Hey Buddy, Got a Spare Violin?

It is estimated that Antonio Stradivari’s workshop produced about 1100 instruments during his lifetime, including more than 500 violins known to continue to exist today. There are lists of these instruments and a multitude of websites that recount interesting stories of “Strads” that have been lost or stolen, and sometimes recovered under the most interesting of circumstances. The aura and mystique of such world class violins has driven their prices high into the stratosphere.

Even the more mundane violins can be incredibly expensive. The good news is that most people will never need to spend more than about two thousand dollars on their instruments. Yes, that’s a lot of money. But compared with years of lessons at fifty to seventy-five dollars a week or more, summer camps, orchestra fees, performance wear, strings and music, and transportation, it’s nothing. But the violinist who chooses to become a professional career musician needs a much more expensive instrument, one that can cost as much as a car, or even a new home.

There is an additional expense to the professional violinist that few consider, something called opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the cost of choosing not to do something. Consider that a professional violinist spends as much or more time learning their craft as does an engineer. Upon graduation from the university, the engineer will be quickly absorbed into a waiting job market that promises a six figure annual salary within a few short years, while the violinist may unsuccessfully audition for months, finally landing an unpaid seat in a community orchestra. The opportunity cost of choosing a career in music over a career in engineering might realistically be seventy-five thousand dollars a year. This means that the career violinist will more than likely never generate enough income to purchase his or her professional quality violin outright, and this creates the niche that instrument lending foundations have stepped in to fill.

Instrument lending is not a new idea.  Many fine conservatories and universities have built collections that provide instruments that can be borrowed by students, usually for the cost of insuring and maintaining the instrument.  But what happens after graduation? The student often must immediately return the instrument to the university and find something else to play. There are a number of foundations that accept donated or loaned instruments from the weathy. In return the donor receives tax benefits and other consideration, such as quarterly private concerts in his or her home. I’ve listed some of the foundations here, and I will write more about them later.

The Doublestop Foundation

Rachel Elizabeth Barton Pine Foundation

The Maestro Foundation

The Virtu Foundation

The Amati Foundation

The Stradivarious Society

It’s incredibly exciting to me to learn about all of the wonderful old instruments that are available to world class musicians, and I am always curious about the matching of the virtuoso to an instrument. Violin selection has been such a personal experience for me, and I am just stepping out of the budget range — imagine what it would be like to be able to select, care for, and play a violin that was centuries old!

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