A Tree Grows in Beacon


Last week I wandered into a shop off Main Street because of its delightful name - Lord of the Strings. In the two years I've lived in Beacon, I was unaware of the magic taking place beyond the sign above the door. I realized upon entering that this is not just an instrument making workshop, this is where trees go to die, and these trees are definitely in heaven.


I've always been drawn to violins because my father plays Irish traditional tunes on his fiddle, so when I saw the wall of violins my heart skipped because it felt like I was meeting my family. As I shook hands with luthier John Vergara, he offered an informal tour of his process. He is more than a stringed instrument maker. He is a magician who transforms Spruce, Willow, Maple, Ebony and Rosewood into classical guitars, ouds, and violins. Do you have a wounded mandolin or depressed ukulele? This musical medicine man can fix it.


John told me he migrated north from the Bronx many years before I came to the Hudson Valley from Queens. Residents born in this area often refer to us as big city transplants looking for a slice of tranquility. But answer me this, who among us isn’t looking for peace on this earthly plane?


As my eyes scanned the numerous tools and thin strips of back plates and other organic slivers of wood that will soon become the ribs and necks of instruments, John told me about the life and spirit of each piece. I discovered that wood not only has many purposes, but also many lives. He informed me that when he makes a violin or guitar from scratch, each instrument sounds different upon completion because the wood he uses comes from different trees, and each tree has its own spirit, and therefore its own sound.


I was reminded in this sacred work space that there is no such thing as death. When one life cycle ends, another begins. A tree serves its purpose in a meadow providing oxygen, fruit, shade, or a place to nest. When it is repurposed and its branches become the neck of a violin, the transformation is so miraculous it can evoke the strongest emotion from a listener or musician who reawakens the spirit through sound vibrations. It sings with new life and energy. It fulfills its destiny beyond its own imagination.


There is a species of tree called the Tree of Heaven which has a persistent ability to grow and flourish even in a city during hard times. It is a symbol of endurance. We are all trees, growing and transforming. Just imagine how many melodies are lying dormant in our limbs just waiting to be reborn.