A Violin in Time
When I first met Norman Henry,
I was struck by his vitality and zest for life.
In 1992, Mr. Henry began
crafting violins under the instruction of the late Edward Nöel. The first one
took him two years. The back was carved out of wood from a 45-year old maple
bed and the belly was made from a spruce plank from the door of the 10 year old
outhouse at Mr. Henry’s
Norman Henry, violin maker at his
workshop with Rose Marie Megrea,
I asked Mr. Henry if he had done any other type of woodworking before he got into violin-making.He replied, “I operated a sawmill as a hobby after I retired in 1983. I worked at it for 17 years. I sawed lumber for neighbours. They would come with their logs in wagons and I would cut it for them.”
Mr. Henry related, “My violins are made with curly maple and basswood. Different woods with different textures produce different sounds. The best wood is the wood that grows on the north side of the mountain. It is a finer and more dense high grade tonal wood. I use steel strings with aluminum wounds, catgut, and sheep intestines. Different strings are used for concert instruments and come from all over the world.”
When I asked Mr. Henry about his reaction when l’Orchestre de la Garde republicaine wanted to borrow his violin, “Unbelievable” he replied. “I don’t usually get excited about things”, as I said, “I am a lucky man!” My granddaughter had heard that one of the violinists with l’Orchestre de la Garde republicaine was missing her violin due to airline negligence and didn’t know what she was going to use for an instrument in the opera-ballet, ‘Traversees’, as part of Ludmila Knezkova-Hussey’s Piano Competition in Bathurst. Mr. Henry said, “She asked me if it would be okay if the violinist, Rose Marie Megrea, came to look at one of my violins, which I certainly agreed to. They were more excited than I was!” Mr. Henry went on to say that the other musicians who had come to the workshop with Ms. Megrea, tried his violins out as well and they were commenting on the good sound of the instruments. I thought to myself,”Why are they making such a fuss about this old violin?” He added, “I must have happened to pick the right block (of wood).”
Mr. Henry laughed a hearty laugh when I asked him if he thought maybe his violin would not be good enough for a concert violinist of Ms. Megrea’s calibre. “Certainly, it crossed my mind,” he said. Being a very modest man, he said, “I’ve never reached for the stars.” After an impromptu practice, the oldest of Mr. Henry’s violins was chosen. This turned out to be a nine-year old instrument he affectionately refers to as his “woodpile”, the pure sound of which was detected by Ms. Megrea and her fellow musicians.
At the concert, Mr. Henry’s daughter, Karen McCrea, said she saw tears of pride in his eyes. She said he had not expected his craftsmanship to be so worthy of these accomplished musicians.
Mr. Henry’s wife of many years had passed away only two weeks previous to the concert and he shared that she would have felt a sense of pride to have been there and to have seen one her husband’s violins being played in such a grand event by one of the world’s finest orchestras.
Was it a stroke of fate that Mr. Henry provided his violin on this occasion? Could it be that it was for such a lofty purpose that Mr. Henry began crafting his violins? The answer lies somewhere in the imagination of the reader.
I asked Mr. Henry, “As a craftsman how would you feel if you did not have your tools or if like this visiting musician, you were faced with finding an alternative?” He replied, “If I have something that another could use, I would gladly share it with him. We must share.” In this instance, one might say Mr. Henry saved our musician’s day and she in turn brightened his day and gave him a sense of purpose.
It has been roughly 16 years since I first listened to the musical performances of Ludmila Knezkova- Hussey.
Initially, I attended a few community concerts in which she was the main featured artist. There were numerous newspaper and magazine articles about her, as well as radio and television programs in which I gradually became aware of exactly how this amazing woman landed here from so very far away. It must have been an extremely difficult transition, leaving her country, her family and friends, her language, her culture, the long history of tradition in classical music and all of the arts. To arrive in such a relatively small community, with a completely different way of life, where most of the people are interested in just about every other type of music but classical, could not have been reassuring. The fact that she was willing to sacrifice everything because of love just illustrates part of her incredible story.
