Brook Wallace ~ The Adventures of Brook Wallace and the Stradivarius Violin
How often does one hear of a Texas fiddler owning or encountering and actually playing a real Antonius Stradivarius violin? I have heard stories from old timers that follow something like "Yeah, I 'member my granddaddy back in Arkansas had one, kept it in the closet so none of us kids could git at it. Don't know what ever 'come of it." And there is the story of the one who had a Strad violin and kept it in the local bank vault and then the bank burned down. Finally, there is the tale of the proud owner of one who would point to the label inside the instrument verifying its authenticity but failing to acknowledge the fine print, "made in Japan." There are so many tales similar to these that if one could tally them up, there would be several hundred thousand of these instruments in existence, but in reality, only a few hundred exist and to encounter one and be given the opportunity to perform on one is indeed an adventure as is revealed in this edition of the newsletter.
Brook Wallace, along with other members of her family, was performing at the annual Texas Independence Day Gala at the Ft. Worth Stockyards. The event is a fundraiser for the Cowtown Opry, a charitable historical organization in Ft. Worth that promotes and preserves cowboy music and culture unique to the Ft. Worth area. While performing, Brook received a message from Mr. Bill Davis, CEO of the petroleum consortium, DAVOIL, who was in the audience at the time, informed her that he was very much impressed with her fiddling. When Mr. Davis was informed that Brook was a champion old time fiddler and the holder of several high honors in fiddling, he requested an introduction to and an audience with Brook. After the introduction, Mr. Davis congratulated her on her achievements and expressed his delight with her skill on the violin. He also requested that she visit him at his office the next day with her fiddle and to be sure and bring her bow in because he had a treat for her. Brook was in a bit of a quandary as to what might be in store.
The next day, Brook and her father, Paul journeyed to the Davoil offices in Ft. Worth. Upon arrival, Brook and her dad discovered that Mr. Davis had summoned all the office personnel to the reception area. Brook was then asked to perform on her instrument in order to reveal to her audience, the level of her skill. Along with her dad on the guitar, she played "Sally Johnson" for a group of about 30 people. After that, Mr. Davis requested that she play some tunes on his violin. Mr. Davis then opened a violin case that revealed a genuine Stradivarius violin valued at over $4,000,000 (that's four million dollars). This is an instrument that Mr. Davis acquired some 20 years ago. It was crafted in 1710 and one of the most valuable of Strad instruments in existence. The instrument is usually on loan to the concertmaster of the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra. For some 20 years, the Davis Stradivarius has been touted by the Ft. Worth Symphony as a major perk to the concertmaster in attempts to attract class act musicians.
Brook began with the instrument by tuning it while her dad looked on with apoplectic discomfiture asking himself "What is my little girl doing with this four and a half million dollar piece of wood and cat gut?" Visualize this: nervously she pulls the bow across the strings and some notes issue forth. Mr. Davis then suggested that it would be a special treat if she play some old time fiddle tunes because he didn't believe that old time fiddle music had ever been performed on the instrument in its 300 year life span. Brook refused to "coddle" the instrument because it was "meant to be played!" She then cut loose with a spasm of "Sally Goodin" followed by "Velvet's Waltz." She continued to play for about an hour favoring her audience with other hoedowns, rags, jazz, and swing tunes. Each tune improved, as she became more accustomed to the instrument's personality.
Mr. Davis enjoyed immensely, the music and remarked that Brook made the Strad sound the happiest of any who had performed on it. Upon her departure, Mr. Davis informed Brook that if she wanted to borrow the instrument in order to make a recording, just let him know. Brook will most likely take him up on the offer. Also, according to Brook's father, Paul, just to see or hold a genuine Stradivarius is merely a dream for many musicians and it was definitely a special opportunity for this 13-year-old fiddler who will remember this occasion for the rest of her life. And by the way, a hoedown sounds exceptionally good when played on a Stradivarius.