2014 VSA Conference

Have Tools, Will Travel! – Luthiers Sans Frontières (LSF)

An introduction to the work of Luthiers sans Frontières, a non-profit organization which supports cultural life in third-world countries with donated instruments, tools, repair, and instruction in basic repair techniques.

Presenters: Anna Huthmaker and Ute Zahn

[Claire] Good morning. I'd like to introduce Anna Huthmaker and Ute Zahn, who are the cofounders of the American branch of Luthiers Sans Frontières, Luthiers without Borders.

[Ute] I’m Ute, and I am a violinmaker up in Minneapolis. I also teach violinmaking at the Red Wing School. Yesterday, Chris Germaine very graciously introduced me to someone, and mentioned I was giving this talk today. The person I was being introduced to asked me, "what are you going to talk about?", and I said, "I am going to talk about this non-profit that I started called Luthiers without Borders. It's like Doctors without Borders, but with violinmakers.” And he said, "I'm confused. Violinmakers without profit?" And I thought, "Yeah, that just about sums up my entire life".

[Anna] I’m Anna Huthmaker, I'm with Huthmaker violins. We’re a family violin business in Atlanta, Georgia. I fell in love with the idea of Luthiers Sans Frontières when I discovered it several years back. My true love in life is travel, and my second true love is being of service, doing volunteer work. I think that when you travel, you want to be in the community as much as possible. I don't want to stay in a tourist hotel, and I don't want to see all the big sights. I want to be in the community, and the best way to do that is to volunteer. When I learned there was a way to do that with my skill set, I was ecstatic beyond belief. That's how I got involved.

[Ute] How I got involved was that I hit a bit of a slump in my life a few years ago. I'd had several deaths in the family, and I wasn't very enthused about my work, and I didn't quite know how to rekindle my enthusiasm. One day I was just listlessly leafing through a Strad magazine, and I saw this article by this woman called Anna. She had written about her experiences traveling to Haiti and doing development work; not by building huts or bringing people medicines or food, but by rehairing bows. I was completely gob-smacked, because I've always had this sort of Mother Teresa syndrome, where I think that I really should have become a doctor or lawyer; being a violinmaker is altogether too happy and too nice, and seems self-indulgent. I sometimes feel I should be selling my house and giving the proceeds to the poor. I am very aware that I've grown up in a very privileged way. Most of us who are in this room have, and a lot of us don't really even know it. But I've traveled quite a bit, and I know, for instance, how lucky I am to have a passport that allows me to go anywhere in the world, how lucky I am, as a woman, to have an education, and how lucky I am that I got to pick the job that I wanted to do, rather than have my father tell me what to do. Partly, it's that same motivation that Anna was saying, that it's good to help other people achieve their dreams. My parents were so great, specifically, in that they gave me and my siblings a love of music and endless opportunities to practice it, and take part in classes and chamber music and orchestra. Some of the best times in my life have been spent making music with other people, and so I really wanted to be able to make that possible for other people.
So I'm reading Anna's article, and I 'm dumbstruck. I don't have to sell my house; I don't have to go and wash people's feet, which is good because I’m not very good at that kind of thing. I could actually do something with the skill set that I have to maybe make life a little bit better for other people. So I did a little bit of Google-ing, and I found something online about LSF that talked about this man in Belgium, and so I got in touch with him. He gave me Anna's email address, and then the phone number of a man called Martin in New York. I called Martin and I said I'm from Minneapolis and I want to be involved with LSF. And he said "Great! How would you like to go to Jamaica?" So that was my start with LSF.

