Playing Violin for Maple Trees

Several years ago, I was traveling from Genoa to Bologna and I happened to drive through a city on the north bank of Po river called Cremona. Like many other medieval cities in Italy, time seemed to have stood still in Cremona. No tourists, no fuss, and no urban commotion of any kind. It seemed life was flowing through the city with the rhythm of pedestrians and bicyclists.

It only took me a few minutes of walking around the main street to realize that Cremona is actually famous for one unique reason: violin craftsmanship. It is a highly celebrated profession for its traditional process of fashioning and restoring violins, violas, cellos, and contrabasses. Violinmakers from all around the world go to Cremona to attend a specialized school, based on a close teacher-pupil relationship, before being recruited to local workshops. It is believed the violin is invented in Cremona, not just because of the local mastery in craftsmanship, but also because of the rituals that construct the rhythm of the environment. Cremona’s citizens cherish this culture because it plays a fundamental role in their social fabric. They believe the process of making perfect music requires (a) an instrument (b) craftsmanship and (c) rituals. To Cremonese, a Viola is merely a tool to produce a perfect sound. They believe the joy comes from listening to the sound, and not from the Viola itself.

These craftsmen also go a long way to make sure they have perfected the art of making well-sounding instruments. They make the instrument from local woods, which is mostly maple. They believe the acoustic quality of the local wood is unmatched. They cut the trees in the right season and in the right way. And, one more thing: during fall the violinmakers take turn to play violin for the trees for hours. They believe such ritual changes the acoustic tone of the wood. The actual making of the violin only takes a few months, but the whole process starts from the time the tree is planted. The ritual of playing violin for the trees has to do with the belief that: it’s best to put the violinist’s soul into the root of the instrument.

Every emotional quest simulates the same pattern of requiring an instrument, craft, and ritual. When it comes to relationship between human beings, feelings are merely an instrument. Notions like respect and trust are the craft. The element (ritual) that glues it all together has to do with the ability to be altruistic and benevolent. To some, these concepts seem as ridiculous as playing violin for maple trees. So they laugh at such notions not only because these meanings seem unusual, traditional, and strange –but also because ordinary minds disappoint to reconcile present hardship with future rewards. Every emotional quest needs a part of the violinist’s soul.

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