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America at War

Making Violins in the Midst of War

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Second Shift
(Sarah Lemanczyk)
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There's barely room for two people in Korinthia Klein's studio, and my head keeps bumping into one of the violins hanging from the ceiling. I keep hoping Korinthia doesn't notice. She's standing over a desk, in a t-shirt and shorts, making a tiny pile of sawdust.

"A millimeter is like a mile in violin making," she says.

"I like the process. I like actually sharpening my tools, and there's just something wonderful about being able to impose your will on the wood. You get to make your own ideas pop out."

Korinthia apprenticed under a master violin maker for a number of years and spent time working in a repair shop. Then she began to build her own. She was a music major in college, but one who found that she enjoyed making violas more than playing them.

"It doesn't mean anything to you if I tell you I played some piece fabulously yesterday I have to do it again today," she explains. "And it's disappearing as you're doing it. It's definitely rewarding in its own way, but to have something done at some point is wonderful."

Klein builds about half her instruments on commission. So as soon as one is finished, there are another half-dozen in the wings.

"So I've got my wood picked out for that one," she says pointing. "This is actually a Guernari 1737 model that I've done before, and that I'm looking forward to doing again."

Korinthia has to stop there and go check on a baby crying in the other room. Quinn is eight months old and just waking up from a nap. Most instrument makers are not consistently interrupted by wailing infants or demands for popsicles. But since September 11th, Korinthia knew her "normal" days were numbered.

When she married her husband Ian, he was in the reserves, but it wasn't a big part of their lives. Now, his service is at the center of her world. Over the past year-and-a-half he's been back only once: for Quinn's birth.

"I asked him, half jokingly, before he left if he was looking forward to getting back so he could sleep," she said. "He said yes, it's much quieter there with the mortar fire there then it is here with the baby and the kids."

Ian tells her she has the harder job. And it's a lonely one - Korinthia says it's almost impossible to find any "been-there, done-that" camaraderie. Except for her grandmother, who was in a similar situation in World War II.

"It's exhausting," says Korinthia. "And it's frustrating. She's a sympathetic ear. And she understands. So if I call and I'm crying and I say, 'today, this is just hard,' she would just say, 'I know, I know.' And I know she does. And that means the world some days."

And while Klein believes in her husband's service, she doesn't believe in the war he's been sent to fight.

"Everyday that I worry that if something happened to my husband, I'm trying to imagine looking at my kids and saying, 'Well, at least he did it for... ' and then I wouldn't know how to finish the sentence," she says. "It's very distressing to not be able to feel confident about why we're sacrificing what we're sacrificing. It's very upsetting."

Meanwhile the kids are horsing around in the next room.

"I'm quite sure I'm the only shop in town with an Easy-Bake oven in it along with all my finger planes," Korinthia says.

The studio, with its cramped quarters and waiting stacks of wood, is more than a source of income and a place to ply a centuries-old trade. It is her connection to her old self-or rather, a self that has nothing to do with the military or motherhood.

"I've made a real point in trying to get there whenever possible, so some element of myself is still here, that I've preserved in a corner of the house," she explains. "I'll stay up the extra hour between midnight and two and just do something. And I feel more like myself, which has been a real saving grace for me."

With Ian returning from Iraq, Klein was worried about fitting their lives back together, until he told her to forget it. He's ready to start a new life with her.

They're going to open up a joint-retail establishment. Korinthia's half will sell violins and cellos with a real studio in back, and Ian's half will be filled with the clicks and whistles of model trains. And probably an Easy-Bake oven too.

More stories from our America at War series


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Richard Bass

    From Tucson, AZ, 03/26/2008

    Wonderful story that illustrates the power of creativity in a time of separation and sacrifice. I was so impressed by this story and how Korinthia
    is not only coping with the war, but producing and thriving by delivering her talents through
    the music these beautiful handmade instruments will produce. Amazing to hear something so postive in view of the negative conditions throughout the world. My thanks to she and her husband for their service to this country. Richard--Tucson, Arizona

    By korinthia klein

    From milwaukee, WI, 03/22/2008

    What a strange surprise to be hearing a rerun of your interview with me while sitting in my new store! The model train half of it is on hold, but the violin shop is up and running. Check it out if you have time at http://www.korinthianviolins.com/

    Good program today--thanks for letting me be a part of it.

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