SG Music Co – A tradition of violin making in the heart of Chatham

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Story by: Jeff Wells

Photos by: Martha Manning

The air inside Shay Garriock’s fiddle shop is thick with the fragrance of freshly hewn maple and resin. This is no affectation; at SG Music Company in downtown Pittsboro, violins are sold, repaired, improved, and even made from scratch by Shay right there in the shop. The work is painstaking, many of the instruments the product of as many as 120 hours hand-crafting, some tasks requiring in a literal sense nearly microscopic precision. There are only about a dozen such privately owned and operated shops in the entire state of North Carolina, making SG Music Co. a remarkable resource for Chatham County, made all the more so by Garriock’s welcoming perspectives on music, history, culture, and community.

“I especially want to provide a service”, he says, “to students and folk musicians.” But this sentiment is not universal amongst violin shops, many of which cater primarily to professionals. There can be, it turns out, a philosophical difference if less so a physical one between the violin and the fiddle. Its occasionally difficult to reconcile within a single instrument the culture of Stradivarius and Brahms alongside the culture of the mountains: of backwoods, down-home, good-ol-fashioned music. This duality can sometimes manifest as a sort of paradox, in that so much of the craftsmanship and expertise seems to reside within the first of those camps while more of the accessibility and fun is housed within the second. At worst, this means that a beginning fiddler can sometimes leave a violin shop with a certain underdressed feeling, as though they’ve showed up at the ballet in overalls. But if such a paradox exists, its one Garriock means to remediate.

To hear him talk of the history of old time fiddle music is to understand the history of America itself. It’s tempting, although daunting, to revisit that history, here: our European roots, especially out of the Germanic and Celtic traditions, especially for mountain music. But let it suffice to say that Shay knows it well and plays it, perhaps, even better. Thirty years ago, he began playing on his mothers fiddle, when he was just a teenager, and his career as a musician includes such highlights as a first place finish in the Old Time Fiddle category at the Appalachian String Band Festival in West Virginia, as well as appearances at fiddle workshops all over the region. Put simply, if reductively, Garriock is a peoples luthier, playing peoples music. “I’m an old time fiddler, he says, and that’s all I ever really wanted to be.”

SG Music Company is guided by that fundamental passion for music, and for the community that music can speak to, and for. SG offers lessons three days a week (with Bart Urbanski) for the burgeoning to advanced fiddler, as well as an outright generous rental program that can put a well-crafted instrument in a fiddlers hands for as little as $20 per month. As Shay Garriock is one of the least self-aggrandizing luthiers in the Triangle region, its worth pointing out that this rental program is a truly unique and wonderful opportunity presented to Chathamites by SG Music Company. (Additionally, SG keeps a stock of excellent, less expensive fiddles starting at $325, perfect for a well-crafted intro. fiddle but worry not if you’re a pro; he also carries high-end, hand-made instruments ranging into the thousands.) At the risk of sentimentality, the fiddle has long been an important outlet, an invaluable amplifier for the voice of smaller, often more bucolic communities. Yet subtle, imbedded exclusivity even financial within violin culture has perhaps too often discouraged or quieted that voice, specifically within younger musicians. But right here, in the heart of Pittsboro, is a business dedicated to the encouragement and education of fiddle players at any level, and to the proliferation of one of our regions most important and enjoyable musical traditions.

All the while, Garriock understands that musicians have high standards, and one of the questions he’s asked often is, what are your credentials? And aside from his more official, established credentials as a luthier, it seems that his credentials are, ostensibly, also hanging on the walls of the SG Music Company. And perhaps his credentials are best evinced by his governing philosophy, one that favors intrinsic value as opposed to monetary, which Shay himself describes as, anti-greed, not focused on finding different avenues of charging customers for a service to which he’s dedicated, and in which he is wholeheartedly invested.

This is a common theme amongst many Chatham business owners, who don’t mean to accumulate unreasonable wealth, but would rather pursue something much more valuable: contributing to and supporting their community though the cultivation of their life’s passions. This is not merely honorable, of course, but is downright inspiring. Just as importantly, but much more simply, at SG Music Company, Shay Garriocks philosophy and expertise mean a lot of friendly fun for the community, which, in the end, is what the best music is always about.

Music Company is located at 78 Hillsboro St. in downtown Pittsboro, and provides services for fiddles/violins, violas, cellos, and the occasional upright bass. Please call at (919) 444-4282, or visit their website, http://www.sgmcviolins.com/, for more details.

John Wells has been teaching rowdy collegians English for the past nine years. Originally a proud Ohioan, he has grown to love Pittsboro where he writes, plays music and lives with his wonderful wife Rhianna.

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