Luthier’s class students take being “instrumental” in Surry Community College’s year-long course to a personal level as a variety of personal goals and interests have converged in the low-key class atmosphere the nine students involved with the course.
“It’s a great small class for everyone to get more time from me and for me to feel like I’ve given them time,” said instructor Joe Thrift, who said he is looking to add a second class in the fall with many of the current students signing on to continue.
Stories about the eclectic group of students who meet regularly in the Center for Public Safety in Mount Airy have already circulated on the Dobson campus. One often-repeated story is how on one occasion the group realized it could play an impromptu concert with the instruments stored in their car trunks, and then did just that.
The signing on for another year is no surprise Thrift, who is an award-winning craftsman. The youngest member of his class is 23-year old Russell McCumber from Vermont, who moved to the area for the class and is looking to make a career of violin making. Many in the class are retirees.
“There’s a social aspect that goes along with this,” Thrift said. “Everybody learns something they haven’t learned before. Everyone’s trying to figure out what they are doing. I’ve been so pleased many who got a bit ahead of the others stopped and helped their classmates. They’re helping each other learn before they turn to me. I love teaching. I wouldn’t be here and be offering another class if I didn’t.”
Thrift recalled how he and one student, Nick Lampo, who has played cello in the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, put a viola through its paces by using a bowing technique for the instrument
“I thought it was important for them to see the changes in the sound made by moving something around,” Thrift said. “To be very good at this you have to dig right in and that’s all you do.” Most students agreed they share a love of the journey as they make their instruments from scratch.
Others in the group include David Blackmon, who is an information technologies worker with Bank of America; Mack Collins, who plays old time fiddle and is a hobbyist interested in the craft; and Pat Coldwell who runs an organic vineyard. Allan Woods is a master craftsman furniture maker involved with museum restoration projects. Woods said he enjoys making an instrument as another way to express his creativity. Thrift, whose personal workshop includes a band saw and a drill press, has been pleasantly surprised by the base of knowledge of his students, who have shown him short cuts using power equipment in the center.
Blackmon said he was interested in the class because he has always wanted to make his own violin and gain valuable knowledge on how to repair instruments in the process. Caroline Blackmon, who has concentrated mostly on guitar and mandolin, likes working with wood and loves the idea of “getting a violin out of it.”
Collins, said the class is the only one he’s been in where the instructor has to run the students out after class ends. He said he has been a collector of instruments for years and hopes to interest his niece, Dee, in the fall class. McCumber said he has played the violin most of his life and had built one 10 years ago during an apprenticeship in Vermont. Thrift’s credentials convinced him to move here and learn to put his own personality into it.
“There’s so much to learn. It’s a lifetime thing,” said McCumber. “I want to make a violin that sounds better than the one I play now.”
Persons interested in the class may contact the SCC Occupational Extension Program department at 336- 386-3244 for more information.
David Broyles may be reached at 336-415-4739 or on Twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.