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Hospital helps give birth to violin: Concordia professor plays instrument built using CT scan

MOORHEAD - If you didn't know Sonja Harasim was talking about her violin, you might assume she was talking about a person. It has a birthday. It got a one-year checkup. It matures with age. "Obviously, one has to play it for it to make sound, but...

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Sonja Harasim, plays a line from a song coaching a chamber music ensemble at Concordia College on Saturday, November 15, 2014.Carrie Snyder / The Forum

MOORHEAD - If you didn’t know Sonja Harasim was talking about her violin, you might assume she was talking about a person.

It has a birthday. It got a one-year checkup. It matures with age.

“Obviously, one has to play it for it to make sound, but I feel like the instrument is an extension of me,” said Harasim, 31, who is on the violin faculty at Concordia College.

In fiddle years, Harasim’s is an infant. Most violins are 50 to 300 years old. Hers is 3.

But the instrument is modeled on one with a much longer history – her teacher’s 1715 Stradivarius.

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Using a CT scan of the original, California-based violin maker Mario Miralles re-created the Stradivarius for Harasim in 2011. She was a graduate student at Rice University in Houston at the time, and her violin professor, Cho-Liang Lin, suggested the project.

Lin’s violin, known as the “Titian,” belongs to the elite group made by Antonio Stradivari, arguably the best luthier in history.

“When we think great instrument, we say Strad,” Harasim said.

Although it wasn’t made by Stradivari himself, Harasim’s violin has opened up a world of colors in her playing. She finds it equally suited to Brahms and Debussy, and said it has the bite for modern music, too.

“There’s so much clarity with this instrument,” she said. “It makes playing easy.”
New technology

People have been merging hospital equipment with great violins for about 10 to 15 years.

The same machines that allow doctors to determine the needs of a patient allow researchers to measure the condition and authenticity of a valuable violin.

When a violin rolls through the special X-ray machine, a detailed image of its interior density is produced, according to the Strad3D project website.

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And some violin makers, including Miralles, use those cross-section shots to re-create the world’s finest violins.

That’s not to say the process can produce an identical violin.

“Even though every dimension matches, it’s unique,” Harasim said of her violin.

Factors such as wood and age also affect a violin’s sound quality, and Harasim’s is especially young.

“My instrument is constantly maturing,” she said with pride.
New music

Perhaps it’s not surprising that a musician who commissions an instrument would also be a champion of new music.

Harasim said she enjoys working with living composers, as well as finding “hidden gems” in existing repertoire.

A friend of Harasim’s, Chris Walczak, has written her a concerto, a sonata, a solo piece and a piano trio.

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And her dissertation is on Frank Bridge, a little-known English composer who died in 1941.

Harasim said she enjoys “having things feel fresh and new,” and that enthusiasm is especially apparent when she talks about her violin.

“I’m the only player of that instrument,” she said. “It’s really amazing. I don’t know a lot of people that have had that experience.”

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By Grace Lyden, Forum News Service

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Sonja Harasim, middle, gives advice to from left, Breana McCullough, Elisabeth Sondrol, Mike Miller and Ben Ehrmantraut, during their chamber music ensemble practice at Concordia College on Saturday, November 15, 2014.Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Related Topics: CONCORDIA COLLEGE
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