[Anna] My story was pretty funny because, like I said, I want to be of service. One year, I decided it's time to take a vacation, and I decided I was going to go somewhere and rehair bows. Now, I'm a bow queen. I can't cut a violin bridge to save my life, but I've studied bow restoration for many years, and I love the bow. So I got online, and I emailed everyone I could think of. I emailed the El Sistema program. I wanted to go someplace cool; I didn't want to just go to Atlanta; I live in Atlanta. But nobody would answer me back. No response from anybody. In my research, I did learn that El Sistema has its own luthier training program, so they don't need us. I found a place in Scotland that said "Well, we would love for you to come help us. We have very wealthy children in our private school, and we usually just throw the bows away when we're done with them. We don't really rehair them, but if you're looking for a trip..." And I was thinking, Scotland's kind of cool, but no, that wasn't what I wanted. And then I found LSF. Excuse me for using the acronym. The official name is Luthiers Sans Frontières, but I can't say it like that. We also call it Luthiers Without Borders, because that’s in English and people understand that. But I call it LSF for short. It’s is all the same organization.
So, I found the same article from Strad, written by the original LSF guys, and emailed them, and they didn't answer me back either. I was like, "nobody wants me to do anything!" Then, I was at a NAMM show a few years back, and all of a sudden, boom-boom, I got two emails. "Can you come to Haiti for a week?" and "Can you come to Ecuador for a week?" I looked at my mom, and said "That's two trips! That's a lot of vacation time!" But she said, "Go!" It helps when you work for your parents. So that was my introduction. I found it was the perfect way to be of service, and to travel.
I think we're probably preaching to the choir here. If I asked, "who thinks music is important in the lives of people?" I think you would all raise your hands. Everyone here understands that what we do is about something bigger than just wood; it's about community, it's about art, it's about making the world a better place. In war-torn or earthquake-torn areas, music can make a real difference. And the fact is, that everyone in this room has a skill. If you go down to your local mall, no one else has those skills. We can all do something quite unique. LSF gives us the opportunity to do that.

[Ute] So, what is LSF, and how did it come into existence? (to Anna) You want to talk about the history a little bit?

[Anna] In 2001, in Belgium, John Mills and Paul Jacobs—I'm sure some of you know these people—started Luthiers Sans Frontières. They wanted to do some work in Cuba. They set up a workshop and a school in Cuba. Then in 2005, some guys from the Newark Violinmaking School got involved, and they started LSF-UK. When I first emailed them and no one answered me back, I just thought no one's paying attention to me. I didn't realize that it was just an organization started by two men that own violin shops. They were running their businesses, and this was something they were doing on top of that. The entire organization has been like that, it turns out. It's very grassroots. It's done by the women you see in front of you and the men who are in England and Belgium. Ute will talk more about our official status, but I want to introduce to you the third member of the LSF-USA board of directors, Dixie Huthmaker. This is the first time all three of the board of directors members have been in the same place, so we're very excited about that.

[Ute] Our status; we have recently been officially awarded non-profit status by the IRS, so all donations you make are tax-deductible. What is our mission? We aim to support cultural life in communities in need. We have primarily done this in other countries, but if you know of any inner-city places, any areas in need, anything like that in this country, we'd certainly be happy to help out. We travel to these places, we bring donated tools and instruments, we do some repairs. Very often we work in cooperation with existing local music programs, and they'll tell us what they need. So we'll travel, we'll bring what instruments and bows we have that they need. They'll round up some people who are interested in learning about instrument repair and maintenance, bow rehair and maintenance, and we’ll give them some basic training: how to clean, care for, rehair, do basic setup. And while we're there we usually work our guts out doing repairs.
We went to Jamaica a few years ago and our trip was sponsored by a couple of different organizations there. One was a a rather elite high school. It was not so much a financially elite school, but in terms of academics. As we all know, education invariably has close ties to class, and so a lot of these kids would arrive in their chauffeur-driven BMWs in the mornings. We’d be sitting there polishing violins, and I kept wondering, well, clearly these people are not going to be violinmakers or technicians; they're going to be doctors and lawyers and probably study abroad. Why don't they just hire somebody? The other outfit who sponsored us, though, was the Jamaican Youth Orchestra, which had recently been started by a young woman who wanted to see how involvement in something like music, like playing music with other young people, would affect the lives, long term, of kids who were from some of the worst neighborhoods in Kingston. Kingston is a city that's really terribly torn apart by gang crime, to the point where they deliberately make it very hard to get around, so the neighborhoods are separated from each other and these different people can't go and beat each other up. Some of the kids came from places where they could set their watch by how often somebody got shot. So this woman made it her goal to bring music programs to them, and to see how it would affect them long term. Something simple, like they were expected to come to class every week, fully dressed, with their violin and bow and music, and they were expected to practice. And then they get to play with other people. We met some of those young people. These were not spoiled kids in their BMWs and iPhones and so on. These kids were so invested in what they were doing; it was so important to them. They were so alive to what it might mean to them. That was all I needed, to know that LSF was really just a fantastic thing. That's what sold me on the idea.

[Anna] So what was a day like for you? On a typical LSF trip?

