Uncovering the secrets of a Stradivarius
Raymond Schryer has been passionate about the world of violins for more than 35 years. At 14, he studied violin making with his uncle for four years and then took violin performance at the University of Western Ontario. At 21, Raymond earned a three-year apprenticeship with the Geo. Heinl & Co. Limited violin shop in Toronto.
From the 1990s onward, Raymond was involved in research, innovation and international violin making competitions, where he won numerous gold and silver medals. One of his proudest moments was the Gold Medal win for Cello at the Triennale Internazionale in Cremona, Italy, in 2003.
Education and music remain passions for Raymond. He enjoys arranging and performing music, and has taught at schools, workshops, and conferences around the world. He is renowned for applying new technologies to the art of violin making. “My research has brought me into the realm of 3D technology and learning how to reverse engineer prized instruments like a Stradivarius, so we can better understand the design and the making technique involved in those violins — and ultimately understand what makes them sound the way they do.”
He and his colleagues at the Oberlin Summer Workshops are fortunate to have access to some of these valuable historical instruments to further their research. And how does the sound of an instrument engineered using CT scans and 3D models compare to an original Stradivarius? “In blind acoustic testing in concert halls, people have a hard time distinguishing between the original and the one crafted by an experienced maker with the help of technology. There’s been great progress in this area,” Raymond says.
But what happens to the craft of making when technology is used to produce instruments? “Makers will never be replaced,” he says. “Hands-on experience and intuition are needed to finish the instruments, right down to the arching model, the woodworking techniques, and the varnishing, which is crucial for the sound. Then the setup, which involves the bridge making and the fingerboard, and is necessary for a violin or cello to perform well acoustically – these things still need to be accomplished by the maker herself,” says Raymond.
Future is bright for makers
Raymond believes the research projects he is involved in are great tools to teach makers and help them improve their skills. And he believes the future is bright indeed for young luthiers.
“The society of makers used to be very secretive,” he says. “Today, there’s an openness to sharing ideas and expertise which has allowed the younger generation to learn techniques so much quicker. We have a whole new generation of great makers.”