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She Made a Smooth Transition

She Made a Smooth Transition Sept/Oct Cape Cod Life |

Photograph by Dan Cutrona

Making a violin is a painstaking, time-consuming task. The craftsperson starts by constructing the sides, or ribs, of the violin, using a wooden form cut to the exact outline of the inside of the instrument. The top plate of a violin is made with spruce, while the back plate is made with maple; the two plates are then glued together. The neck and scroll are also made with maple and carved from a block of wood. Most of the work is done using hand tools. Clancy says it takes about 250 hours to make one violin, though her first one took a year to complete. She has sold about 30 of her handmade instruments. Most full-time makers can produce only about 10 handmade instruments a year, she says. “Playing an instrument you have made is a cool experience,” she says. “Not many people can say they’ve done that.”

Clancy’s students range in age from 4 to 78. She loves how quickly her younger students learn. Teaching those who start playing as adults, she says, is a very different process. “Their joints aren’t great, so it can be more of a challenge for them, but they can comprehend better.”

“It’s satisfying to see students go out and play music after I have been giving them lessons,” Clancy adds. Some of her students even step onto the stage during her weekly summer concerts and play for the crowd.

Marilyn Whelden, 68, of Chatham, is a relatively new student. “I used to play in grade school, but life got in the way,” says Whelden. For her anniversary last year, her husband bought her a gift certificate to the fiddle shop for her first lesson in many years.

Whelden says the experience has opened her up to a whole new world. In grade school, Whelden played more traditional, classical music. Playing traditional Irish music, she says, “has been an eye-opener for me because it’s a whole genre I didn’t know of before…. It’s a process, but it all comes back—at least it did for me,” she says with a laugh.

“It’s been wonderful for Chatham to have Rose and her family bring this to Chatham,” Whelden adds. “She is so engrossed in the Irish tradition.”

House concerts are a big part of the fiddle company’s mission. In addition to hosting weekly Tuesday night summer concerts, Clancy runs concerts throughout the year featuring well-known artists like Robbie O’Connell and Frankie Gavin from the Celtic world. “People who are touring and might have an off-night do a house concert for us,” says Clancy. “We are privileged to have them come to Cape Cod.” All concerts are not-for-profit; rather, Clancy asks for donations, which support the performing artists.

Clancy says the concerts provide a relaxed, inviting environment for both the performers and the audience. Right before one show last summer, Clancy stood on stage with her father and, addressing those in attendance, said with a smile, “We don’t even know what we are going to be playing today, but let’s just play.” Soon the musicians were strumming, feet were tapping, and everyone was singing along to the music.

The Chatham Fiddle Company is at 875 Main Street, Chatham. For more information, visit, or call 508-348-1885.

Emily Penn is a sophomore and an aspiring journalist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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