Katherine Beem writing on a career change…
Every morning, Alfred Rordame and his wife, Emily, wake up early and drive to one of the many canyons neighboring their Salt Lake City home – usually City Creek Canyon – and take a walk. Back at home, after a nutritious breakfast, Alfred heads out the back door to his cozy workshop. There, while listening to the radio or working in silence, Alfred crafts the stringed musical instruments – violins, violas, and cellos – that have become his calling card.
As a luthier (a craftsman who builds stringed instruments), the 61-year-old Utahan has discovered a fulfilling occupation that mixes creativity, talent, and hard work.
“I put in a big day, but when you love what you do, you don’t notice that. It’s an extended meditation,” says Alfred, who also practices yogic meditation and lives a quiet, mindful lifestyle.
But that doesn’t mean he is confined to his workshop. In fact, it’s the portability of violin making that initially drew his interest. Often, when he goes on travels or when he wanders through the canyon, he’ll take a piece, such as a scroll, to carve.
“It’s a very footloose existence, and you can work wherever you want,” he says.
“I sell my work in shops in town or in Los Angeles. Sometimes you wholesale, and sometimes you consign. In the early days, it’s a lot of that. But as you develop your business, one of the best ways (to sell) is by having relationships with the local strings teachers. Eventually, when you’re well known, the musicians will come to you.”
Crafting violins was not the first professional path pursued by Alfred. Before becoming a luthier, he worked as a graphic artist and website designer…and then traded that in to become a hotelier.
In 2012, Alfred found himself at a crossroad. Returning to graphic design was not something he wanted. “It keeps changing all the time,” he says. “It’s hard to keep up.”
Alfred had always enjoyed carpentry but didn’t like the idea of setting up a large workshop. Having studied music composition at the University of Utah, he was aware of the Violin Making School of America. More than 150 luthiers had trained there since it opened in 1972, so it seemed a perfect fit.
“You can make a violin with tools you can throw in a backpack,” says Alfred.
He graduated from the program about a year and a half ago and has been creating and selling violins, violas, and cellos as a master craftsman ever since.
Each violin takes roughly three or four months to complete, and Alfred sometimes works into the night. His violins are priced for the serious musician, selling for several thousand dollars each, and he likes to cultivate a personal relationship with these musicians so that he can help with adjustment or any maintenance issues on the piece down the line.
“I built it; I know what’s going on there,” he says.
Alfred especially enjoys going to concerts and hearing professional musicians play the instruments he’s made.
“When someone’s playing in the area, it’s just great to go and hear them. It’s one thing to make this piece of art, but it’s another to be involved with the whole chain of life of that instrument. You take it from being a piece of wood to an instrument. And hopefully, a great player is going to take it and make incredible music with it.”
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