[Ute] Very busy. Typically, when we arrive somewhere, there’s a huge pile of instruments waiting for us, and some people who are very, very happy to see us and who can’t quite believe we’re there. One of the things about LSF is that we’re a small organization. We’re not very well-formed yet; we don’t have too many strict, rigid rules or laws. We’re sort of making it up as we go along. So we’re finding out some things that work, and some things that don’t work. We try to work with whatever we find where we’re going. Some countries, or some places, mostly just want us to plow through their mountain of repair work. Other places, for instance in Cuba, there’s already a well-established program. Anna and I both went to Santiago; there was a person from Santiago, Merlin Lambert, who’d gone to the school in Havana and had extensive training. He’d made a violin, and he’d done quite a lot of repair work, so he really just needed a bit of assistance and tweaking. Some other people need a lot of training. It really depends.
Typically we have a lot of visitors, so we’ll be working away and a ton of people will drop by throughout the day, and so you try to explain things as you go. If somebody seems more than ordinarily interested, you try to put an instrument in their hands and say, this is how you clean the instrument. And if they’re good at that, then you might show them how to file a nut. In other places, there are people who have set aside some time, and they’re all gung-ho and they want to learn. You then sort of start them on some more formal training. So, typically it’s just go-go-go-go-go from the moment we wake up until it gets dark. There are no good work lights in the third world; this has been a fairly consistent problem. So when it gets dark, six-ish, that’s pretty much when we have to be done. How would you say that squares with your experience?

[Anna] I think that squares beautifully. One of the cool things about LSF is that every trip—they call them missions, I call them adventures—is going to be completely different. Some trips are more extreme than others. I’m a backpacker; I love the outdoors. I have a saying that if I have a water filter, a sleeping bag, and some horsehair, then I can go anywhere. They’re not always that extreme.
This was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
I’ve been all over the world, and I’d like to think that I’m fairly knowledgeable and know what’s going on in the news, but there’s nothing really that can prepare you for this. This was not too terribly long, just months, after the earthquake, and when I landed, I had never seen anything like this. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the city. And the people all, at that point, still had post-traumatic stress disorder. You know, it’s just kind of crazy. I got picked up at an airport by people I had never known, had never met. I didn’t know anyone in the country, and all these men were screaming at me, “come take my taxi, come take my hotel…”, you know, just like something out of a National Geographic special. And I said to myself, “okay, you wanted this, Anna, you wanted this. You’re here to help. You want to be of service, this is your story, right?” They pointed at a truck and said “get in that truck” and I said okay. I got in the truck with a local man who didn’t speak any English, and we took off through Port-au-Prince. I looked around and was like, “my momma is not going to appreciate this at all!” We went up to Petionville right on the edge of a tent city where, you saw on the news, all the people were living. A church had opened their doors to a group that was doing a summer camp for young musicians.
They were there that week, and had offered us a room. All the girls slept on the floor in an office. That was one of those bring your sleeping pad things. The next morning when I got up, the shower was a little trickle, power was there sometimes, sometimes there was no power, but the music teachers, musicians from all over the country, were all excited. Young musicians started coming into this little church ground, and the teachers started taking them off and teaching them.
All of a sudden there were these six men standing in front of me and said, basically, “we’re here to learn how to rehair bows”. They all spoke French, and I speak like six words of French. None of them spoke English, and I thought, “this is not a problem. I can teach anyone anything.” Because heart is everything, right? I’m here to tell you, heart cannot do everything. Heart does not teach you to teach, in a different language, the angles of a tip plug. But they were amazing. Every morning they would show up at 9 or 10o’clock It turns out, they had come from all these villages around, they had no place to stay. I never did learn where they were sleeping. They had no food, they wore the same clothes every day, and that was when I realized one of the cool things about LSF. There are music programs all over the third world countries, all these wonderful music programs, started by probably many of your colleagues, but nobody knows how to repair the stuff. So we can go and repair all day, and that’s fantastic, and I feel like I’m of service. But when we train locals to do that when we’re gone, then all of a sudden, now we’re “teaching men to fish”. That was my first experience. I looked up and went, “okay, this is sustainable, this is important”, and all day, every day, they would show up.
As Ute said, we had mountains of work to do. There was this giant pile of bows that had come in from all over Haiti, from all these different music programs. How many of you have ever had a brand new person in your workshop, saying “I want to learn to cut a violin bridge?” You know what kind of attention that takes. Imagine you have six of them looking at you, and you don’t speak the language, and you’re supposed to teach them. And you also have 400 bows that you’re supposed to rehair. It can be a little intimidating and frustrating. I would get up earlier and earlier each day, as soon as the sun would rise, so I could rehair bows. But the guys were very smart. They’d start showing up earlier and earlier. I finally had to get the translator to tell them, “no, you can’t come until after 10.” And they’d say, “can we just sit and watch you?” and I’d say “yes”. But you know it doesn’t happen that way. I can’t just let them sit and watch me, because they want to do stuff. And so we would work as long as we could. When the light would start to die, then they would go. I don’t know where they went, but every morning they’d be back. I’d go sleep upstairs on the floor in this office, and it was actually a glorious experience. When I left, they could all rehair a bow, more or less, and they all felt like they had the beginnings of another career, something they could do to make a living. You know, in Haiti at that point, those possibilities were mostly gone. So that was our typical day. They did feed us; I paid for my own plane ticket to get there, and like I said, we slept in the church.

