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ISSUE 120 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/6/2006

William Scott receives third gold for violin

By Anne Torkelson
Arts Editor

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

William Scott Jr. ’'75 won a gold medal at the Violin Society of America (VSA) International Violin making Competition this November. The biannual competition, held this year in Baltimore, Md., invites violin, viola, cello and bow-makers from all over the world to compete.

Because it was the third gold that Scott has won at individual VSA competitions, he was also awarded "Au Concour" status, which had not been given in the instrument category for eight years. This distinguished category was established early in the competition’s history. Certain makers were winning many gold medals and the competition wanted to give them the opportunity to serve as judges and to help out in other capacities.

At the competition, instruments pass through preliminary, evaluation and medal rounds and are judged by three adjudicators in the categories of Tone and Workmanship. In order for an instrument to be awarded a gold medal, it must be recommended for the medal by all judges and must also be awarded at least a Certificate of Merit. An instrument can receive two Certificates of Merit in both categories, however, and not receive a gold medal.

The VSA competitions last almost a full week and include workshops, lectures and discussions during the judging period. The competition doesn'’t offer cash awards to winners, as the award is primarily one of recognition.

The categories are violin, viola, cello and bow. The last competition hosted over 400 instruments, about half of which were violins.

Besides his three gold medals, Scott has also won numerous silver medals and certificates of merit since he began competing in 1980. Scott says that Au Concour status is “somewhat rare, and the reason is it'’s hard to satisfy these judges. "You may win a gold medal one year, but you might not win it the next year,”" he said. "“I’'ve been very fortunate and relatively consistent. My first gold medal was in 2000. –I didn'’t win one in 2002, and then in 2004 and 2006.” He says the competition doesn'’t make a “big deal” of the award.

Scott had never planned on being an instrument maker. He studied theory and composition in the Paracollege at St. Olaf, but “"As I got to my senior year,"” he said, "“I think I started to realize that it wasn'’t really my calling to be a composer or to go onto graduate school and teach theory composition.”"

In the fall of his senior year, Scott house-sat for a violin teacher who owned some books that piqued his interest: one about the life of Stradivari and one called “"You Can Make a Stradivarius,"” which Scott described as “a very simple book with very clear diagrams, not a lot of theory, just basic instruction.” He had visited a violin maker in the past and the books sparked his curiosity in instrument making.

He took interim off and started making a violin and building some tools, then came back to school and graduated in spring. His father had a workshop he was able to use, and working with the instructional book, he finished his first violin the following fall. He still has the instrument.

The first VSA Scott participated in was in 1980 in New York with a viola, the fourth instrument he had made. He thought the competition would be a good place to meet other violin makers and learn more about the craft, “"since I had been for the most part self-taught at that time.” Going to the competitions “really broadened my whole horizon of the introduction to other [contemporary] makers'’ work,”" he said.

He met Hans Weisshaar of Los Angeles at a competition, and realized that a lot of the makers had come through his workshop, which was one of the premier restoration workshops in the country and an active training ground for many makers and restorers.

Scott won a couple of awards at his second competition in 1982, so he “got [his] gumption up” to ask Weisshaar if he could work at his shop. Scott apprenticed there for two years beginning in January 1984.

After his apprenticeship, he established his own workshop in the Twin Cities in 1986, where he makes violins, violas and cellos. He says it takes “a good month of work” to make a violin, but that he works on a couple of other instruments at the same time, while waiting for glue or varnish to dry, for example.

Every summer for the last eight or nine years, Scott has been going to Oberlin College for a two-week violin-making workshop, which he calls the highlight of his career in terms of learning experience.

“"We sit in the studio and make instruments all day long and share ideas and watch each other work,"” he said, “"and in the evening we make meals together, and it becomes a very close-knit group.”"

He noted that groups of violin makers have changed. “"This kind of thing is new in the violin community –- - in the past, everything was a guarded secret that you only shared with your apprentice.”"

Scott mentioned how the quality of violin making has improved.

“"It'’s a very exciting time now in violin making - -… the level of making has improved because people are willing to share across shops."” Even though makers compete with each other, they are now gathering to teach and learn from each other, sharing ideas and techniques. "This," he said, "has “brought the level of violin making up dramatically over the last 20 years.”"

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