New Violin Family Association

Welcome to the New Violin Family’s new home at HutchinsConsort.org! The Hutchins Consort is proud to be the new home of this remarkable gathering of scholars, musicians, teachers, scientists, luthiers and other persons who have an interest in both sharing and acquiring new information about the development of the New Violin Family. In late 2007, Carleen Hutchins crafted an arrangement with the Hutchins Consorts’ Artistic Director, Joe McNalley, wherein the Hutchins Consort would merge the New Violin Family Association with their own organization, in an effort to preserve this important archive, and to assure that Carleen Hutchins’ life work and all of her important contributions to acoustical research continue to be made available to scientists and luthiers for the future. It was Dr. Hutchins’ intention that the Hutchins Consort would become the caretaker of this vast archive of scientific papers, instrument molds, instruments, research findings, and other important materials. Since this merger was completed in October 2009, the Hutchins Consort has been busy evaluating this archive and determining what portion of it should be conveyed on to Stanford University, who have offered to make this a part of their permanent archive collection in their Music Department. Part of this will be the digitizing of many of these materials, allowing them to be accessible to the rest of the world. This project would have made Carleen very happy, as she was determined that her scientific findings be shared with all luthiers and scientists, so that they might carry on this important work for the future.

We are making an invitation to all previous members of the New Violin Family Association to join us in this work, and to become members of the Hutchins Consort Association, and play a role in the future of the New Violin Family!

We have recently made an arrangement with Carleen Hutchins’ biographer, Quincy Whitney, to provide to us, insights and stories about Carleen’s life on this webpage, as a means of sharing Carleen’s rich and long history with the world. On this page of our website, you will find the first of these stories titled “The Telephone Booth Caper”, an engaging story about Carleen’s adventures in seeking tone woods for the instruments that she built. Additionally, we are working with various key members of the New Violin Family Association, to be sure that there is careful coordination of our two organizations (now one!), including our websites, assuring that we preserve their vision of the New Violin Family’s future.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Excerpt from the upcoming biography:
The Violinmaker: A Biography of Carleen Maley Hutchins

by Quincy Whitney

The Telephone Booth Caper

In early December, 1956, Carleen Hutchins was diagnosed with breast cancer. When asked what a friend could bring her the day before her surgery, Hutchins asked for sandpaper “to work on a few scrolls.” It is hard to imagine what Dr. Virginia Apgar—neonatal specialist in anesthesiology and originator of the APGAR score to measure the qualitative health of newborns—must have thought when she walked into a patient’s room and found her sanding a viola scroll—especially since Apgar was herself a violist, a fact that the surgeon had mentioned to Carleen prior to her surgery. Ever vigilant, Carleen brought #23 with her to the hospital and when introduced to Apgar asked if she would like to see it. Whereupon Dr. Apgar took the viola out and began playing it right in the middle of Clarkman’s Pavillion, much to the enjoyment of the nurses on the floor.

Carleen returned a few weeks later for a post-op check-up and told Apgar she had eyed the shelf in the Harkness #1 telephone booth as a beautiful piece of curly maple that had a good sound and would make a good back for a viola. Patient and doctor promptly concocted a plan to abscond with the shelf, or “liberate” it from its cramped quarters, beginning with the idea that Carleen would cut a replacement shelf to the same dimensions. Then one dark January night in 1957, Apgar put on her long white doctor’s coat and drove to the hospital ambulance entrance, with Carleen clutching her son’s briefcase full of jimmy tools, pry bars and the piece of wood newly stained. The old shelf, full of long nails that had gone way into the plaster, proved to be a bit of a job to remove without pulling the whole wall down. All the while, Apgar stood guard, knocking on the glass door when people passed whereupon Carleen pretended to be inserting dimes into the telephone. Hutchins soon discovered she had miscalculated due to an invisible dovetail joint and needed to trim the shelf down. Apgar stood guard outside the ladies room while Hutchins, sequestered in a bathroom stall, recut the wood using a toilet as a cutting table.

“It was quite an evening and I must confess that the thing I hadn’t counted on was the horror of my son Bill when we got back from this escapade. He felt that his mother had really let him down and that she was going to end up in a New York jail for sure. Here she was swiping things from the hospital, and what was worse, she had his briefcase with his name on it full of jimmy tools. As we entered the door, getting back home that night, with me pretty much close to exhaustion with all this within a month of a big operation, my mother greeted us and saved the day with the quotation: ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the best of men.’ The fact that Nanny had thought it was fun, instead of a terrible affair, convinced Bill that his mother was not quite so bad after all.”

Shortly thereafter, Apgar asked Hutchins to teach her to make a viola, the back of which was formed from this telephone shelf. Apgar played this viola for many years. Subsequently, Hutchins helped Apgar make a violin, cello and mezzo violin—the four instruments of The Apgar Quartet, now housed at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Each spring, the Physicians and Surgeons Chamber Players at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital bring out the Apgar Quartet to perform a concert in honor of Virginia Apgar.

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