[Ute] Challenges. This is me on one of the more difficult days in Cuba We have challenges, we go to all of these different countries. They’re all countries that have fantastic strengths, and they also have problems that are either to do with poverty or with poor government, or with corruption, or a mixture of all three. Every place is special in its own way. In Cuba, I had a run-in with some insect that flew into my eye. I didn’t take it very seriously. I bike a lot, and some little thing ends up in my eye all the time; it’s no big deal. But Merlin, our friend on the ground there, was very worried. He immediately ran back and started banging on someone’s door. It turned out we were in this part of town where a lot of doctors and nurses lived, because there was a teaching hospital. This nurse lived there , and Merlin made her give me an eye bath, and I thought, “fine, done.” Well, the next morning, I woke up and I could not open my eye. It was very painful, but we were supposed to go to Guantánamo that day. We had all sorts of work set up, people who wanted to learn, people who were going to come to us with their instruments, and I thought, I can’t let these people down. So we got on the bus anyway, and we got to Guantánamo. But things were really not improving. We were met by a lovely young woman and she was kind of worried about this, and she said, “let me call my mother, let’s find momma”. So we went and found her mother, and her mother said, “oh yeah, I know a doctor”. She called the doctor, and the doctor called somebody at the hospital. They also knew someone with a car. In this country, you can’t imagine how somebody would not have a car, but in Cuba, you have to know all these people who have all the equipment to get you to the hospital. That was the way things worked there. So I got to the hospital, and I was instructed not to talk to anybody, so they wouldn’t know I wasn’t Cuban, because it was a local hospital, and it wasn’t supposed to be for foreigners. I was seen by a doctor, and was prescribed this antibiotic eyedrop. But things were somehow not getting better. I made it through another week there, and I ended up coming back with a pretty nasty eye infection, and a sinus infection. Luckily, it cleared up in no time once I got home, but I took the eyedrops to the local doctor in Minneapolis, and he said these have been discontinued in this country for the past 25 years. They’re known not to work, and they contain irritants. I mean, talk about the privilege that we live in. We would take it for granted that our doctor doesn’t prescribe us something like that, but there, they have nothing else to prescribe. That’s what people have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. So that didn’t really help my outlook that last week; as you can see, I’m looking rather miserable, and it probably didn’t help my work much to do it one-eyed, but you know, I was the best they had at that moment.
So, some of the other challenges. This was another Cuban adventure. This was in Santiago; we were in a symphony hall. The orchestra rehearsed there. They have rather fantastic musicians in Cuba. A really incredible level of musicianship; they have orchestras that are absolutely on a par with any orchestra here, and the conservatories are full of very gifted people, and these were the people we were working with. Well, one day we were in mid-work and some people come along and tell us we have to clear the room because they were exterminating that day, and we’re not going to be able to get in for another three days. So I set up in the courtyard (figure 8.png). I mean, stuff like that happened. You have to be kind of flexible.
There was another day, in Guantánamo, where we were supposed to go and work in this person’s house. Apparently he’d made his house available to LSF people in the past, and it was spacious and lovely. He wasn’t answering the door when we were there. And the people I was with said “he’s home, we can tell he’s home, but he must have just changed his mind.” So then, okay, where do we go to do all these repairs? We were standing around and scratching our heads, and they were trying to find a place for us to go. It was a problem because Cuba was a little bit different from other places, in that we were working with this one guy, Merlin, but we weren’t sponsored by an organization to go there. We didn’t have official non-profit status at that time, and we were a little bit looser with things. I hadn’t applied to the State Department for an official visa, because that meant having to go to Washington first to collect the visa before traveling to Cuba, and that wasn’t in my budget. But it meant we didn’t have an official permit to be there and repair instruments. So it was very, very difficult to find a place to repair instruments, because everybody said, “you don’t have a permit, we don’t know you”. They wouldn’t even let us go to the bathroom in the conservatory building. So there was a lot of standing around, and eventually we totally lucked out, because a man showed up. He was so enthusiastic, and he said, “I am a woodworker. I am a guitar player. I’ve made guitars. My workshop is yours. I have electric light. I have tools.” The other classical musicians they were all very worried, and said “you can’t go with him, he’s a bad man” and I said, “what has he done? Tell me, I need to know, if he’s a criminal.” They said, “He’s a rock musician!” So we all trooped to his shop.
They were very unhappy about it, but he was wonderful and he was so talented. Because he was already a woodworker, he knew the right questions to ask, and he copied all my templates, and he’s gone on to domore training with Martin since I was last there. So it’s a little bit different in different places. Sometimes it’s the violence, sometimes it’s the disease, sometimes it’s the politics; we have to just sort of accommodate all of it and go with the flow.

