Friday, January 31, 2014

In the News

What a peculiar week.  I learned again that tragedy can strike anywhere, what things matter, and what things don't.

I also learned that when you do a Google search for "violins" and "Milwaukee" apparently I come up first.  Thus I have been asked for quotes on a story that I have no real connection to because all of those directly involved can't speak about it yet.

The first I heard of the news of the stolen Lipinski Strad was from a talk radio reporter who needed to know something about Stradivaris.  He called me at work and gave me no details on what had happened or to whom.  I gave him general information about how fragile violins can be and why instruments by Antonio Stradivari are so valuable.  I didn't know why we were having the conversation, but at least what little of my recorded self I caught on the radio later that day sounded like it added to the discussion in a useful way.

Then I got a call from a local news station asking if they could interview me about it.  By then I'd searched online and discovered more details about the crime and could just not believe it.  I wasn't sure what I'd have to offer a TV interviewer on the topic, but I was willing to share what I could.

Tuesday was another freakishly cold day where school had been canceled again, and we were days into our schedules being all disrupted.  I hadn't been able to shower in a while, and I literally dressed myself that morning by picking out the warmest looking things on my floor.  As I threw on layers for insulation against the cold I actually thought to myself, "Eh, who's going to see me?"  Ha.  I was not ready for TV.

But I did my best, and they did their best.  The problem is things always get rearranged or quoted strangely in the media.  They actually quoted me making a comparison to a cab driver and a race car that I didn't say (and everyone who knew me and heard it said, "That doesn't sound like her") and also decided I wouldn't have dared to play such an instrument myself.  I would too have dared!  Intimidating to play in front of one of the greatest living musicians, sure, but who would pass up the opportunity to play a Strad if it presented itself?  Not I.  But apparently these ideas seemed in keeping with the gist of what I said to the reporter and that's the story he chose to present.  I can live with it.

The next day I was in the shop another local station wanted to come out and get an interview.  My hair and clothes were clean so I said sure.  Again I talked about why Stradivaris were special and why I thought this was a devastating event for our whole city.  They wanted speculation as to who the thieves might be, and I explained it really wasn't something I would know enough about to give an answer.  My only problem with this particular story is they say I have played the Lipinski Strad, and I have not.  (They asked me if I had ever played a Strad, and I said yes, I played all the ones they have at the Library of Congress, so apparently that got confused.)  Again, not a giant slip up, but I don't want people thinking I'm saying things that aren't true.  The oddest thing about the piece is I thought they were looking for quotes to weave into a larger story, but the story ended up essentially being about me.  Which is weird.  But again, if the people they want to talk to aren't able to talk, they have to fill the time with something I suppose.  And Google plus Milwaukee/Violins equals Me right now. 

It's not that I don't feel qualified to shed some light on the violin world for those who aren't familiar with it.  I'm happy to do that, and I'm flattered to be asked.  However, I am not comfortable feeling like I am somehow exploiting a tragedy, and one that is only tangentially related to me at best.  I recently gave a quote to the Guardian for a story because they wanted thoughts from a local shop, and I'll be curious to see what comes of that, but I'm hoping maybe other people become available to provide opinions soon.  I think people may be tired of my opinion already.

I expressed my thoughts most honestly in my last post.  The whole event is upsetting, and that first night I learned of it I had trouble sleeping, so I stayed up late and tried to sort it out on the page because that helps me.  I've since re-edited it and recorded it for Lake Effect on our local NPR station (scheduled to air Monday, Feb 2nd at 10:00).  For those of you who were already kind enough to read it, the edit (at the bottom of this post) may interest you to see what differences there are between my train of thought writing (which is what the original essay was) and my more polished efforts.

I've read so many things about this story in the past few days, and my own experiences with the media do make me question how much to believe.  Just because a reporter tells you something on TV does not make it completely true.  I know everyone knows this, but we accept simple "facts" sometimes too quickly.  Be careful.  Just because a reporter had good intentions in telling you something, doesn't mean he or she got it all straight.  (Which is why it's kind of nice to have a blog where I can quote myself and know I'm saying what I mean.)

UPDATE:  Well, here's the article in The Guardian.  I would say the words "recently" and "bow repair" are exaggerations.  Frank was in my shop in 2008 or 2009, and I've rehaired his bow twice, which I wouldn't describe as repair work.  Otherwise it's a good article!  Hoping now for a followup about the violin's triumphant return.

Stealing Beauty from Us All  (final edit as recorded for Lake Effect)
by Korinthia Klein

I am shocked and saddened by the violent theft of Frank Almond’s 
Stradivari.  It's international news that the concertmaster of the 
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra was leaving a recent performance when he 
was attacked with a taser and his instrument was stolen.  The 
"Lipinski Stradivari" for insurance purposes is worth millions, but 
its true value is beyond measure.  It’s a piece of history, and it's 
been stolen from all of us.

Instruments made by Antonio Stradivari are prized by musicians and 
collectors.  They are the standard by which all violins are judged.  
They have long lives, and their stories are intertwined with some of 
the greatest figures in music history.  Many have names, and this one 
was named for Karol Lipinski, a Polish virtuoso from the first half of 
the 19th century.  The "Lipinski" violin was built in 1715 during what 
is referred to as Stradivari's golden period.  It's a stunning example 
of the violin maker's craft.

Part of what makes working with violins interesting, however, is 
finding them good matches with players, and Frank Almond and the 
Lipinski were a superb fit.  He was invested in this instrument in a 
profound manner.  Not only did he use his tremendous skills to master 
what that violin could do, but he delved into its history and worked 
to share that with the world in a way that included all of us in his 
discoveries and love for this instrument.  His remarkable project 
titled “A Violin’s Life” is a history lesson wrapped in the magic of 
great music.

