The Maya violin is made from cedar, mahogany or fiddlewood and is carved using only a machete. Fishing line or twine are stretched over the wood and the bow is fashioned using horsehair.The strings are oiled with the resin of the copal tree.
The Maya violin is an instrument of particular interest in Belize and the modern Maya community since its origins and use play an important role in their trans-cultural diffusion.
Florencio Mes is very likely the most acclaimed artist of his time to play the Maya violin. The Three Kings of Belize is a documentary filmed by a French woman, in recent years, which is of the more popular attempts to explore and document Maya musical heritage in Belize. One of the stars (or more accurately “kings”) of this film is Florencio Mes a native of San Pedro Columbia, a small Maya village in southern Belize. Florencio learned the legends behind the music, as well as how to make and play Maya instruments while in Guatemala in his early twenties and has since then become a great ambassador for Maya culture and music. He has exhibited his talent and heritage in venues such as the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City and numerous music festivals around the globe. Florencio also makes and plays the Maya harp and guitar.
The Modern Maya
Modern day Mayas are increasingly assimilating many cultural traits of diverse origins. Jacques Jangoux, of Ethnic Folkway records comments on the modern Maya musicians in his folk music collection Music of Guatemala.
“both the cultures [Modern Maya and Ladinos] are the result of the confrontation over several centuries of two very different civilizations, the indigenous Mayan, and the Western, introduced by the Spanish in the 16th century. Both cultures have borrowed traits from the other, and this is nowhere more evident than in their music, which is a mixture of European, Indian, and perhaps also African elements…”
Origins, present and future
Of course the true origin of the violin is one veiled in mystery and just as often in allegory. Nothing screams Jew more than “Fiddler on the roof top”. In most accounts Turkish and Mongol horsemen are believed to have made the first violins of bows and horsehair. Much later the first violin sonata was published by Giovanni Paolo Cima in 1610, at the same time Galileo first pointed his telescope at the sky. Another special momement in violin history was when Giuseppe Tartini wrote The Devil’s Trill.
Charlotte Smith , staff writer of the prestigious Gramophone and freelance violinist puts it best when she says “And just as individual musicians have specific styles of performance, the instrument reflects the distinct temperament of its creator… …[The violin is] the most human of instruments…” I was also pleased to discover from the Gramophone blog that just two years ago the 400th anniversary of the first violin sonata was celebrated.
The future of the violin looks even more promising with The Bow Project and the likes of Anne-Sophie Mutter, Eiichi Chijiiwa and Rolf Schulte among other greats carrying on this sublime human tradition which continues to transcend beyond culture, class and creed.