[Anna] You know, it’s interesting. Robert Cain is a violin maker and a teacher from England; some of you may know him. He told me that at LSF-UK they were considering building into everyone’s trip a day, at least, a required day, for illness. Because traveling is just iffy, and you never know. Sure enough, in Haiti I was down a day with the stomach ugliness. It happens. But if you’re sitting around asking yourself, “am I the kind of person who would be a good LSF volunteer?”, the answer is yes. We can teach you to be a good LSF volunteer. But are you flexible? Can you handle it? The reason I love that picture of Ute with the eye patch is that, not only did she handle it—what else are you going to do—but she went on and repaired instruments like that. She wasn’t a diva about it. She’s a cellist, she could have totally diva-ized the entire situation - but she just said “eh, so I’ve got one eye, let’s go on with life.” You do have to bring a realsense of flexibility to this. And a sense of humor really, really helps.
I felt it was important to go to Cuba because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It was unbelievable. I was expecting people to be playing on very poor quality instruments, very poor quality bows, and they would be playing at a pretty low level. You know, it’s Cuba! We were raised learning that, that in Cuba they don’t have things that we have here. And it’s true, many of the instruments were very poor quality. Many of the bows would literally, I’m not kidding you, have six hairs left on them. But the music that was coming out of that stuff was unbelievable. I have two degrees in music, and I told them when I went— I always tell them, everywhere I go—I say, if there’s time, if you have anyone who needs a private cello or bass lesson, I’ll do it. I’ll work with kids, I don’t care, if you need somebody to sit in the section of the orchestra, great, I’m just there to serve. I told them that, and they said, “sure, we have the symphony and it’s rehearsing, that would be great”. I showed up the first day for rehearsal, and they sounded like the New York Philharmonic. I turned around and said, “I won’t be playing with them!” because they were truly that calibre. It took me half the week to work up enough courage to try to figure out how to ask somebody about this, because you don’t want to be offensive. Finally I said to one of the musicians, “you have five hairs in your bow, and they’re black. Your bridge is so curved, I can’t believe it hasn’t popped. Your soundpost - do you even have one? Yet you all play this gloriously, technically really intense music,” and I said, “How is that possible?” And he said, “when we were growing up, the teacher would say, do it this way. And I’d say, I have five hairs on my bow and my bridge doesn’t fit right. The teacher would say, I don’t care, do it anyway. So we did.” It just moved me, touched me so much to realize they were creating music of the highest calibre with stuff that we, let’s be honest, throw away every day in our shops. So for me, it was worth working with no power half the time, substandard tools, all this, to get to be in the presence of that, to have the privilege of helping with that. It’s pretty amazing.

[Ute] So the other things we experienced, that some people have experienced— well, obviously, there’s a bug problem in some countries. In our last trip out, this just drove both Anna and me completely crazy. We were in Trinidad, and for the first week we were just doing repairs our of somebody’s home. One of the local music teachers had put us up, and they had a beautiful home, but no bug screens The mosquitoes were so bad it looked like we had the measles. So the high point of our day would be when we had charged the electric mosquito zappers. They’re like tennis racquets. We would swipe them through the air and there would be this loud crackle and electric little lightning coming out of them, and we knew we’d hit one. That would be great. We’d sort of yell from adjoining rooms.

