Interview - Warren Nolan Fordham
January 2006 : Warren Nolan Fordham (Vol.2 No.1)
Interview recorded by S.Kenan on 15/12/05
in 1958 in Burnie Tasmania, Warren started playing on his grandfather's
violin at the age of 10 years. He moved to Melbourne at 15 and
performed with the Whitehorse Youth Orchestra. By the time he was 20
after 10 years of lessons, he was playing in a string quartet Warren
left school at 15 to begin an apprenticeship making and repairing brass
musical instruments. In his spare time he made a violin. He worked as a
repairer in several Melbourne music shops before he decided to focus on
violins. As a performer Warren says "The nerves got the better of me"
and he turned his back on performing to concentrate solely on
Warren Forham describes himself as an
'Anti-Fundamentalist' Tim Dub describes him as, "a kindly, gentle man
seeking to get by in an age whose values, methods and societal
organisation do not suit him." I interviewed him at his workbench while
he was sculpting a violin belly. Each violin top is tuned to specific
notes as it is being fashioned. This is highly skilled, detailed work.
The craftsman must have a good musical ear and works as a sculptor does,
by removing the unnecessary to reveal the artform inside the raw
product. Warren calls this 'plate-tuning' or tuning the sounding board
at the carving stage.
Q. What is your earliest memory of the violin?
I visited my grandparents which was nearly every weekend as a small
child. I would drag out, from under a chest of drawers, my grandfather's
violin. It was in a wooden case and I was so fascinated I would look at
it for hours. My grandfather was too ill to play it for me so I never
got to hear it.
Q. What happened to the violin?
Well I got
it when I was eleven. It was repaired for me at that stage but since
then I have fully restored it. I actually sold it the other day.
Q. You use Australian timbers in your instruments. Can these compare with traditional European woods?
strongly believe that Australian timber is in every way superior to the
small range of European woods. I have been using and researching
Australian timbers for over thirty years. It is about fifty percent more
stable, more resonant, colours are great. But the fact that it is more
resonant and responsive is the reason why I use it.
Q. What about the top? Isn't spruce the ultimate sounding board material?
King Billy (Australian native pine) Nearly every violin I make has a
King Billy top but there are other timbers. If I use European timbers I
wouldn't use the traditional violin making spruce. I'd use stuff like
Baltic pine, hoop pine or Canadian spruce. That's the only spruce I
Q. Do you still play the violin?
Keep my hand
in? Yes. I just keep playing. These days I am mainly interested in
Baroque. Going through the Bach partitas and sonatas just as a matter of
interest. As technical exercises. I think you should do that every day.
haven't done any concerts for a long time. I have got to learn the
double bass. Occassionally if I am really drunk at some ceili I'll stand
up and play something.
Q. Do you make bows?
Baroque bows although modern bows are easy. The imports have killed
that. They are beautifully made. The Chinese bows are really great. You
can't compete with that. Unless someone wants a really special thing
that's made out of Australian timber well that's fine.
Q. I met a
fellow in Tasmania this year who hadn't had his bow re-haired for
thirty years. Yet it seemed like it was in excellent condition.
That's appalling. The hair goes bald. Just like a tyre needs a
re-tread. Professional players usually get them re-haired every three months.
Q. How many hours a week do you devote to violin making?
that was an interesting question. My entire mind and being is obsessed
with it. So every awake hour is the situation there. It has been my
whole life, I have known nothing else except for time off when I go
gambling so that's it. Gambling and
violin-making, that's it. I had
several paths I could have gone on but nerves got the better of me.
Stage fright and international travel, its upsetting. I hate planes. So I
crossed that off the list and just became a part time player. Hobbies
are a career as well with goldsmithing and silversmithing, sculpture and
pyrography and art (poker-work) Tattooing was an interest of mine a few
years ago. I am an artist, a pencil artist, and I design all my own
instruments because I have got a very artistic eye and a photographic
I was a blacksmith as well. I had to give up more
recently the metal work, permanently, life is too short, we haven't got
long to go and that's it, finished. I have to specialise in the violins.
Q. What other projects are you working on at the moment?
main purpose is to do research and development of acoustics and plate
tuning to greater perfect the various forms of instruments.
Q. How would you describe 'wolf' notes?
Nolan FordhamA shuddering note that does not focus on the one note but
oscillates between two notes, either side of the one that is supposed to
be playing. You can move those around and the research involved there
is totally time consuming and interesting. I have only had a slight wolf
note in a violin once, very early on. Cellos are prone to wolf notes.
Q. What is your favourite instrument?
Bottesini's (1821-1889) music for double basses. Fantastic. Magnificent
instrument the bass because of its huge compass and voluptuous sound.