There are many talented aboriginal musicians in Taiwan, including some famous singers and the Taiwu Children's Ancient Ballads Troupe (泰武古謠傳唱隊) who won over the audience at the Taipei 2017 Universiade opening ceremony. But there is one indigenous musician who is considered a “national treasure” – Lu Guangchao (陸光朝) from Tianmu (天母). Lu was certified a Master Violin Maker by the Czech Republic, and is one of few Taiwanese who specializes in fixing, playing, tuning and handcrafting violins - a music master indeed!
Born with an Ear for Music; Advanced his Skills through Practice
Born in Puyuma, Beinan Township, Taitung County, Lu is the son of an aboriginal musician, Lu Senbao (陸森寶), uncle to the famous singer, Chen Jiannian (陳建年). Pop star A-Mei comes from the village next to his. He never did learn how to play a musical instrument, but he has perfect pitch, and can tell instantly when something is out of tune. He says: “Everyone says that aboriginal people are born with an ear for music; it might be so.” He laughs at himself, claiming he was the “couldn’t sit tight” kind of guy, who left home early, joined a monastery, enrolled in an army school, then found work as a policeman and a tour guide. He ended up being a salesman for a company that produced musical instruments and at age 43, he found himself working as an assistant violin repairman. Before long, his boss sent him to the Czech Republic to learn how to repair violins at an advanced level, and this became the turning point of his life.
“I was basically a rookie who knew nothing, and almost got sent back home!” In the Czech Republic, the manager told him to do just one thing every day for two weeks: install lining strips. It sounded simple but it wasn’t. He checked his natural haste and eagerness when facing new challenges, and just tried hard to do a good job. The two weeks passed and the manager gave him another task without saying much more. “At that moment, I knew I had passed the test.” Six months later, he got his certificate, but his weight had dropped by 20 kilos. When his family met him at the airport, they could hardly recognize him. “I looked like a skeleton floating through customs.”
In the music industry, he is known as “Lu the Brave.” When it comes to repairing violins, he shows no hesitation, no matter if it’s a Stradivarius or a Guarneri from 17th-or-18th-century Italy, a fiddle that is several hundred years old, or one worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Some violins are badly made and not easy to repair, but he never turns them down. “The more I repair, the better my skills become. Each violin has been through a long journey, and, hopefully, it will have the chance at a second life.” During the repair process, Lu imitates the player’s bowing technique in order to fine tune the instrument according to how it’s normally played. His intention is to make sure the violin will return to the musician in the best possible condition for peak performance. He smiles and says that what worries him most is when he encounters a player with extreme aural sensitivity. “There are some tones that can hardly be heard, so there’s not much I can do by way of adjustment.” In such a case, he talks to the violinist and then tries to repair according to what he has heard. “Therefore, in addition to good fixing skills, a violin repair master also needs to be a good listener and communicator.”
One time, Lu spent a whole week repairing an old fiddle. The night he finished, an elderly foreigner with gray hair came into his dreams and thanked him. Next morning, while looking through some papers, he discovered that his dream visitor was the same man who had constructed the old violin! This experience of spiritual communication, transcending time and space, still inspires him today. This is Lu’s “Musical life with a soul” and day after day, he never gets bored with it.