[Anna] This is extra funny, because Ute’s like the yoga vegetarian queen, and I’m like the peace and love hippie queen. We are not animal hurters at all. But boy, if we got three or four good ones we’d be like “yeehaw!” We killed them all.

[Ute] We did away with a lot of them, not all, I think. There were other things, more serious than the mosquitoes, although mosquitoes can have nastyconsequences, Some LSF volunteers have had their tools confiscated, or their donations. I now take outinsurance when I go. It would be bad enough if that happened, but it would be even worse if I then had to pay for all the tools out of my own pocket, again. Another thing; in Cuba, we were a little bit of a victim of our own success. Merlin, the man in Santiago who went to the Havana School, got quite good, and is making a living off of his violin repairs. As he should. So of course he’s charging people some money for what he’s doing. The financial situation in Cuba is really pretty dire, so he might charge two dollars for a bridge, something like that. So the musicians—all the musicians are in the same boat, everybody’s poor—they waited for us to come, because we’re not charging anything when we do these repairs. So that brought with it a little bit of a conflict, because obviously on the one hand we’re training Merlin to do all this stuff, and on the other hand we do all these repairs for free, that otherwise would have gone to him, for money. We are a very new outfit, and we still have to iron out the wrinkles in some of these things, and work out strategies on how to deal sensitively with issues like that.

[Anna] I’ve found that, everywhere we go, a lot of our tools can be donated and left there. I try to take old files and things like that. If we can leave a lot more than we came with, it’s very helpful. In Merlin’s situation, we left a couple of pounds of bow hair; yes, that was something he could really really use. We can leave pegs and bridges and things like that. But as Ute said, these are things we’re trying to work out. Be respectful, do no harm. You certainly want to leave everything better than when you got there.

[Ute] And then in some places - we kind of take it for granted that certain tools will be readily available at the hardware store; not always so. In Haiti, I think Robert got very creative with bicycle tires. This is even better - that’s his glue pot

[Anna] His candle-powered glue pot.
You know, my first trip for LSF was to Ecuador. Ecuador was wonderful. I taught kids all day long, then I tango’d all night. It was fantastic. And yes, there was some poverty and everything, but it was still quite beautiful. Then, literally, I came home at 10 o’clock one night and the next morning I left at 8 am to go to Haiti. And I wasn’t prepared for it. Now, all of my education has been like, I go to workshops, or classes or schools or whatever, and I learn, and we all know there is a right way to do things. And if you don’t do it the right way, you could be made fun of by all your colleagues. You have to do things the right way. Well, I get to Haiti, and the very first morning, Robert Cain says, “Come on, we’re taking the students, we have to go get supplies.” And I thought “oh good, we’re going to the hardware store. I know I need alcohol, for sure; I need this and this and this.” We went to a little market about as big as this room. Robert stood in front of the cleaner section. There was a Haitian version of Ajax, and not really Windex, but something like that, and Ivory soap that wasn’t Ivory soap. And Robert says, “I’m pretty sure we can clean a violin with this, and I think you can do something with bowhair with that.” It was so fascinating to watch this guy, who has this great reputation, who has studied this for years, and he knew that he just had to McGyver it. He had no qualms about doing that. He was like, “we don’t have that tool, we’ll just make this work.” Because it was all about making it work. And sure enough, he figured out this weird soap and water thing to clean violins. I was going “cough, cough” the whole time, but you gotta do what you gotta do, and I learned a lot about being flexible from Robert. And I did learn you can glue on a fingerboard with a bicycle tire tube.

