The violin making program at The University of New Mexico is hosting an open house the same evening as the Hanging of the Greens festivities Friday, December 3. Visitors will have a chance to see the tools and woods used, view the students’ work in progress showcased, and see if they’d like to participate in this unique program, which is part of the New Mexico Musical Heritage Project. 

The open house is from 5 to 8 p.m. in Masley Hall, Room 118 (building 68).

UNM Violin Making Shop Open House
Friday, Dec. 3, 5-8 p.m., during UNM's annual Hanging of the Greens event
Masley Hall, Room 118

“The violin making program at UNM provides an amazingly unique experience. How many people can say they've made a violin? It can be an impossibly intricate and demanding process, but also incredibly rewarding. We're very proud of our work and want to share it with others, invite them into our creative space, and raise awareness of our program. We also hope to do a bit of fund-raising, said Klarissa Petti, who teaches the class. 

Tools of the trade
Hand tools are used to craft violins

Petti has a degree in music from UNM and plays the cello. In addition, she is a luthier with her own business making cellos, violins, and violas.

There are currently seven students in the class, with a maximum capacity of nine. Petti anticipates having a couple of open slots for the spring semester.

As the program has become more widely known in the community the program’s student demographic has shifted more towards community members, many in their 50s and 60s. Currently the program has two undergraduates, one majoring in Nursing and the other in Film and Digital Arts; a UNM English professor; a UNM alumni with a master's degree in Chicano Studies; three community members, including an ICU nurse and musician, a regional analyst for the U.S. Forest Service and blacksmith, and county assessor and woodworker. 

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“Historically we've had students from all disciplines – music, engineering, mathematics, biology, psychology, geography, ceramics, and others,” Petti said. “Most students who take the class have some interest in music. They might play an instrument or have an interest in doing so. Others like to work with their hands, either woodworking or some other form. Some have never touched an instrument, others are accomplished instrumentalists. Some have zero woodworking experience, others are used to working with their hands. We do like to have a few musicians in the class, particularly violinists, since part of our program is learning to play the folk music of the Southwest. Students who do not play the violin have weekly group lessons during class while the more advanced students learn our repertoire.”

Making a violin is not a fast and easy experience. Use of power tools is minimal. Instead, the students use hand tools such as gouges, chisels, planes, and scrapers. It can take a student several hundred hours to make their first violin in anywhere from four to six semesters. This seems like a lot until you consider that they only have six official hours of class time per week and four hours of optional open studio time, Petti remarked.

Petti said the diverse group of students enjoys the sense of camaraderie that comes from having the same students and classmates together for several semesters. 

“Everyone is always so excited for everyone else whenever they reach a major milestone or do a particularly good job at something. We commiserate in each other's disappointments and celebrate their successes. We become invested in each other's work, each violin becomes everyone's, and we're just as, if not more, proud of our colleagues' work as our own,” she observed.

UNM is one of only two universities in the country with a violin making program and the only one in which students also learn the folk music of the region.

“A university incorporates and encompasses the totality of human experience. In a school such as UNM, which prides itself on scientific research, art and science can exist concurrently and in fact complement each other,” Petti said. 

Anyone interested in the violin making program can contact Petti for questions and more information.

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