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Santa Rosa Symphony League’s ‘Evening in Vienna’ fundraiser: Broken violins as works of art

Just because a musical instrument is broken doesn’t mean it has to be thrown away. A glance at the? internet offers repurposed concepts: drum set turned chair and ottoman; grand piano bookshelf; tuba planter; clarinet lamp; guitar clock.

This is the idea behind the stringed instruments - primarily violins - that have been transformed into works of art by 26 local artists and will be up for auction at the “Evening in Vienna” fundraiser April 14 for the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra, which turns 60 next year.

“We touch the lives of about ?30,000 students though our music education programs,” said Elizabeth Kern, event chair and past president of the Symphony League. “Our mission is to have music make a difference in the lives of students in the community.”

“Evening in Vienna,” organized by parents of Youth Orchestra members and the Symphony League, features live and silent auctions showcasing 24 violins, a cello and a bass - all no longer playable.

While thinking of ways to raise money for the Youth Orchestra’s June trip to Europe, Kern recalled a symphony event a decade ago that featured painted violins. “I looked up painted violins on the web and found some beautiful pictures, though not many organizations have done this.”

Some of the donated violins were in pieces, said Wendy Cilman, the symphony’s director of education. “One came in bandages, tied up like a mummy.”

But while the damage left the instruments no longer useful to a musician, artists invited to work with the violins regarded this as challenge and inspiration. That was the case with Graton mixed media painter Marylu Downing. She was one of the last artists to select her violin.

“There were only a few left,” she said. She was drawn to one that looked “like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.”

Downing played first violin in her elementary school orchestra and said, because of those early years, the creative process brought back “a lot of pleasant memories.”

A self-described “story painter, a narrative painter,” she said her concept changed as she worked on her piece. At first, she said, it seemed “really fire-influenced, but then I realized this is for kids’ music and wanted to make it more fanciful and playful.” Spiraling wires, “as if the strings had come loose,” suggested Rimsky-Korsakov’s lively orchestral interlude “Flight of the Bumblebee,” so she topped off the effect with a large bumblebee. “I added lights at the last second,” she said.

Artist Carole Watanabe’s violin was created to honor her sister, a violinist in youth orchestras. Driftwood forms her sister’s legs, ending in tiny red leather shoes. On the reverse, Watanabe inscribed, “To believe in music is to free your heart and mine.”

In addition to the live and silent auctions, “Evening in Vienna” offers champagne, wine and desserts. Appropriately for a Viennese-themed evening, there will be waltzing, including a demonstration and instructions, and the opportunity for keepsake photos of guests in boas and top hats.

This being a musical fundraiser, students from the Youth Symphony will perform Viennese waltzes and music from “The Sound of Music.” One of the stops on the trip is Salzburg, where the movie was partially filmed.

The 71 young musicians, ranging in age from 10 to 23, also will play in concert halls in Vienna and Budapest.

“The cities are the heart of classical music,” said Kern. “Our hope for the students is exposure to different cultures, especially there, where western classical music began.”

Students leave for Europe June 19, and will perform a “Bon Voyage Concert” at 3 p.m. June 16 at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall on the Sonoma State University campus, with tickets $5-$20.

Event proceeds will be used for Youth Symphony scholarships.

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