My woodworking career began in 1986 after completing two years of intensive study with James Krenov at the internationally-recognized College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program. This training provided a solid grounding in the Northern European tradition of fine furniture building as well as Krenov’s personal approach to design. Since then I have designed and built fine furniture, made acoustic guitars, written a book on fine woodworking, and taught woodworking at college campuses and craft centers across the country. If you are interested in my work before violin making, visit this web site: www.davidfinck.com.
In 2012 I began building violins and now focus on making concert-quality violins and violas. My first two instruments were built for my daughters. They adopted them right away and in short order used them as soloists in front of the NC Symphony, the Asheville Symphony (NC), and the Durham Symphony (NC) after winning concerto competitions sponsored by those organizations. Ledah is now a master’s student at Peabody Institute majoring in violin performance and composition. Willa is a senior at the Eastman School of Music, where she is the concertmaster of the Eastman Philharmonic and studying for a bachelor’s degree in violin performance. She is also a professional violinist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
My instruments are owned and played by professional musicians and advanced students. They have fared very well in tonal evaluation when placed in double-blind listening tests conducted in an educational setting. There, they have ranked with, and even convincingly surpassed, some fine old-Italian instruments and violins made by some of the world’s leading makers.
My personal story is about endings and beginnings, father and son, completing one circle and starting another. It’s about why I do what I do. Creativity and artistry thread through my family history. One grandmother was a dancer and conservatory-trained pianist, the other a talented sculptor. My grandfather was a leading director in Yiddish theater in Baltimore; my mother is an artist and a poet.
Henry Finck, my father, was a craftsman in leather, weaving, and wood. He began violin studies at thirteen, at which time he was already a precocious woodworker with an entrepreneurial bent. He had purchased an industrial-quality jigsaw and started reproducing gingerbread trim for Victorian homes in his Baltimore neighborhood. His woodworking and musical interests combined when he made the ambitious decision to one day build a violin.
I was ten when my father began planning his violin building quest. At first I was puzzled when he told me he would first build a guitar, then a viol da gamba, and then, finally, like an assault on Everest, the violin. Why not just build the violin, I wondered? Of course, I wasn’t grasping the benefits of building skill upon skill that this sequence offered. Progress was slow, however. My father had a lot on his plate with three children and a day-job as a professor of anatomy at the University of Pittsburgh. In time the guitar was built, but the viol da gamba was only half-completed at the time of his death, and the violin was a dream never realized…
In high school I took up playing guitar and must admit I nagged my dad quite a bit to finish the one he had started making. One summer, applying a bit of “child psychology,” I set about building a guitar myself with the hope that he might be spurred to complete his own. It never occurred to me that I would actually finish my project, ignite a passion for fine woodworking, and discover a career, but all of those things came to pass. It would still be a while longer before Henry’s guitar was finished. Advance two decades into the future and I was now a husband with a wife and two young daughters.
I had assumed the role of primary child-caregiver and was running short of ideas on how to spend time with the little ones. One day I came across the name of a woman offering Suzuki violin lessons to very young children. This intrigued me, so I took my daughters, ages 2 and 4, to “Miss Nan” (Nan Stricklen) for their first lesson. The girls have never put down their fiddles. That was in 1999. Now my daughters are grown and playing professionally while studying violin performance at leading conservatories.
After my father died I was struck with the notion that I ought to build a violin. His unfinished viol da gamba and his unfinished dream were urging me on. I also had two daughters each in need of better instruments. Bolstered by a lifetime of woodworking skills, several feet of bookshelf dedicated to all aspects of the violin, most of the necessary tools, and some choice wood, I decided that the time was ripe to begin. And so I did.
As that first violin took shape it hit me with the deepest certainty that I had come across my calling. I felt completely at home every step of the way. Now, as I begin carving a violin I think of the dreams of my father, and although I miss him greatly, I am comforted remembering him this way, and I often smile and silently thank him for propelling me along this beautiful path.
I am honored that Ledah and Willa still play my first two violins as their primary instruments — I dubbed the instruments “Gelibt” (beloved) and “Neshomeh” (soul), in honor of my father.
This story could never be complete without acknowledging the unwavering support of my wife, Marie Hoepfl.
If you have read this far you might find this little video interesting:
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161 Hickory Trail | Historic Valle Crucis | Banner Elk, North Carolina 28604