August 2014

After several months when it seemed as if there was too much to do to keep up to date with posting here, it is very sad that the impetus for resuming is to make a tribute to Michael Byrd, my friend and colleague who passed away last week after a short illness. A shock to us all in the small world of violin makers and restorers, who only became aware of his diagnosis in the last few months. I met him first at the Newark School of Violin Making; he was in his final year when I enrolled. To me, as a tentative first year student, he was one of the ‘initiates’, already possessed of the awesome ability to make a violin, flawless and complete. But he was also one of the unofficial mentors, who never tired of helping out beginners when the teaching staff were hard to find. He continued in this role for me when I joined him at J.& A. Beare, where we both went after graduation. Michael had been there for a couple of years already and was carrying out what to me were absolutely astonishing restorations, and happily discussing the detailed characteristics of Strads and Guarneris as well as more obscure makers whose work we were dealing with day to day. Michael was always happy to talk. He stored up anecdotes as much as he soaked up and imparted precious information about our craft. We worked there for more than a dozen years; I left a few years before he did, both of us starting our own independent workshops within a few miles of each other in south west London. Although we remained near neighbours, inevitably we didn’t see quite as much of each other subsequently, but Michael never lost his strong characteristics of integrity and dedication to craftsmanship, and to this day I can only judge when a job is finished after I mentally pass it over to Michael for his approval, just as I actually did all those years ago at Beare’s. I try and look at it through his eyes before I decide if it’s good enough. And I will continue to do that even now.

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