Frank Almond has been in my violin shop a couple of times   The first 
time he had his violin with him, and he was kind enough to ask me if 
I'd like to hold it.  I was not going to be presumptuous enough to ask 
to hold his violin, but I was thrilled beyond belief when he offered.  
He's a generous person with his time and talent, and he knew what it 
would mean to a violin maker like me to be able to examine such an 
exquisite instrument.  I accepted it from his hands, trying to look 
appreciative while not letting on how ridiculously giddy I actually 
felt.  It was beautiful.  And it was a vaguely surreal sensation to 
read a label inside a violin in my shop that said "Antionius 
Stradivarius" and know it was real for a change.  That's not an 
experience I will soon forget, and I only got to hold that instrument 
for a few moments.

I can only begin to imagine how devastating this event is for Mr 
Almond, for whom that instrument was the tool of his trade and a 
partner in creating music at the highest levels.  He has been as good 
a steward of such a piece of history as one could ask, tending to it 
with care while using it to its best effect, and sharing its beauty 
with our city and beyond.

I'm relieved to hear Frank Almond is physically okay, I'm worried 
about the safety of the violin, and I am disheartened by what we have 
lost as a community.  To remove that instrument's voice from public 
spaces robs us all.

Instruments like the Lipinksi Strad have long lives with fascinating 
stories.  As interesting as this particular chapter has gotten, I just 
hope it has a happy ending.


  1. My husband used to be a photographer (videographer? cameraman, anyway) for one of our local news station and I remember his tales of how producers warp and add and totally change things to fit the angle they want. We basically don't trust anything we see on the nightly news because of it. :)

    That being said, it's still kind of cool to be on the news- although not for such a terrible reason!- and I watched the clips you linked to, and I think you looked / sounded pretty good for picking your clothes out from your floor in the morning. And I like that one of them included the sparkly cello in a shot. :)

    1. It really is eye opening when you know what was said in an interview and then see how it ends up. I think my best experience on TV was years ago with a wonderful guy named Gus who did a series of live segments. He asked good questions, and then stuff was live so it couldn't get changed:

  2. Isn't it ridiculous how the media monkeys around with what you say? I've experienced it and it's really frustrating. Also gotta love how they make up their own sensational headlines for things, even if you yourself would never write them. I've been a victim of that myself.

    What a sad story, though. What does one do with a stolen Stradivarius? Pawn it? Ransom it? Just hang onto it and stroke it evilly?

    1. Yeah, I thought "mourning" was a strong word for what I'm going through. I'm upset that the instrument is gone, but what kept me up at night was the idea of poor Frank Almond being tased and left on the ground in sub-zero weather.

      Apparently it's illegal to pay a ransom in this country, according to art theft experts. There has been some speculation about it being strictly for money, but that doesn't make any sense to me. You couldn't do the amount of research necessary to be able to nab such an item and not also learn that you couldn't sell it. I think there was a buyer who hired people to get a Strad.

      In my mind it seems likely that at some point someone a few years down the road will slip up. Because it's not like a piece of art that one person can just look at from time to time, it's going to need work. 300 year old violins don't just maintain themselves. And nobody would steal a violin they can't sell except to play it, and to keep doing that a luthier is going to have to see it. Or that person is going to want to play it for someone. Someone else will see it, and it will only take one cell phone photo on social media to get people on the trail. Who knows?

      The really chilling thing is that that kind of violent instrument theft is new. Instruments are stolen when unattended, not torn from people's hands. I'm sure there are lots of insurance companies and players reevaluating what safe practices are for rare instruments, and that may have a big impact on working musicians.

  3. Your piece is beautiful. What a tragedy. I am experiencing the "liberal" quoting policy of print media as well. It is very frustrating. I'll never believe a quote in a paper or magazine again, frankly, which is a good lesson to learn.

    1. Thanks so much. A compliment about my writing from you means a great deal indeed.

      I don't know why in print media they wouldn't give more people the chance to look something over first before it's finalized, just to make sure nobody feels misrepresented. Did the magazine piece quote you strangely? (I'm sure the pictures are still beautiful!)

  4. I once sat as a juror for a first degree murder trial. I was uncomfortable the entire time and it was a very difficult thing for me to do. My take-away after reading/viewing the news reports (after our verdict) was the media can spin things however they like and to take EVERYTHING you see/read with a grain of salt.

    I don't care *who* the media are, they have an agenda and they are going to fulfill it. Let's face it, each reporter is only human with (I'm sure) preconceived ideas and they are bound to hear what they want and see what they want and then take what they need from interviews to make it fit what they already "know".

    I know that sounds intensely cynical, especially for me and my inner Pollyanna, but I can't help it. I find the news want to be nothing so much as sensationalist any more and you have to take everything you read with a grain of salt.

    And, on a completely unrelated note, how awesome that Milwaukee plus violin equals the number one Google hit? That's pretty cool. :o)

    1. My mom once was interviewed by the Detroit Free Press about her artwork, and they made the whole story about how "isn't it amazing that she cooks and sews and has kids and still also does her little drawings?" which was insulting because they would never have written that about a male artist. My dad complained and they didn't review another show at my parents' gallery for over 30 years. So yeah, the media.... It can be great (see youtube clips in above comment) or it can be problematic.

      And yes, I can safely ignore all the spam I get asking me if I want help putting my store at the top of Google searches!