Vahakn Y. Nigogosian VSA Gold Medal Award For Exemplary Service
Hans E. Tausig
Vahakn Y. Nigogosian ("Nigo," as he is known throughout the violin world) is a world-renowned luthier, string instrument restorer, and expert on bow repair. He is a member of the Entente International des Maitres Lutiers et Archetiers DArt, the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, Inc., a Director of the Violin Society of America, and is the Director of the Oberlin College String Restoration Workshop given each Summer at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.
Nigo was born in 1910, in Istanbul, Turkey, where he made his first violin at the age of 15 under the direction of Karekin Kurkdajian. He moved to Paris in 1929 and studied violin making there with Marcel Vatelot. He immigrated to the United States in 1958 and worked in the Rembert Wurlitzer shop in New York City for ten years; he assisted Simone Sacconi there from 1964 to 1968. In 1969 he opened his own shop (Stradivarius Studios) in New York City. He became semi-retired in 1984 and continues to minister to the instruments and bows of his worldwide clientele from his shop, which is now located in his home in Bayside, New York.
This cursorily tells us something about Nigo but there is much, much more. Nigo stems from a tradition of teaching best exemplified by his father, who was a pedagogue and imbued Nigo with the tradition that one is obligated to pass on to others knowledge which one has received from others and aided to during one's lifetime. In short, learning and scholarship are very dear to Nigo's heart, and when this is combined with his unending love and respect for string instruments and their bows-we see just how much of a "teacher" Nigo has been all of his life and how keenly he feels the need to pass on what he knows to future generations.
Nigo was one of the founding members of the VSA back in 1973. From the very beginning of the Society, Nigo preached the need for the VSA to provide scholarships to talented budding luthiers and bow makers. I can not recall a meeting of the Board of Directors during which Nigo did not raise the question of what we were doing in the area of scholarship. In its early days the VSA had very little wherewithal but by 1975 it was possible to give small awards amounting to a total of some $200 during any one year. It was a modest beginning, but for Nigo it was too modest and he was one of the most vocal Directors to insist that one of the major priorities and goals of the VSA should be to "put something back" and help those who could not develop their skills based on their own resources. Nigo never forgot what it was like to starve in Paris and to have to make shoes in order to keep hearth and home together. Nigo was determined that the VSA should become a driving force in making the road easier and more bearable for those intending to dedicate themselves to making and restoration.
One of my own biases during the past twelve years is mirrored in Nigo's scholarship philosophy. It was a pleasure for me to come to each Board meeting, knowing that there was a strong and vocal ally who would challenge all of us to devote our brains and energy to somehow finding the money necessary to help deserving students. The history of the VSA Scholarship Program is rather well known and of course is in place today due to the efforts and concerns of many members of the Board, VSA members, and friends, all of whom formed the team which found the monies so that today scholarship is a vital and integral part of VSA activities. An out-growth of our scholarship program is the String Instrument Restoration Workshop, which was launched last summer under Nigo's guidance and direction. Nigo, along with Carlos Arcieri and Charles Ruflno, initiated the first four-week workshop devoted to instrument and bow restoration. Nigo (at age 77) led the way with the rest of the faculty in spending ten- and twelve-hour days at the bench, teaching and passing on what he and Carlos Arcieri had learned from Sacconi during their own careers.
But how did all this come into being? On May 10, 1986 a dinner party and musical and personal tribute was held in New York City to honor Nigo. The idea was conceived by Charles Ruflno, one of a group of luthiers who had apprenticed under Nigo and for whom Nigo is the Maestro in the same way as Sacconi was the Maestro for Nigo back in the 1960s. The original idea (I had been asked by Charles Ruflno to serve on the planning committee) was that guests would be invited from all over the world and that each guest would cover his own cost for the dinner and festivities. This was the plan until Nigo heard about the project. From that moment on the focal point changed.
Nigo stubbornly decided that he would invite all of the guests at his cost (thus the honoree becomes the host-a truly bizarre way of paying Nigo homage) and Nigo would simply ask all those invited to make a contribution to the VSA Scholarship Fund. We all followed Nigo's dictum with the result that over $5000 was raised that evening, all of which has gone for scholarship aid to worthy applicants.
Shortly after Nigo's dinner tribute, the executive committee of the Board of Directors unanimously decided to honor Nigo's efforts on behalf of scholarships, efforts that had spanned some thirteen years. It was decided to present Nigo with a VSA gold medal at the Seventh International Competition and Fourteenth Annual Convention in Portland, OR-November 9-15, 1986. On Thursday, November 13, at the VSA Awards Luncheon, I was privileged (on behalf of the VSA and all of its members) to present our beloved Nigo with a VSA Gold Medal which has inscribed on the reverse side "FOR EXEMPLARY SERVICE." The words are an understatement, for Nigo continues to be much more than an example to all of us. His philosophy, his willingness and eagerness to share with all what he knows, his generosity both with his time and energy and with the many direct and indirect monetary gifts which he has funneled into the VSA Scholarship Fund-these show the true measure of Vahakn Y Nigogosian. As a Luthier and Maestro he has laid out a way of going that is an inspiration to all who come in contact with him. We are privileged to know him and call him our friend. From all of us in the VSA-Bravo, Nigo, and Thank You!