I headed over to the premier string HAUS in the Bay area today to bring my 1799 vintage German violin back to life. For years it had been laying at the bottom of my closet, layered over with two portable digital pianos and an old computer. This was a violin selected by my teacher, the late Samuel Gardner (at a Paris auction) when I was a halfhearted string student. Playing two instruments at the time, made my wholehearted commitment to practicing impossible. Besides, the piano attained first love status, having come into my life 6 years earlier than the violin
Nonetheless, the “cigar box” that I originally played—a dusty relic of my Russian-Jewish grandparents’ closet, was replaced with a divine-sounding instrument that kept me attentive for the better part of 7 years–earning me the plum concert master chair of the Manhattan Borough-Wide junior high school orchestra.
Ostensibly, the fiddle eventually went into hibernation following my Oberlin graduation, and surfaced when I played sporadic chamber music at the 92nd Street ‘Y.’ Thereafter, it was headed for early retirement.
So why, decades later, did I pluck it from obscurity? The answer is revealed in the you tube interview attached that originated in the Bay area’s most famous string hub.
Ifshin’s, a world unto itself is a sanctuary for string instrument lovers. Jay Ifshin, owner and founder, is an impassioned ground-breaker who moved the string palace from Berkeley to a lovely cove in El Cerrito. It’s a stone’s throw from the El Cerrito Plaza, but not engulfed in traffic. Nicely sequestered on a tree-lined street, it has a charming and colorful path to its entrance.
Though there are glowing “yellows” in the welcoming poster, Jay makes it clear that “Yellow” became verboten, propelling his dramatic career shift. (He left me stymied guessing at what his “being tired of yellow” meant)
Think “bulldozer” he said, as he placed a miniature beside my violin.
A bulldozer engine re-builder in a former life, Jay turned to the violin for pure relief, starting lessons in his 20s (in Florida) Quickly consumed with the joy of playing–savoring the rich literature of great composers, he moved into the universe of crafting violins. At the Violin Making School of Salt Lake City, Utah he studied under Paul Hart and Peter Prier.
Following his stint in Utah, Ifshin arrived in Bozeman Montana, continuing his craft, before he eventually moved to Berkeley, California, where he set up a business. After 20 plus years at one location, Jay ignited an expansion of space and resources at the El Cerrito relocation which brought a faithful following of string lovers far and wide.
Ifshin Violins is an all encompassing cosmos of restoration, repair, rental, and sales–easily the biggest draw in California if not the country. (Add international to the mix)
And today’s interview with “Richard” one of the Ifshin principles was both educational and enlightening.
A big Thank You to all for your warm welcome!