guitar pieces, and modern American jazz/folk/blues or whatever you might call it.  He is a singer and performer on guitar, violin, penny-whistle, and harmonica, and has cut some CDs - two of which are available on Amazon.  He took up the violin/fiddle only recently and now enters contests.  He has been known to jam with LCMS president Rev. Matthew Harrison.  And Dr. Baue has been nagging me for a long, long time to pick up my violin and play it again.  I have been resisting.

During his sojourn with us (in which he performed for a Wednesday night Bible class and accompanied our organist during the Divine Service), he found my two instruments, uncased them, examined them, tuned up the strings, and started plucking and bowing them.  He pointed out the work that needed to be done on them.

One of them is my old 3/4 size Roth violin made in Cleveland, Ohio, that my dad bought for me (on installments) back in 1974, when I was ten.  I took lessons for three years (grades 4 to 6) in school and I excelled at it.  I enjoyed playing.  I did not continue to study after sixth grade due to the expense of private instruction.  I played in our Junior High orchestra through 8th grade.  At my high school, we had no orchestra, so I learned saxophone and played the tenor and bari sax until 11th grade.  Other than a rare occasion, my fiddle remained entombed like a mummy in its case since since about 1978.  Besides, it had become too small to accommodate my fingers.

In the 1990s, I did buy an adult-sized violin from a friend in Philadelphia who dabbled in fiddle music.  I played a little - but did not find a teacher, an orchestra, a band, or a quartet to play with.  Since that time, my musical interest has been limited to chanting in church and singing in the seminary choirs. I had the privilege to sing two years with the Concordia Theological Seminary Kantorei - a 16 man, 4-part touring choir that sang services in churches (rather than concerts).  The Kantorei has been around for more than 30 years now, and is still going strong - having recorded several CDs.

But now, thanks to Dr. Baue's visit, I decided to look up a violin repair shop.  An inquiry at our local music store led me to call Sal Giardina.  When I looked him up on the web, I was blown away.  There was a wonderful article about him from 2004 in the Times-Picayune about him and his shop.  Under the circumstances, I figured that 1) he would not give me the time of day not being a "real" musician, or 2) he would charge so much as to make my repair work prohibitive.

My full sized violin needed something done to account for the slippage in the e-string.  I thought maybe the peg needed re-seated or replaced - hopefully nothing more than that.  My child's violin needed more work.  There was a crack to be glued, some additional glue work needed on the fingerboard (which was coming apart from the neck), and a new bridge.  I called Sal and he was friendly and gregarious.  He told me to bring the violins to his shop the next day.  We piled into the van and drove through the sheets of rain and parked in the flooded parking spot in front of the shop in Old Metairie.  The window of the shop looks right out of the 18th century.  We went in.  A truck was delivering a stand-up bass.  It was so crowded inside that there was barely a place to stand.

Sal came in off the truck, shook our hands, introduced himself, and apologized for the "mess."  The shop is enthralling and inviting - while seemingly chaotic to those of us who do not work there.  We had an absolutely delightful, unhurried conversation.  I found out that he is a practicing Roman Catholic and a church musician.  His website includes the reference and citation of Psalm 150:4 ("Praise the Lord with stringed instruments").  He spoke with great reverence about the Italian pioneers of violin-making, such as the Amati family and Antonio Stradivari - especially their devotion to God and to the faith - as well as their innovation and blend of science and art to create perfect instruments.  Sal just beams when he speaks about violins and violin-making.  Here is rare thing in this day and age: a true craftsman who loves his work and finds unbridled joy in his calling.  He understands that it is a holy vocation - and he obviously sees his vocation to be just as much interaction with people as it is working with instruments.

I showed him the fiddles.  Like an expert medical doctor, he efficiently and yet thoroughly examined both instruments and knew just what needed to be done.  He gave me a quote of about $35 and said he would have them for me in a couple days (Saturday).  I was floored.

On Saturday, Sal had a lot of things come up, and he called very apologetically.  I told him it was no problem and offered to pick them up another day.  Sal insisted on finishing the job as he promised.  Leo and I drove to Sal's together as he was closing up the shop.  On the way over, Leo quipped that as hard as it must be to play the violin, it must be a lot harder to fix and make them.  He wanted to know if Sal used an instruction book.

We arrived to find Sal with my violins ready to go.  He surprised me by changing the price.  Free.  He would not take my money.  My pegs were actually okay - he just loosened and re-tightened them.  He threw in a cake of rosin, replaced a broken string, and was able to replace the bridge with one he had lying around.  I asked for one more favor - which Sal readily granted: we took a couple pictures.

He also recommended a violin teacher in Gretna for me.  I visited the studio, and I would like to give it a shot.  I've been playing the hymns in the hymnal to knock the rust and cobwebs off.  My fingers still have the muscle memory of when I was 12 years old.  Only problem is that my fingers are now 47 years old, bigger, and not as limber.  But I am getting there!  Mrs. H. (who is learning to play the piano along with Leo) and I were playing a bit together today.  It was good fun.

So, a double "thank you" is due to two extraordinary musicians and men: Dr. Fred Baue and Mr. Sal Giardina.  I am honored and humbled and privileged to know both of you!  Indeed, let us "praise the Lord with stringed instruments."

1 comment:

Mike Green said...

Well, since you're a priest, once you've achieved sufficient fiddle prowess, I think you'll be much better equipped to deal with the devil than Johnny was. And you'll come away with a Golden Fiddle.