From auspicious beginnings, a career is crafted
David Prentice has worked as a violin maker for more than 35 years, building violins and violas for musicians in the orchestral and chamber music worlds. Prentice was born and raised in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. After graduating from the University of Waterloo with a degree in mathematics, he became fascinated by the world of stringed instruments.
From mathematics to making
What inspired the move from mathematics to the world of making? “I heard a teacher play in a small hall. It was the first time I heard a good violin being played by a really good player. I was immediately transfixed by that sound. That led me to want to learn to play the violin in my mid-20s. Then, I thought it would be interesting to try to make a violin.” He was steered in the direction of Joseph Curtin (a student of Otto Erdesz), and David was inspired by the work he was doing. So he took a weekly course at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD) in instrument making.
“I loved the whole process – the workbenches at OCA, the tools, the smell of wood, people making things.” David made his first violin and said to himself, what now? “Make another, of course,” he says. By that point he was in his early 30s and wasn’t about to go the traditional route of violin making school. “I just threw myself into it,” he says, not realizing what he was up against, but fortunate that he could ask questions of some makers he had met. “Some of my early violas sounded really good,” David says, and through fortuitous circumstances a distant relative was a neighbour of someone who played in the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, to whom David sold his first viola. “The excitement of that first sale was something you can’t replicate,” David says. That was in the early 1980s, a time where there was a clear need for new, well-made instruments that sounded good and were reasonably priced.
Cut to 35 years later, and David’s instruments are now prized by string musicians around the world. They can be found in the Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Several have been purchased by the instrument banks of the Banff Centre, Stanford University, and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
The mastery of the knowledge of lutherie is an endless endeavour, and David continues to explore the many facets of instrument acoustics from his studio in Flesherton, Ontario “I love what I do,” says David. “I count myself very fortunate to be able to work for myself and have control over what my work is.”