“The musical way of life is a calling and a pathway to the full scope of human emotional expression, even touching on the ineffable. My life as a luthier takes me down this path. Your fulfillment comes in the playing of the instrument and creating the music; mine comes in creating the instrument and joining it with a musician’s heart and soul.”
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pa in 1961 to a home bustling with creative energy: music, art, woodworking, the bookmaking arts, leatherwork, and weaving were going on around me from the day I was born to the day I left home for college 17 years later. My academic career concluded at the University of California at Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, granted in 1984. At age 19, while still in college, I built a classical guitar and knew I had discovered a passion for woodworking.
In 1986 I completed two years of intensive study in the Northern European tradition of fine furniture building and design with James Krenov at the internationally-recognized College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program. Since then I have built acoustic guitars, designed and built fine furniture, written a well-regarded book on fine woodworking, and taught fine woodworking at college campuses and craft centers across the country. My work has been exhibited at top-tier galleries and craft shows, been featured in magazines, and is part of the permanent collection of the West Virginia Department of Culture and History. If you are interested in my work before violin making, visit my archive web site: www.davidfinck.com.
In 2012 I began building violins and now focus my expertise exclusively 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 and is a co-principal of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra. Willa is a junior at the Eastman School of Music, where she is the concertmaster of the Philharmonic and studying for a bachelor’s degree in violin performance. She also won an audition for part-time violinist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. A violin soloist, a professional orchestral violist, an Artist Diploma student, and conservatory students also own and play my instruments. My instruments have fared extremely well in tonal evaluation when subjected to rigorous double-blind listening tests in an educational setting, ranking with and even convincingly surpassing, fine old-Italian instruments and violins made by some of the world’s leading makers.
My personal story is story 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 his violin studies at thirteen, at which time he was already an avid 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 studying violin performance at leading conservatories.
It was after my father died when I was struck with the notion that I ought to try my hand at violin-making. His unfinished viol da gamba and his unfinished dream were urging me on. I also had two daughters each in need of an exceptional instrument. Bolstered by a lifetime of woodworking skills, several feet of bookshelf dedicated to all aspects of the violin, all the necessary tools, and a choice stock of 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.
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 my grateful acknowledgement of the unwavering support of my wife, Marie Hoepfl.
info[at]davidfinck.com | 828-963-6504
161 Hickory Trail | Historic Valle Crucis | Banner Elk, North Carolina 28604