[Ute] Yup, I’ve use all sorts of things, yoga straps, whatever else I had handy.
Okay, successes. To date, the thing I would say really has worked the best, and we hope we’ll be able to replicate this in other places, is the setup we have in Trinidad. Anna and I have been in Trinidad twice, in Port-of-Spain, and the reason it’s working out really well there is, I think, that we have such strong support locally. We have a couple of music teachers who are very dynamic, engaged women, and who want to really do what is best for their students and for their community. They are engaged in all sorts of community outreach through music. They have just set in motion heaven and hell to be able to bring us out there repeatedly, so we can build up something of a regular program. The first year we mostly did repairs. Well, Anna taught some people to do bow rehairs, but I mostly just did repairs and a little informal teaching here and there. But then, last year they set it up so that we were there for a week to do the repairs, and then for a second week to teach. Some of the music students signed up for a course of independent study, and instrument repair was the independent study. They came to class every day for seven hours or so, and they had to keep notes, and hand them in afterwards to be graded. Afterwards, we did ongoing Skype lessons with them on a weekly basis. Skype is great. Even when the picture was really terrible, I’d still be able to talk them through stuff. It’s really tricky sometimes to talk somebody through something. One time I asked them to try to find a drill so they could drill pegholes. So they found this enormous electrical Black and Decker contraption, and they were trying to drill these pegholes. But they said “Ute, it doesn’t work- I mean, it’s moving, but it doesn’t seem to do anything” and I said, “That’s strange, is the bit okay, is it sharp, does it have a tip on it, did you break it?” They said “no, no, those are all fine”. Eventually I remembered these things have these reverse switches on them, and so I said “oh, it’s probably in reverse.” “Well how do we fix this?” “There should be a button or a knob somewhere.” They kept trying to show it to me via Skype, and all I saw were lots of pixels. It probably took us about 15 minutes to work out where to hit the reverse switch. But that was still so much better than trying to do this via email. We got through it. Again, I have these plans, I have these wonderful shiny images of what it’s going to be like, and then I say, okay, we’ll do ten percent less. Well, another ten percent less. Well, actually it’s great if they just find where the reverse switch is, because they’ll know how to drill peg holes from now on. Sometimes even the Skype sound wouldn’t be working, and then we would instant message. Again, it’s better than nothing. Any little bit we can do is great. We’ll be going back again this winter, and I’m hoping we will be teaching the same people again, so they get a little bit more in-depth knowledge and understanding. A couple of them have expressed an interest in coming to a regular repair or making program, maybe in this country, so we’ve been working on potentially getting them out here so they can have some proper schooling. They’ve been so incredibly happy and appreciative of being able to learn this skill, and of having somebody in their community who will be able to do this.

[Anna] I think that both of us could go on and on about how it helps, and to be honest, what it does for us to do this work. Because I won’t lie to you, I’m not just doing this to help other people, this is also about me, because it makes me feel so great. It is so fantastic to see the different levels on which we can help. This is a girl in Trinidad (figure 13.png). One of our donors gave a viola. This girl needed a viola, she did not have one, she had nothing to play. Because of LSF, because of us going there and all the different communication lines that had been set up, we were able to give her this viola.
We’ve been able to train actual luthiers, hopefully more and more and more, and we’ve been able to make music for kids, make it possible for kids able to be able to play. This is what I love; this is a young music student in Ecuador I’m not sure if she’s going to become a bow queen or not; that was her very first rehair. But she’s a fantastic cellist, and I can tell you, after spending three weeks in luthier class, she left understanding how her instrument works. She left understanding how her bow works. She left knowing why we tell people to loosen their bow all the time and don’t touch the bow hair. She, they, gained all this comprehensive knowledge. To be able to give them that was pretty extraordinary.

[Ute] Because they can then pass that on to their students. Almost everybody we met was also teaching. Even the conservatory students, they had kids that they were teaching. And so this whole knowledge becomes part of the musical culture in that country.

[Anna] Okay, so it really comes down to, what can you do? You cared enough about this subject to give up an hour of your time in the middle of the VSA conference, and for that we thank you. We really appreciate that. There are ways you can get involved. Every person can get involved. The first thing I can tell you is that there is always need. You know those old instruments stacking up in your closet, that really aren’t worth the time for you to fix? The $200 violin with a soundpost crack? Let me tell you, there are kids in Haiti who could use those instruments. Not only could the kids use them, but the luthiers-in-training need them to practice on. They need to learn to repair a soundpost crack. So if you have things like that, we can always use them.

[Ute] Tools! That’s the big one I have cleaned out my workshop quite a bit since I started doing this. Those are the kinds of tools that we really, really, really need. So far, what I’ve been doing is to buy a bunch of things like soundpost setters, files, and drill bits. And I beg people for their old tools —files, rulers, so on and so forth. I collect all these, and take them somewhere, and leave them there. If you have an extra soundpost setter, if you have an old knife you don’t particularly love anymore, if you have an old file, please let us know about it. We’ll pay to have it shipped out to my place. Reamers, peg shapers, these are really the things that we need. Yes, Jeffrey -

[Q from audience] I have a set of clamps for closing the box, I have like that six-piece set

[Ute] fabulous. I can use anything and everything.

