PukKa Violins

The directions from Google Maps made the journey to meet violin restorer, Joana Bruno, much simpler than it could have been. All I had to focus on was the final line in her directions: “You’ll find me under the cork trees.”

WORDS Hugh Carslaw

As my wife is a violinist, making the journey to the outskirts of Barão de São João to visit Joana’s arboreal workshop was of extra interest. I’ve never met a professional string player who does not look after their instrument almost in the same way they’d look after a family member. There are some who have literally taken out a second mortgage to buy an instrument, so the responsibility on the restorer or repairer is massive. Such is the affinity the musicians have with their respective instruments.

Originally from Lisbon, Joana felt the need to escape the city and look towards a more rural lifestyle. Having graduated from the Nova University of Lisbon with a degree in restoration, she made the move to the Lagos area in 2012. It was at this time that a chance meeting with the German owner of Lagos-based Old Violins International, changed her direction from furniture restoration to stringed instrument repair and restoration. This change heralded the start of a five year learning process. In that time, Joana transferred her restoration skills from furniture to violins, violas and cellos – all under the very demanding scrutiny of the owner.

It was a good decision. Her aptitude and enthusiasm for the work meant she was increasingly entrusted with more responsibility. She began to undertake ever more delicate and intricate work. In some cases this even involved extremely rare musical instruments.

“I became a mum in 2018 and this change of circumstances prompted me to set up on my own,” explains Joana. “I continued working for Old Violins International, but this work was phased out and I am now totally independent. I now have clients from Faro, Lisbon and Alentejo, along with those who are more locally based.” Joana now has a regular, growing client base, including the Academy of Music in Lagos.

I was curious to find out if she had any musical connections. It would appear that learning about violin repair and construction prompted her to learn how to play one. “I now get lessons from the eminent violinist J P Cunha who leads the Orchestra Sinfonica de Algarve,” says Joana. “I’ve also done some work on his violin for him, which is a great seal of approval for me from such a fine player and teacher.”

It might come as a surprise to some that a violin or viola bow can sometimes be as expensive as the instrument. In fact, without a good bow, a fine violin will not deliver its full potential. Thus, the maintenance of both is key to allowing the instrument to deliver a beautiful sound. “String bows need to be repaired on a regular basis, and this is another aspect of my work,” Joana explains “We use horse hair for bow rehairs and the best hair comes from Siberian and Mongolian horses, which have thicker and stronger hair due to the very cold climate which they have to endure.”

As our interview comes to a close, I ask Joana what advice she would give to anyone buying a stringed instrument for the first time.

“I am always saddened when I see parents buying a new, low-cost, factory-made instrument for their child who is starting to learn. They would derive much more value for money in electing to buy an older instrument. For a reasonable price, they could have an instrument that will increase in value, and if bought from a reputable dealer, an instrument that will be properly set up and ready for use. Quite often I see modern,factory-produced instruments where the strings are too far above the fingerboard and are incredibly difficult for a child to play as a result. My mission moving forward, in particular since becoming a mum, is to put more focus on youngsters taking up stringed instruments and encouraging their parents to select an instrument which will allow them to learn quickly and make playing much more enjoyable.”

Joana is creating a symphony in the woods for local string players and her work is set to create more beautiful sounds in the Algarve.

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