The core work of violinmaking is by its nature very private and insular. So in that sense, making instruments during COVID isn’t much different from making them any other time. My working style hasn’t shifted at all, except that there’s more undisrupted, concentrated time to work with than ever, which makes it easier to get into an optimally focused state as I work at the bench.
And I am happy to say that I haven’t had any difficulty getting what I need from suppliers, and because I primarily make instruments from locally sourced wood that I store and age in my barn, I don’t lack for materials.
But the one key thing that has been in short supply has been the direct feedback that I normally get from players during in-person interactions. This input informs and inspires my work as I go, and it feels strange to make instruments without recent player insights to respond to. That player stimulation really pushes my work forward and directs it.
Whenever I’m making an instrument, I find myself needing to imagine its full life. Having regular interactions with players helps me envision and connect with the possibilities of where an instrument might be going on its journey into the world. But in this time of less direct and active connection to players, that piece of the process feels like it has been weakened.
The summer has always been my time to connect with players at Marlboro, Yellow Barn, and other festivals, and meet with players passing through on summer travels, but not this year. And I’m no longer making routine trips to Boston and other areas to meet with players. With travel and other restrictions limiting visitors, the shop feels quieter than ever. I’m not seeing as many people as I usually do, and I miss those moments very much.
The ease of making a connection is slowed down, and the convenience of being able to meet in person is disrupted. Instead, I’m connecting with clients much more at a distance, shipping instruments out for trial more often than showing them here in my shop in person. We are still able to do business by phone, and Internet, and through the mail, and I continue to work with players in these ways.
There is always a need for fine instruments, and the reality is that my violin making and sales activity haven’t been impeded that much. But everyone I’ve connected with lately has had something to say about how they are handling the pandemic and how their music making is being influenced. Basically everyone’s life has been significantly disrupted, and there’s just a great deal of sadness to process. I feel it, too.
While I’ve been feeling that difference and observing the difficulty around me, I’m mindful that this situation is less disruptive to me than it would be if my life were built on a different foundation.
I spend time each day outdoors, enjoying the natural beauty of this hillside that I call home. On any given day, I might clear some brush on my property, stack some firewood, catch sight of a neighbor at a distance, walk in the woods with my yellow lab Sophie, or visit the flock of ewes (and one little calf) that are sheltering in my barn.
I am very thankful for living where I do. I have all that I need to weather this storm at home for as long as is necessary. In many ways, the reminders that we are living through such a strange time are not so prevalent here. But I am looking forward to a time when we will again see more players coming through the shop.
If you play a Cox instrument and would like to contribute some feedback to support Doug’s process, we would love to hear from you. Tell us what you’ve learned in your relationship with your Cox instrument and what you might like to see come out of Doug’s workshop in the future. You can email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.