Crafting violins in the spirit of the old masters

Violin maker Edward Maday works at his desk

Violin maker Edward Maday works at his desk in his Woodmere workshop with the body of a double bass. (Jan. 30, 2013) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Edward Maday was a third-grader at Woodmere Elementary School when he saw the instrument that set the course for his life.

A music teacher brought a violin and a cello to his classroom and asked the students to pick one they would learn to play. Maday chose the violin, and so began a love affair that continues to this day.

"When the music teacher played it I immediately wanted to get the violin and try it myself," said Maday [pronounced Mayday]. "It sounded like a human voice to me."

Initially, he taught himself to play by ear.

"As a child I was very introverted, but with the violin I had this other voice, and I used it," said Maday, 56, speaking in his workshop at the home in Woodmere where he was born and where he lives with his wife, Janet Holmes, a cellist, and their two children, Eddy and Elizabeth.

But Maday wanted to do more than play the violin: He yearned to make one. So he dissected battered violins his grandmother found at flea markets. Guided by library books, he made his first violin when he was 15. Skills learned from his father, a master woodworker, helped prepare him.

Pursuing what became a consuming interest in stringed instruments -- including the viola, cello and double bass -- Maday trained with various violin teachers and at Hofstra University, which he attended on a full music scholarship.

With "generous advice" from gifted violin makers and access through museums to violins made by Stradivarius and other Italian masters of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Maday has handcrafted to each customer's preference more than 350 instruments he describes as "concert-level, artist-class, meant to be used on a stage by the highest level of player."

"I derive great satisfaction working in the spirit of the old masters," he said. "I developed a feeling for the flowing lines and beautiful proportions of these instruments. More importantly, I've come to appreciate their magical sound qualities, both from the point of view of the listener and the player. The combination of beauty and the abundance of music available to these instruments have led me into a love affair for the ages."

Soloists, orchestra players, collectors and dealers are among Maday's customers.

It takes Maday 180 to 200 hours to make violins and violas, about 400 hours to make a cello, and 600 to 700 hours to make a double bass. Violins and violas range in price from $10,000 to $15,000; cellos, from $18,000 to $30,000; and double basses from $20,000 to $30,000.

Wading River resident Steven Fayette, a bass player, music teacher and owner of North Shore Suzuki School, is a customer. He and his wife, Leslie, a violist, have commissioned violins for two of their four children.

"His instruments are wonderful," said Fayette. "He has a special gift for knowing how to get a beautiful sound."

An instrument, like a work of art, Maday said, "is an expression of the person who makes it. I do things intuitively, by hand and eye. It's fairly easy to make a good violin, but it's really hard to make a great violin."

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