The Story of my Father’s Three Hundred Year Old Violin
September 20, 2011
‘Twas BATTERED and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile:
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar”; then, “Two!” “Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?
Three dollars, once: three dollars, twice;
Going for three---“ But no,
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,
And going, and gone,” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried.
“We do not quite understand
What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of a master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.
A ‘mess of pottage.” A glass of wine;
A game—and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.
(MYRA BROOKS WELCH)
My father was born in 1922, and when he was growing up, played the violin so well, that by the time he was in 5th grade, he sat in the seat for the first violinist, and was the master violinist in his college orchestra. He had a beautiful violin that his parents gave him when he was twelve. Those were the days between World War I and World War II when pennies were pinched because of the 1930’s Great Depression. I remember stories my father told me about eating potatoes often because that was all they had, and yet, my grandparents sacrificed so that my father could have this very special violin. My grandparents were not educated folks, but they understood the value of music in their childrens' lives when used for ministry. They demonstrated their vision by playing together as a family in church or on the streets where they lived in Brooklyn, a suburb of New York City.
As a child, I had attempted to play the violin for about 5 years but without really getting anywhere. My father had tried to teach me the violin but to no avail!! I had wanted a violin for a few years, with just the simple wish of playing to glorify and worship the Lord. Not that I would ever be able to play with skill, just glorify the Lord in all things. I had once read a book by Edith Schaeffer which encouraged playing an instrument for just this purpose. I had seen violins hanging in a music store and wished to have one again.
One day, my father called me and asked if I would like to have his violin. The violin my father placed in my hands had the old familiar repaired cracks which were incorrectly repaired in China back in the 1940’s before the Communist take-over, when they were missionaries. It was made by a student of Stradivarius and is almost three hundred years old. The wood retained the aged beauty and its mellow tones a beauty that a newer violin cannot duplicate. The back of the violin is all one piece of wood. The bow was old and cracked with a few hanging horse hairs, yet I was thrilled to have it in my hands.
In the same way that God can take our cracked imperfection and shape us into something fit for His use, I took the violin a few days later and tried to play a hymn by ear. I couldn’t play the beautiful mellow tune like the ‘gray-haired man’ could in the poem, as I am more like a ‘mess of pottage’ in the Master’s hand. Although I could not make the beautiful mellow tunes, to the Lord, I hoped one day I would learn. It had been many years since I played the violin. It was contagious!!
God placed a beautiful instrument in my possession that inspired me to learn what I had never succeeded in learning as a child. I will never play like my father, as I don’t have the musical talent that he has been blessed with, yet, this violin has been the inspiration for my children to take up musical instruments and use them for God’s glory. I still play from time to time even though I might never master this beautiful instrument. For without focus on the Lord, on Him, our music even though played like a master is not fit for the Master.
Did you once play a musical instrument? If you did and still have it, dust it off and start playing again. Your children just might want to touch it or play it as mine once did when my father gave us his violin! It might start something in your family that will open up opportunities beyond just your personal or family worship. People in nursing homes love to have visitors, especially children!! We go to a nursing home once a month with our church and frequently to other churches. Our children play in a brass band. God often takes what He places in your hands to play alone, at home, or at church and uses it to bless others for His glory.