In this case, Brian Derber
is the master, although in the United States there is no formal "master violin maker" certification, as there is in Europe.
But Derber's the real deal: He graduated from the Kenneth Warren & Son School of Violin Making in Chicago (now the Chicago School of Violin Making), then taught there for eight years after attaining his master's in industrial education from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
"I felt that the violin was a form that I would never tire of," he
This education and expertise, coupled with a natural ability to juggle his
own projects while patiently assisting six students, makes him uniquely suited for the profession.
long beard, floor-length apron and quiet, studious demeanor add to the old-world feel of the place.
Five days each week, for 16 weeks a semester, Derber
students hand-fashion their instruments.
No woodworking experience is required and students don't have to be musicians - although most are.
They come from far and wide - Missouri to Montana - to learn from Derber
shop is one of only a handful of private violin-making schools in the U.S. today - 99 percent of violins are factory-made.
The school's structured program takes three or more years to complete, and students walk away with six or seven completed instruments: four violins, a viola and their choice of either a cello or two smaller instruments.
Building a cello can be particularly daunting.
"It can feel like boatmaking the first time," Derber
knows what he's
talking about: Derber
has built more than 100 instruments, all from the violin family.
become known for the beauty and quality of his
work, selling 70 percent of them to date.
violins attract serious collectors and each sells for several thousand dollars.
Making a violin is no easy task, especially when the bodies must be made entirely by hand.
Using Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri violins as models, students must become adept at making freehand drawings, forms and cutouts of violin bodies, within precise tolerances.
"Sometimes we're working with measurements of less than a tenth of a millimeter," Derber
The violin face is made of spruce, which Derber
says has the best tonal quality.
"Many people think the curve on the top is bent wood, but it's sculpted that way," he
Students first chisel the top of the arch, then the underside, and then finally cut out F-holes on either side of the face.
It's a pain-staking - and critical - operation since the arch is what most affects sound.
, though, has a confident, matter-of-fact attitude about sound: "We know empirically what works and what doesn't from the models," he
gets a lot of satisfaction out of the whole experience.
"I feel like I'm a good teacher," he
"You have to have a certain kind of personality to do this.
Perhaps it's the duality of what he
does that keeps him interested: straddling two worlds, new and old; functioning as skilled craftsman, yet educational mentor; working inside, but in beautiful Presque Isle, where he
can stroll outdoors and gaze across Red Lake whenever he
"I love what I do," he
Brian Derber, owner and instructor at the New World School of Violin Making