One man's heartstrings: He found his voice through making violins
Seattle Times music critic
It all started with a madrigal.
Vern Jaynes was smitten with a music-loving girlfriend who majored in piano and voice at the University of Washington, and sang in the Madrigal Singers there. They married — even though Vern "couldn't carry a tune in a bucket," he could be the "official audience," as he puts it.
"Josephine's friends would come over to our house, and sit around and sing eight-part madrigals," remembers Jaynes, who is now 87.
"I envied them."
He couldn't sing, but after growing up in the Depression era, Vern was pretty handy around the shop. He decided to try to make a violin. After hitting several dead ends, he found encouragement in the violin shop of the late David Saunders, who helped him a lot — and Vern helped back, when Saunders got a contract to repair school instruments.
Gradually, over the years since 1956, Jaynes produced 25 violins, along with a cello and a viola. A harpsichord, also of his own making, sits in the living room. Beautifully made tables and other furniture further attest to his woodworking skills. Vern has kept all the instruments; he's not interested in selling them.
Jaynes, a retired supervisor in Boeing's model shop, says you can't make a violin in a messy workroom. The violins are lovingly detailed, in a range of natural wood colors from reddish to lighter or darker brown. Some of the fiddles' backs glow with a patterned woodgrain that suggests the semiprecious stone tiger-eye.
The sound is resonant and responsive. Over the years, Jaynes says there has been "quite a bit of change" in his style; the later violins are more detailed (though he went back and made modifications to earlier ones as he went along).
Life has not always been easy for Vern. His beloved Jo was stricken with brain cancer in the early 1950s, and while she recovered from the cancer (she died just five years ago), treatment left her seriously ill. She required round-the-clock supervision. Vern converted two extra bedrooms to his violin shop, with windows that allowed him to keep an eye on his wife while he worked.
"That motivated me to build violins," he says, "though when I taught myself to play, I'm sure I drove her crazy — but she helped me learn."
"I don't think I'm a safe driver any longer," Jaynes explains, "so I don't drive. But the car is licensed and it has a full tank of gas — which is like gold with the prices these days!"
Meanwhile, there are always woodworking projects to complete, and friends and relatives to see. Life is good. Jaynes has a twinkle in his eye as he says, "I try to stay out of mischief."
Melinda Bargreen: firstname.lastname@example.org
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