[Anna] That’s like hitting the lottery.

[Ute] Please clean out your basement

[Anna] And could we add bow stuff to that. Any of you violin people, who once said, I’m going to learn how to rehair bows, and you got a pound of hair and did three or four bows, and then said, “that’s enough”. I understand. Send me your hair. I have places that are desperate for hair. Frog holders, if you have an old bow jig, anything like that. Don’t forget the bow stuff.

[Ute] Measuring tools, any of that kind of stuff.

[Audience] what about sharpening stones, diamond plate…?

[Ute] Yes, please, anything like that.

[Anna] We need all those things that we have sitting in our shop, things that we use everyday; it’s impossible to get some of that stuff.

[Anna] You can also come and join us, if you want to go to a neat country. We get emails, requests for help, quite often, and the only thing that keeps us from doing more trips is resources. We can’t take off much more time from our own jobs; we need more people to be members, people who might be interested in doing these kinds of trips.

[Ute] But we also need people who might be interested in doing some work for us without going on trips. We have somebody in the Twin Cities, a very fine bowmaker, who said “travel is not for me. I’ll be happy to rehair crappy cheap bows that you otherwise would throw in the garbage”. So that’s what he’s been doing. It’s a total waste of his talents, but a wonderful use of his time. He’s doing these bows, so we can take them places and donate them. That’s another thing that would be wonderful, if you’re so inclined.
Also, we need fittings, so badly. Old fittings, new fittings. Those bridges that you take off the Chinese violins when you get them, please give them to us. It actually helps us save time if they’re somewhat precut. We can do a little bit of tweaking and we can probably set up three instruments in the time of one. Old soundposts, used pegs. But we also need new soundposts and bridges, particularly for full size instruments. We’re fairly well off with small size stuff, but for the full size instruments we need almost everything. We can even use used strings. When I was in Cuba, I brought a bag full of used strings, and it was like Christmas had come early, they were so happy about it. I was taking strings off these violins that were actually bits of piano wire that somebody had put on because they didn’t have anything else, and I asked Merlin, “so, do I throw these in the garbage?” And he said, “nothing goes in the garbage.” They would even reuse the third-hand piano wire. If you can give us your strings that have just been used once, on one instrument, they will have a whole happy life ahead of them somewhere else. Some people have already been doing this and I’m so, so happy about that. Yes, Elizabeth-

[Q from audience] What about tailpieces that don’t have fine tuners?

Yes, we can work with them. It’s better if they have them, but if they don’t have them we’ll make it work somehow.

[Anna] Of course, like any other nonprofit out there, we need money. if you have a ten dollar bill sitting in your pocket, doing nothing…

[Ute] I have receipts, I can fill them out.

[Anna] Before you leave the room, I just want you to look at this list. These people that have donated stuff to us, They didn’t ask for us to share their names, probably none of them knew I was going to do this, but I think it’s important for you to know that they’re doing this, and they’re not asking for anything back. They all did this before we even got our nonprofit status, so they don’t even get tax letters. There have also been individual donors. We’ll be happy to link to you and your website, if you’re involved with LSF, but I just did want to share about them. http://lsfusa.org/supporters [Q] Where do I send all this stuff?

[Anna] We’ve got the information right up here. All the information is on our website, LSFUSA.org.

[Ute] Lastly, if you know anybody who knows somebody, maybe someone who works for an airline, or who might be able to arrange sponsorship, or who knows how to write grants, so that we can actually ask for some funding, and don’t have to always pay for so much out of our own pockets. That would be great, because that can be a limiting factor. We want to be able to help people go, if they want to go places, and travel; we want to be able to make that possible for people, if they don’t have much money. Since we are so very new, we haven’t figured out a lot of these things yet.
Yes Joe.

[audience] When you’re going to Haiti or Cuba, how long do you go for?

[Ute] We go for a week or two, typically. Two is better than one, because it always takes a little while to get settled in and figure out how the system works. You spend a lot of time trying to track stuff down and get set up. But if you can just go for a week, that’s great.

[Anna] Yeah, most are about a week.

[Q] And you pay your own way?

[Ute] Not always. There are different arrangements. We really have to stop. See us in the lobby and ask us all the questions in the world. We’ll be happy to answer them.