Everybody who plays the little curvy box with four strings will, without fail, have someone open a conversation with "I've got my granddaddy's old fiddle . . ." The only thing that elicits a mental eyeroll faster is something from the pantheon of worn-out machine gun jokes. Usually what follows is something like "it's a Stradivarius" or "can you tell me how old it is?" So I was skeptical when the gentleman said to me, "I've got my grandfather's fiddle. It was built in 1918. Would you mind playing it? It's probably a little out of tune."
He told me his grandfather worked out of Rochester, NY, and did quite a bit of work for the New York Philharmonic, including maintaining a Stradivarius for one particular violinist. I peeked inside at the tag, which read "Bert Goodwin - Rochester, NY - 1918."
"So would you play it some? I don't really play and just want to hear what it sounds like." Well, all right, I don't see why not. Reckon I'll give it a try.
The violin had been restored and restrung, and yes, it was plenty out of tune, but once I got it leveled out, it stayed in tune pretty well. It had a lovely ringing tone with a nice full bottom end. (Stop snickering. You know what I mean.) The action was quite a bit lower than mine, and the bridge was curved a little differently, so I had to dodder around a little to get the feel of it. After a few minutes, it felt like an old friend. When it started to rain, I put it back in its case, even though we were under cover. I wasn't going to subject anyone's family heirloom to unnecessary elements. I sincerely thanked the gentleman for allowing me to play his antique. I mean, you don't get a chance like that every day.
Naturally, when I got home, I had to look up Bert Goodwin on the Google. I was surprised and delighted to find that his violins had sold at major auction houses, including Christie's. I wasn't able to find out much about Goodwin himself, aside from this little snippet. But hey, y'all, I held a piece of American violin history in my own hands. There aren't too many bigger thrills than that.
I doubt Mr. Goodwin ever imagined that one of his instruments would be played outdoors 96 years later at a re-creation of a 19th century baseball game. I hope he doesn't mind. Most of all, I hope I did him justice.
Till next time ---- relish those unexpected opportunities.