One Off

It is one of my favorite musical instruments that ever has been carried through my doors.

carvedviolinI’ve never heard it play a single note.  I almost certainly will never hear it play one.

And yet, I treasure it.  

Without a clue to who made it, I admire its maker.  Without any knowledge of its history, I envy the first musician to hold it in her hands, freshly rosined bow held at the ready to bring forth the first notes ever drawn from the hand-carved top.

In my fancy, I see the smile play on the lips of the fortunate violinist.  The dust from the rosin-laden bow puffs from the strings as they vibrate with rich tones.  The slim fingers fly along the fingerboard, feeling out the familiar tunes.

No finer performance ever emanated from a Stradivari-made instrument or even one touched by the famed Giuseppi Guarneri at the height of the golden-age of violin making.  The room in which the musician stands is filled with light and sound—memories made for all the years of a lifetime, be they happy and full, or tortured and lonely.

Odd, isn’t it?  The instrument I’m looking at as it rests beside my desk tonight is not valuable—at least not in the sense that comes to our minds.  

It will never be a collector’s piece.  No catalog will ever list it as a desirable commodity in the world of violin connoisseurs.  No auction house will ever feature it in their offerings to the newly-wealthy seeking that signature piece in which to invest.

And yet, the violin is a one of a kind.  A masterpiece of sorts.  

There is not an identical instrument anywhere in the world.  From stem to stern, the design and hand of the maker are in evidence.  Except for the strings, two sad, rusted specimens which have seen the last bow ever to be drawn over their midsections, every part of the old fiddle—every part—was hand-carved by the maker.

Think of it!  

Each plank of wood was hand-selected by the master for the color and grain.  He planed, and carved, and sanded them, paying special attention to the curve of the top and the back, until they were exactly the right shape to be fitted to the side pieces.  

The long narrow piece of maple was carved, a painstakingly slow and difficult task.  Maple is a particularly hard wood, and not cooperative with the carving process.  And yet, out of the hard, stubborn lump of blond wood, the scroll at the tip of the instrument took shape, curving down to the neck, then the heel where the neck joined the body.

Not to belabor a point, but the maker even thought it essential to carve the tuning pegs by hand, a task that must have exceeded an hour’s time spent on each one.  Complete sets, machined and polished, sell for fifteen or twenty dollars in my store.  Factory made bridges are not expensive, nor are the tailpieces.  Still, this unknown master deemed it important that every single piece be hand carved.

Every single component.  Made by his hand.  

Unique.  A thing of beauty.

And yet…

And yet, if I compare the aged violin with others in my store, this old fiddle doesn’t fare so well.  There are rough edges where the others are smooth.  The shape is not symmetrical, as is that of the factory built instruments.  The hand-cut fittings—the bridge, the pegs, the tailpiece—are crude and not as sturdy.  

Nothing shines; nothing gleams.

What a treasure!

And suddenly, as I gaze at the old violin, I see them.

 I finally see them.

Every day, they come to see me for one reason or another.  The reason is of no consequence.  That they walk through my door is the hand of Providence.  Nothing happens without purpose.

If I look closely, I can find defects in every single one.  And once in awhile, someone actually points out the defects to me.  After the person is gone.  Always after they’re gone.

I have, to my shame, pointed out the defects myself.

And the Teacher stopped writing in the dirt long enough to suggest that any of them without defect could feel free to carry out the sentence in person.  Then, squatting down again, He ran His finger through the dust once more, waiting for them to grasp the impact of His message. (John 8:6-8)

Do you suppose any one of the teachers of the Law missed the message of the dust he played with?  How long did it take for them to remember what they were made from?

He never forgets it.  How would He?  He made us!  (Psalm 103:14)

As with the old violin, the comparisons with others prove nothing.  Each person who walks through my door is a masterpiece of unique design.

A one-off, if you will.

Every one, a treasure.  Every single one.

Fearfully and wonderfully made.

I can almost hear the music again.




Odyous of olde been comparisonis, And of comparisonis engendyrd is haterede.
(John Lyndgate ~ English monk/poet ~ 1370-1451


For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;  that I know very well.
(Psalm: 13-14 ~ NRSV)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

One thought on “One Off

  1. Loved the tone of this piece as well as how you wrote it. It flowed and carried us through. I also love to think about how each of us is unique, not because of our defects but because we were hand made by the Master.

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