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The music man

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

The music man

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SOMETIMES all it takes is one visit to a place to make an impact.
No one knows that better than German doctor and violin teacher Gernot Mehnert of St James who visited the St Nicholas Abbey in October 2012 and saw the huge piles of old mahogany wood in the barn where the mill is operating.
Mehnert was immediately struck by the beauty of the wood.
“None of the workers could tell him how old this wood might be, but they said the wood must have an age of 100 to 200 years,” Mehnert said.  “Such an old, dry wood must be a very good  wood for a violin?”
His idea was to build a violin out of old Barbados mahogany wood, which had never been done before. He contacted his violin maker Walter Mahr in Bubenreuth, Germany, who likes to experiment with woods that have rare tones, and Mahr agreed to build the violin.
But building the violin wasn’t enough. The next step for Mehnert was to convince Larry Warren, the owner of St Nicholas Abbey how nice it would be to continue the tradition of the Cave dynasty.
John Gay, of St Nicholas Abbey, planted the first mahogany trees on the alley to the plantation house, and this alley still is the attraction of the site. Tourists from all over the world admire the old trees and the mahogany panels and furniture inside the plantation.
“In these rooms, to expose this new mahogany violin would be great,”
Mehnert said. “Larry Warren gave the permission to take away one of the heavy mahogany boards. It was taken down from the high dusty gallery.”
First the board had to be cut in two pieces to take it away in the trunk of a car, but the workers’ chainsaw did not start. Mehnert and his father-in-law had to saw the wood with a hand saw and they did it again at home and smiled proudly.
“I took one piece of wood in my suitcase to Germany and was lucky that the German Customs at the Frankfurt Airport did not notice what was in the suit case,” he said. The wood was sent to the violin maker and after four months of work Mr Mahr finished it. I then went back to Germany to bring the new mahogany violin back to Barbados. And what a fantastic instrument it is!”
To say that Mehnert is happy with his violin would be an understatement.
The back, the scrolls and neck and snail have a shiny red colour.
Larry Warren was excited when the violin was handed over to him on February 23, during a full moon dinner at the St Nicholas Abbey. Mehnert played some songs by Harry Belafonte together with a band.
The new violin made of antique mahogany wood will be shown to the public inside the plantation house.