The Violin

Versions of stringed instruments (a harp) date back 4,000 years and harps and lyres were favourite instruments of the ancient Greeks. But it is the violin, more than any other instrument, that gives a voice to cross-cultural evolution. Considered the most noble of all stringed instruments, the violin blossomed from the Renaissance to the Classical Period.

The violin, as we know it, evolved from the best aspects of many instruments dating back to the lyre but its direct evolution dates to the arrival of the bow from Asia, likely around the 11th century. Prior to the arrival of the bow, music was created by plucking one’s fingers on the strings.

The art of building and playing the violin crossed from Italy to Germany, France, and England. This new sound quality, that seemingly embodied the ideas of the Renaissance, was in great demand. Because of its delicate sound, this miracle of acoustics was considered the perfect imitator of the human voice.

“If one were to judge musical instruments according to their ability to imitate the human voice, and if one were to esteem naturalness as the highest accomplishment, so I believe that one cannot deny the viol the first prize, because it can imitate the human voice in all its modulations, even in its most intimate nuances: that of grief and joy.” (Marin Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle, 1636)

Apparently the violin we use today was not used before 1630 in Italy. It then traveled to France, and ultimately spread around the world.

European seafarers brought the violin to the Canadian Arctic creating a vibrant musical heritage around the Beaufort Sea. For decades almost every village or settlement had at least one “entertainer”. But with time, elders passed away, teenagers fell prey to alcohol and drug abuse, and the fiddling tradition began to fade.

In 1987 the Toronto Symphony Orchestra performed for six different language groups above the Arctic Circle. Andrea Hansen, then violinist with the TSO, and Frank Hansen, a Northern fiddler (no relation) discussed the idea of re-introducing the fiddle to the north. Strings Across the Sky was born… a Renaissance idea re-born into a world demanding a human response to a 20th Century human condition.

Andrea Hansen in performance at Shawanaga First Nations with a guest Student Trainer from Holman, NWT.
Hansen engages the audience during a student performance.