September 11, 2007
Lowndes Co.--Most of us know of someone who enjoys working with wood, spending hours of time creating something special, but rarely, if ever, do we find a woodworker who tries to solve one of the world's great mysteries.
"Are you ready to practice?" asks Michael Daugherty of five year-old Macy Taylor as she walks into his bedroom turned musical classroom.
"Yes, sir," says Macy as she puts a padded instrument case on the king sized bed.
"Great," says Michael as he offers to tune Macy's violin.
Macy says she loves taking violin lessons. "We play songs," says Macy, whose hand is barely long enough to hold the instrument properly.
You could say Macy is a rising star when you hear her play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" after one violin lesson. "I love to see children learn to play," says Michael Daugherty, an accomplished, self-taught player.
Besides teaching, Michael loves to make violins, copies of the old master's designs like Stradivarius. "I'm working on number 80, now," says Michael in an air conditioned shop behind his home.
He has a remarkable amount of patience. "With good wood I can carve one in about 250 hours," says Michael about his craft. Sometimes he spends 500 hours creating one out of very hard wood. His violins start at $1,500 each. Michael always thinks ahead about the final product he'll create. "I anticipate what the wood is going to sound like," says Michael as he holds a piece 55 years old.
Each piece of wood has its own particular sound that Michael calls its voice, and he wants to set it free. A thump test gives him a good idea of what the voice sounds like. "I pick wood that is in tune with each other," says Michael.
He doesn't want the exact same sound, but something close to it. "Half-note to a-note apart," says Michael who makes the top part of the violin out of one of the pieces, the bottom from the other piece.
The marriage can make beautiful music. "Something that is going to sing forever," says Michael who got his start by repairing the first violin he ever bought. A violin, says Michael, is nothing more than a speaker that pulls air in and pushes it out as it's being played.
He learned to make violins by reading a book, learning from the old masters and learned how to play from a book, as well. "I build with the same tools, the same wood and the same methods as the great ones used," says Michael.
With the same risks. Too much carving can permanently distort its sound, making the instrument unusable. He learned the hard way that he needs to have exceptionally sharp tools to work with, saying learning the right way to razor sharpen took a while for him to master.
To him, a violin does more than mimic the human voice like no other instrument. "I see a piece of art," says Michael. And quality.
Michael believes the instruments made today in backyard shops like his are far superior to anything ever made. Time will tell. And a quest. "I love a mystery," says Michael.
With more than 19,000 hours of construction time has he solved the mystery that lives in the dark recesses of violins? "What actually makes this instrument work? Still looking for those answers," says Michael.
Still looking for the answers that remain ingrained.