By Newark College
World class craftmanship at Newark
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A Well-Established Part of the College

The School of Musical Instrument Crafts was founded in 1972 under Principal Eric Ashton at Newark Technical College. It comprised originally of courses in ‘Violin Repairs and Construction’ led by Maurice Bouette, ‘Piano Maintenance, Repairs and Tuning’ led by David Taylor and a ‘Woodwind repairs and restoration’ led by Louis Rousseau. Honorary advisors included Yehudi Menuhin, Charles Beare and John Dankworth.

Course Content

The content of the courses today remains quite similar to the original ones which included acoustics, history of musical instruments and business studies, as well as placing a substantial focus on practical work at the bench.

The making of specialist tools has been an important activity in the courses since the early days, it is now fully integrated into the BA degree as part of first and second year studies. Recent additions have been made to a number of the courses; metal bodied instrument making is an option in the Woodwind course, steel stringed guitar making is now quite a favourite on the Guitar course and bow repair has been incorporated into the Violin programme.

The first violin to be made was produced by John Molineaux. It was played to a public audience of around 100 guests on 1st March 1973 at Newark Parish Church. 

The courses continued to flourish and grow, attracting students from all over the country, Europe and America and transforming from two years to three years in length. 

Home at Newark

The Newark School of Violin Making was the inspiration of Maurice Bouette, a violin maker, who was born in London in July 1922, and was the School's director.

Maurice was born into a musical family, who were also craftsmen, and started making violins through evening classes with William Luff, one of the best-known British luthiers.

In 1972, Maurice accepted the challenge of starting a new school of violin making at Newark Technical College teaching full-time with Wilfred Saunders, helping out one day a week: and then latterly with Glen Collins, William Luff's nephew.

In 1977, Newark School of Violin Making (NSVM as it has become known) moved into its current home in Kirk Gate.

The new school site was opened by Yehudi Menuhin on April 11th 1978. The musical celebration included a recital by Menuhin and Colin Twigg on violins and accompanied by Anne Holmes on a Steinway piano that had been overhauled by students on the Piano (Tuning and Repair) course. 

The Newark Violin School has gone from strength to strength and now enjoys worldwide recognition. Today, ex-students of the school are employed in workshops all over the world. 

Maurice Bouette
Maurice Bouette

Notable Visits

In 1980, John Dankworth visited the Woodwind department as its patron and performed in a recital at the Mary Magdalene Church in Newark. A group of students made the clarinet used in the performance.

In 1982, a cello was made and presented to Prince Charles as he visited Newark Technical College to open the new library and mark the College centenary. The specially made cello, modelled on 1790 design by Stradivari, was decorated by Paul Harrild with the Prince of Wales coat of arms. 

In 1984, another ‘royal’ instrument made at the violin school by tutor Glen Collins was presented to Princess Diana as a gift for Prince William. It was a scaled down version intended for use by a child. 

New Additions

1994 also saw the launch of the Guitar Making course by Roy Courtnall. For a brief period, electric guitars were added to the curriculum. 

In 1992, the Woodwind course moved from The Mount onto the main campus. 

The Piano School remained at the Mount and developed its reputation as the only place in the UK to offer a college-based qualification and is recognised worldwide.

Events and Exposure

In 2002, Belgian violin student, Catherine Janssens, led a group of enthusiastic students who joined forces with musicians from the local community to form the Trent Chamber Academy.

The orchestra now consists mainly of Musical Instrument Craft students playing on instruments they have made or restored. They continue to delight Newark audiences with an annual concert at the Town Hall, specialising in works of the Baroque period and the English Twentieth Century School. 

In 2011, Musical Instrument Crafts at Newark received nationwide exposure when several tutors and students were invited to put their creative talents into making orchestral instruments out of scrap. 12 violins, four violas, two clarinets, two flutes and a piccolo were created in College by recycling cutlery, plumbing materials and pieces of guttering. The instruments were used to play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture at the BBC Proms by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Hazelwood. The whole project was captured as a documentary and broadcast on BBC4 in December of the same year. 

Trent Academy Chamber orchestra
Trent Academy Chamber orchestra

Leonardo Guitar Research Project

In Autumn 2011, the tutors and students of Guitar Making were invited to take part in a European project with other colleges and luthiers from across Europe.

Funded by the European Commission, the Leonardo Guitar Research Project lasted three years. It enabled guitar students and tutors to collaborate with a college in Finland and one in Belgium. The aim was to investigate the benefits of making guitars from sustainable woods rather than tropical woods. Students across the three colleges built pairs of identical guitars - one made from tropical woods, and one made from sustainable sources.

During the project seven teaching and learning materials have been made for publication on the internet. The project has caught the imagination of some of the biggest manufacturers of guitars in the world; both Martin and Taylor Guitars have made statements regarding having revised their approach to the materials they use in manufacturing their instruments and recognise the importance of using sustainable materials. We hope our students will continue to share this important philosophy in their careers as luthiers. 

Overview Video

Final Home

In 2017, the last of the Musical Instrument courses left The Mount. The Piano School relocated to its new premises in the former Police Station, just 50 yards away on the edge of the College campus. More than 60 pianos were wheeled across the road to their new home.

Guided by a group of dedicated teaching staff, many of whom were once students at the College themselves, the School of Musical Instrument Crafts continues to be a jewel in the crown of the College.

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