French violin from the 1820's. You may be surprised if you knew what it looked like this morning. While it is still a mess, the new pieces of wood have melted into the old and mostly disappeared. Another four or five hours and it will all appear to be the same age, but in better condition than it seems now.
This is the dilemma for the restorer. Your work has to disappear. There is no room for ego in restoration and when a job is done properly there should be a huge let-down for the restorer and the client, because the trouble has all disappeared. What was the fuss about? It looks fine, why is the bill so big? It doesn't look damaged at all....
This work is the antithesis of making an instrument. When you make, it is all about your vision, and your combined ideas for tone and style and outline and chroma and nuance and character. These things will all combine in the mind as you will the instrument into being. And there it will be, an expression of your vision and the limitations in your realisation of it.
A factory or even an amateur instrument (and some 'professional' ones too) will just be the physical combination of a bunch of bits made in isolation, without a central idea wedding them to each other. Some may sound fine and look good, but they are just industrial objects. A really fine instrument will be the result of some educated decisions based upon experience aimed at a particular outcome and put out there to be judged as such.
So when it comes time to restore an instrument of this calibre there is no room for the personality or the inclinations of the restorer. You only succeed if your work becomes invisible and reveals the vision of the original maker. I believe very strongly that makers who don't restore and restorers who don't make miss out substantially in the two aspects of the workers ego. To be able to be 'present' or 'absent' is to know much more about what works. This is a further reflection of the metaphor of the reflex curve mentioned in a previous post.
So, happily, to-day I disappeared and felt the better for it. But I was also aware that there has been less of this to be done lately. I deal with people's discretionary income and there is less to be had of that for instruments lately, than I have known for twenty years. In another sense also, I felt an absence to-day, contemplating the death of another long-term client.
I looked after his violin for 15 years or so (not the one pictured here), but it has a wonderful story that begins with a family escaping 'cleansing' in Europe in the 1930's. It is a challenging story, but ultimately a happy one for those that lived through it. The violin has moved on, and as it happens its new owner is also a client of mine. But I will miss M.- a lovely man and a fine music educator, and the world is a little diminished without him.