Since arriving, she has
achieved many extraordinary feats, as a performer, a composer,
a creator of events that no one would have dreamed would ever come to
For many years, Ludmila’s music had been a major part of the European classical world, at the very highest levels of excellence, following the traditions of the greatest composers. Her compositions and performances brought her the praise of the most qualified judges of what constitutes great and timeless art. It became apparent that she had to take steps to insure that her abilities were not squandered. She realized that she had to create a competition that would allow her to exercise her phenomenal talents in order to bring the very best to her profession. Thus, the Ludmila Knezkova-Hussey International Piano Competition was born.
Over the years, Ludmila has performed many times, both here and abroad, in
over fifty countries in places as far away as
To listen to her music, one can feel the presence of her heart and her soul in every note. She gives the greatest gift of all. She gives herself to our hearts and to our souls. The experience of hearing and watching her perform is inspiring. Artists of her calibre are extremely rare and she should be cherished as a genuine treasure.
Having had the pleasure of meeting her several times and having numerous conversations with her, I can safely say that she wears her talent well. She is a soft spoken, well-mannered gentle woman , who cares deeply about others and often forgets herself and her own well-being. In a world obsessed with fame and fortune, she is one of the most well-balanced individuals one could ever meet. One of the great joys of knowing her is that she still has wonderful dreams, great hopes and the ability to rise above some of the most difficult moments anyone could endure, to smile through sad eyes and a trembling heart and to move bravely forward, achieving greater things for future generations. One can easily imagine her music being performed centuries from now as part of the cultural heritage of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Anyone who has not yet discovered her is missing out on a truly great experience and I highly recommend her to those searching for someone to emulate. Many of her dreams became reality and hopefully many more will.
A visit by Ludmila Knezkova-Hussey
notes from Maria and Norman Goble
My wife Maria’s daughter,
Monique Richard, introduced Ludmila Knezkova-Hussey to us. Monique played an important part in
the production of Ludmila’s opera as director of the
choir for the occasion. As Director of the Beauséjour
Choir, experienced in organizing concerts on a limited budget, she has often
asked us to give hospitality in our home to artists invited from outside
Among the artists we have received, Ludmila was truly outstanding. As an individual we found her warm-hearted and sympathetic. As a musician, she demonstrated not only an extraordinary talent, but an equally extraordinary degree of dedication to the tasks that she had set herself - a dedication which went beyond commitment, beyond enthusiasm, to reach the same level of passion as she shows in her compositions and in her performances as a pianist.
She was a very undemanding guest, content with a bedroom furnished in an antique style (and appreciating especially the silk sheets which came with the decor) and willing to sample the Acadian fare - buckwheat crêpes with maple syrup – which Maria offered at breakfast. After a long day of hard work, she seemed pleased to have company to come home to, and we, in turn, found her conversation absorbing, whether it concerned her current activity or the recollection of former triumphs and the environment of her earlier years.
We learned that Ludmila, issuing from a European cultural milieu, having shown exceptional talent at an early age – the potential, indeed, to be a prodigy - was under great pressure to develop her skills to their full capacity and had access to the means of doing so. Fortunately she was strongly supported, not only by her teachers and professors, but by her family. She had fond childhood recollections of a grandfather who massaged with love and tenderness her little hands, wearied by hours of practice. She had happy memories, of course, from her later years also, of international acclaim as a performer, and of life in an environment dominated and permeated by classical music, in cities and countries where music, and the love of music, were ancient traditions. It seemed to us that there was an understandable nostalgia there. It must have been difficult to adapt to the loss of daily contact with that world, and to adjust to our very different environment. At events, she seemed anxious to talk and to communicate, generally around a late-evening snack, and when she felt that it would be easier to answer some of our questions about music by example rather than explanation, she would go to the piano to demonstrate a point and hold us spellbound by her playing. On one occasion an impromptu recital, including, to our delight, some of Ludmila’s own compositions, lasted until almost On that occasion, as every night, she retired not to sleep but to work for five more hours, composing or rewriting. In the morning she showed signs of fatigue, but had enough drive and passion to face another busy day of rehearsal and revision.
We were impressed by the
courage and ambition Ludmila had shown in striving to
create a prestigious international piano competition and at the same time
undertaking to present her opera, and we sympathized with the frustration she
must feel in her relative isolation from the larger cultural world. It must be
admitted that in
In summary, Ludmila’s short visit to us was interesting, instructive, and, for us, very enjoyable. It was a pleasure and privilege to enjoy music of such quality in our own living-room, and to become personally acquainted with such a dynamic and dedicated musician.