FAQ

 

EDITOR’S NOTE

The singular use of “violin” infers all the other bowed instruments in an orchestra.

 
WHY SIGN UP FOR THIS?
Fix violins?  Yep.  It’s pretty cool.  Ask around, or come by for yourself.  One day it could be summer job, or lots more if you play a bowed instrument.  By Illinois law, every kid in the state has a service-learning project to complete.  Yours will be an over the top life time skill and résumé entry.


WHAT’S THE COMMITMENT?
        After school activities are a big part of the total high school experience. StringWizards will never take more than a 30% slice of your free time.  Retention is important to us.  Training is expensive and slots are limited and the fun meter matters.  After a 8-week intro orientation, you can leave or enter into a commitment to stay with the program two or three more semesters.
        We will meet twice per week for 60 to 90 minutes after school, with an extended Christmas break to mid January, and other times like the week before exams. 


CAN I GET SERVICE CREDIT FOR THIS?
Yes for Freshmen, pending normal submissions to Mission and Formation.  For Sophomores, on sight work is necessary so on-sight repairs or music coaching at St. Agatha’s  (3 miles off campus) on Saturday mornings is possible pending separate application. 


 IS THIS LIKE A TRADE SCHOOL?
       Yes, just don’t confuse that term with vocational training.  Violin repair and restoration distinct from violin making is a 500-year-old craft in the high art of refining violin timbre, which is the signature voice in a orchestral sound.  Here is a very good description of the trade:
http://www.redwingmusicrepair.org/violin/craft.html
      There is no personal reward like putting voice back into a long muted violin, and know that you gave music learning opportunity to a young student on a waiting list.

 
COULD THIS BE A PART TIME JOB?
There is nothing canned in this program except to create networking opportunities for students to pursue.  After several semesters participants are engaged in client relations and customer service to include luthiers and major city arts foundations.

 
TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE BUSINESS TRAINING. 
     The StringWizards structure resembles a grad school MBA program for working adults.  Non-Profits companies and For-Profits companies have the same imperatives.   Mr. Miles will manage the brunt of activities, but all will learn how to operate the data base and:

keep the books,
manage the training records,
maintain the instrument and parts inventories, and
manage all major business correspondence. 

      The shop has over $75,000 in net assets.  Each student will document the work logs and invoices of their restoration projects, as well as participate in shop-wide inventory control and procurement planning.  Our finance, ops, and inventory databases already have a total of 32 cross-referenced tables, and thousands of records.   

SIDENOTE ON NPO TRAINING  

     I admit I was cautioned not to add this management component, and just run the business side of the shop.  This component has been a battle, but to have the students be oblivious to how it all works, runs counter to notion to showing them about the non-profit world works.
 
    I anticipate that some students will take a greater interest in this than others.  While I can run the shop unassisted, I see exposure to these activities as a student benefit, through which they can draw the attention of major arts funders for the shop along with social-justice minded college business departments, and in doing so, draw distinction to themselves.   Here’s just one example:  https://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/about/kellogg_culture/values_and_leadership/social_enterprise.aspx

 
 MUSIC STUDENT OPPORTUNITIES
If you play a violin, viola, cello, or bass, this is an exceptional learning and service opportunity.  Here are a just a few things to consider:

  • The ability to judge construction quality and set up at a glance
  • The confidence to move a sound post, and anticipate the differences it will make
  • The ability to easily disassemble a violin, lube the parts, check for open seams, replace the strings and complete a proper cleaning and set-up.  
  • Be a very competitive candidate for a part time summer job in a violin shop in both sales and repair


Bow Restoration:  The shop has been given $500 in premium grade Siberian horse.  Plans to select one or two freshmen for this specialized work, are on hold.


ARE THERE STUDENT FEES?
     There are no fees.   A much more comprehensive approach to include violin making would be to attend the Chicago School of Violin Making, which is a three year, $30,000 program.  
  

WHAT IS THE AVERAGE SHOP OUTPUT?
      In the last 18 months of operation, the shop has put over $15,000 in inventory back into circulation.  During that same period, thank you notes, parts solicitation letters, and instrument donations continue to flow in both directions.


SHOP SAFETY AND WOOD WORKING TOOLS
     Shop tasks include exposure to consumer grade cleaners and degreasers like Simple Green, and solvents like denatured alcohol or xylene and various mastics and epoxies.  We all will wear vinyl gloves and cloth aprons around chemicals and leather gloves and leather aprons when working with professional grade luthier hand tools that are hand sharpened in the shop to a honed edge. 


WHY IS MUSIC EDUCATION IMPORTANT?
Educators have discovered that music lessons and discerned-listening have a profound impact on brain development, especially regards poverty population children.  Sound discernment activity advances brain function.  Dr. Nina Kraus, who heads the neuroscience research lab at Northwestern Med School explains her findings in this brief lecture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYw17xCTPTI&t=48s

  

WHY DO FREE ORCHESTRAS CUT CORNERS ON MAINTENANCE?
    A plastic recorder costs $5, but the cost for an entry-level violin with case and bow for orchestral training is minimum $200.  It is fragile, and needs periodic adjustment and maintenance, if learning goals are to be met.   After approximately two years, both the strings and the bow hair will need replacing.   These are gradual degradations to sound and playability, and timely remediation is sadly inconsistent with a “make do” philosophy that is common to successful non-profits.  While this is understandable in other operational instances, when applied to instrument neglect, student self-assurance is put at risk.  A North Lawndale youth orchestra can sound and perform just like one from Hyde Park and we can give them the chance. 

 
 ABOUT CAPTAIN MILES AND A BRIEF SHOP HISTORY
     Hello.  I am an alumnus of St. Ignatius.  I graduated from college in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, and entered Air Force pilot school that same month.  After 18 months of training I entered the war zone.  I was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals for assault airlift and rescue. 

     After the service, I spent 35 years flying jumbo B747 freighters around the world for Flying Tigers and later FedEx.   From 2003 to 2007 I built, wired, and flight-tested an 250 MPH experimental aero composite aircraft with final certification in late 2007.    

      I bring those aerospace assembly and vibrational analysis skills into violin restoration.   The violin shop was started in 2013, when I was volunteering as a teaching-artist in an el Sistema orchestra.  I am a Mark O’Connor certified violin teacher, and I hold a two-year certificate in Music for Social Change from North Park University.

      The eventual concept for StringWizards at St. Ignatius began in 2013.  The move took place in fall of 2017 with the shop completion in the  Spring of 2018.   In 2019 we gained national recognition for what we do, which includes an unprecedented student opportunity in several directions. 


A THANK YOU
     I am most grateful to Ms. Mary Ellen Schneider, chair of the St. Ignatius music department and John Chandler in the Development Department for recognizing and embracing the repair and community outreach concepts.  Their voices were key. 

A special thanks also to Joe Malatesta and the Operations department for their help in creating the shop space. 

 
T. Miles
April 2019