Making Matters: Shaping the head

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Violin makers have always been aware of physical issues like repetitive strain injury – but it’s just as important to take care of their mental health and wellbeing. John Beames examines some of the most common problems, and suggests some ways to combat them

Without a doubt, violin makers are a complex lot. Even so, when it comes to our personalities, we do display some commonality – characteristics that enable us to do the type of work that we do. Luthiers often face similar psychological challenges, from within ourselves and from the life we lead. Here I will be considering these factors, and offering some strategies to tackle them.

When I ask myself what essentially characterises violin makers, I think immediately of perfectionism, attention to detail, inquisitiveness, sensitivity, and patience. Of course there are even more, but it is these that drive us to perform with mastery and excellence, to persist in achieving high standards, and to encourage us in our making or restoration work. 

However, despite their great advantage, these very same features of our psyche may cause us misery when pushed out of balance. For example, if our identity and self-worth depend on a high level of success, we can become more prone to being neurotic, intense, inflexible and intolerant, pedantic and obsessive. Our work and business suffer, and so do our relationships with others. In his 2005 book Perfecting Ourselves to Death psychotherapist Richard Winter lists some elements that define the two sides of perfectionism. Healthy traits are: having high standards and good self-esteem; striving for excellence; being realistic about failure; being organised and showing energy and enthusiasm. As for unhealthy traits: having unrealistically high standards and low self-esteem; seeking to excel at any cost; generalising failure; being controlling; feeling exhausted; and being exhausting.

In addition to these aspects of our essential selves, what life throws at us also has an impact. Some of those challenges are common among luthiers. The way we respond to these potential setbacks, and how well we utilise the resources available to us, have a strong bearing on the degree to which we flourish. With this in mind, many of us makers encounter a number of life challenges that have a significant impact on our wellbeing.

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