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The Wilfred Owen Violin

June 27th 2014    Category: General

For the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War in August 2014, a violin is being made which will have extraordinary historical associations and which can be used for concerts and in an educational outreach programme to a wide and diverse audience for many years to come.

The violin, to be called The Wilfred Owen Violin is being made from a branch of a sycamore growing in the grounds of Craiglockhart, the Edinburgh hydropathic institute which became a most important military psychiatric hospital for the treatment of shell-shocked officers.  Most well-known of the patients, treated were Owen and Siegfried Sassoon (who wrote about his experiences of being sent to the hospital as a response to his anti-war letter a 'Soldier's Declaration' in his semi-autobiographical novel Sherston's Progress).

As it becomes known and used in the future the violin might come to stand for all those who were damaged by their involvement in the war. Its particular links with Owen and Sassoon will be constantly stressed as their stories are told and poems used. Music as a recognised healing power will flow from the instrument and by way of the project to allow discussion of what Wilfred Owen famously called 'the pity of war'.

The violin is being made by Steve Burnett, an Edinburgh instrument maker with a passion for using wood from trees with unique connections to individuals or historical events. He writes, 'For some time I have had in mind to make a violin/fiddle to honour the memory of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and their generation. Now is the most fitting time to realise this idea, with the approach of the centenary of the beginning of the Great War. Inside the violin are the words of Owen's pre-war poem, Written in a Wood 1910. 'We have chosen a limb from a sycamore tree growing alongside a lovely beech tree at Craiglockhart and this will make this a poignant statement of the sacrifices of that generation.'

A number of projects featuring Steve Burnett's instruments have already been successfully initiated. Perhaps the most important of these is the Conan Doyle project: Until 2009 (coincidently the 150th anniversary of his birth) a sycamore tree grew in the garden of Liberton Bank House in the south of Edinburgh, a place where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spent part of his childhood. The tree was approximately 175 years old when it had to be felled because of diseased roots so it is very likely that the great author would have played in and under it as a small boy. Five instruments were fashioned from the wood,  what became known as 'The Sherlock Violin' and two violins, a viola and a cello which have been dubbed 'The Conan Doyle Quartet'. Since they were made the instruments have featured in many concerts in Edinburgh and beyond for a variety of local and international children's and environmental charities. The critically acclaimed 'Sherlock Violin' has been accepted into Edinburgh University's Collection of Historical Musical Instruments and is now valued at £30,000.

Concert and educational work will be very much a priority of The Wilfred Owen Violin Fund project; to engage with young people in particular, as a reminder of the sometime necessity, but ultimate futility, horrors and Pity of War (as Owen entitled his poem) and of the importance of reconciliation and understanding across all nationalities and faiths. The violin will act as a voice for peace and unity and as a hub for schoolchildren and others to consider their opinions through music, art and writing. Plans are already afoot to engage with well known violinists to use the instrument as a voice  and envoy for peace and reconciliation in the spirit of Wilfred Owen and that generation.

The Wilfred Owen Violin Fund

The Wilfred Owen Violin Fund Committee is seeking to raise £10,000 for the making of the violin (£8,000) and the staging of an initial concert to launch the violin.  Benefactors will be acknowledged on a plaque in the War Poets' Collection (part of Napier University's Craiglockhart campus) where it is planned to house the violin in between concert touring in the UK and abroad and visits to schools.

For further information about the Wilfred Owen Violin Fund project please e-mail wilfredowenviolin@gmail.com.  A dedicated account has been set up with the Clydesdale Bank [The Wilfred Owen Violin Fund: sort-code: 826227   account number: 10563307].

Click here to listen to a BBC radio programme about the violin

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