Luthier: A Labour of Love
Ric W. Heinl’s passion for stringed instruments goes back a long way. As a matter of fact, a love of stringed instruments has run in his family since the 1880s. He is part of the fourth generation, undertaking a violin-making and restoration apprenticeship in 1971.
His Toronto-based shop has garnered international recognition over the years. Ric has had the opportunity to work on many fine instruments created by master craftsmen like Stradivari, Guarneri, and Gagliano. He has also met and collaborated with some of Canada’s most promising soloists and chamber musicians.
Ric has been luthier to the Musical Instrument Bank since its creation, in 1985, working behind the scenes to ensure that competition winners have access to historic musical instruments in optimal condition.
We asked Ric to reflect on his unique proximity to the instruments and musicians.
Why is it important to restore instruments like those of the Musical Instrument Bank on a regular basis?
It’s important to keep in mind that these historical musical instruments are “functional art.” And with function comes wear. Even if the players take great care of them, the instruments need regular maintenance and, after a while, they will need to be restored to their original condition to ensure and preserve both physical and sound quality.
What makes the refurbishment of historic instruments more challenging than that of modern instruments?
It’s all about “not leaving footprints.” Matching the wood, the materials, the pigments, and the lines—to keep the instrument in a condition that’s as close to original as possible—can be a long but very rewarding process. The original material is never to be compromised, and any restoration must be undertaken in a way that it can be de-constructed should a new and better technique be developed in the future.
How did your relationship with the Musical Instrument Bank come about?
At the time the Musical Instrument Bank was being established, foreign institutions were taking a keen interest in rare and valuable instruments used by performers from Canada. If nothing was done, the diversity and quality of our music scene would have been diminished.
But the move to collect and assemble was on! The Musical Instrument Bank was the perfect vehicle to raise awareness of the treasures Canada had in hand but was quickly losing. Working with the Canada Council helped raise awareness and establish a collection of historic instruments in Canada.
What makes the instruments from the Musical Instrument Bank so interesting to you?
Each instrument is the work of a noted and important artist from the past. All the instruments are rare pieces in states of preservation ranging from very good to excellent. They are truly great for study by artists and historians alike.
How do you think playing such instruments enables the musicians who use them to develop their abilities?
The instruments from the Musical Instrument Bank are selected not only for their importance as historic works of art, but for their voices. Like people, all instruments have a unique personality. The instruments can coach great players, teach them to create colours and layers of sound that they likely may have not experienced before.
Where else but the Musical Instrument Bank can you go to test drive the musical equivalent of 18 or 20 Formula One cars, with the chance of taking one of them home for three years?
To learn more about the Musical Instrument Bank competition, visit the website.