The Musical Woods

August 26, 2020

By Curtis Peter van Gorder

It is called the most human of instruments because it has the noble mission of expressing our deepest emotions. It sings in its deep haunting resonance to touch our soul. Often in the most moving part of a film, a violin or cello will play to emphasize the emotion being felt. As the famous violinist Joshua Bell said, “When you play a violin piece, you are a storyteller.”

What makes these instruments so special? Much study has been done over the last 300 years since the golden days of violin making by the likes of Stradivari. Violins have been x-rayed, analyzed, and measured in a hundred different ways, yet the mystery lingers. Some things defy measurement.

High in the Italian Alps there is a forest called the Musical Woods (Il Bosco Che Suona).1 This is where great violins are born. The best trees endure a rugged climate. Lorenzo Pellegrini is a forest ranger, or a forest gardener, as he calls himself, who passionately tells us how violin trees should grow, “Slowly, slowly, slowly! Up in these mountains, they grow so slowly sometimes they stop growing altogether. They just gather strength. There are trees up here that are a thousand years old. Can you believe that? And there should not be too much water. The tree’s heart should stay dry. That gives the best wood. Solid. Enormous resonance!” he exclaims.

We should remember this when we are going through dry seasons or the Valley of Baca (weeping), as the psalmist calls it. The Master Luthier2 may be preparing us to become an instrument that will beautifully resonate and will move a listener to tears of joy.

The psalmist uses the Valley of Baca symbolically to illustrate a difficult and sorrowful path in life. The name of the valley indicates a dry, arid region since this is where these types of weeping trees (dripping resin) tend to grow. As people traveled to Jerusalem to worship, they would pass through this weary, “weeping” place, but their journey was worth it in the end:

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.”3

In the same way, those who experience sorrow in this life—and who doesn’t?—can find strength in their faith in God. With the Lord held in His rightful place, we can find that the Valley of Baca becomes a very different place. The journey of a faithful Christian through times of hardship is a step-by-step expedition “from strength to strength.”—From

The perfect tree is selected for its tonal quality by people who specialize in this task. People like Marcello Mazzucchi, a retired forest ranger who calls himself “a tree listener,” and who says, “I observe, I touch them, sometimes I even hug them. Look carefully and they’ll tell you their life story, their traumas, their joys, everything. Such humble creatures.” Those with too many branches or which have flaws he ignores. At last he finds one that seems perfect, “Look, it shoots up perfectly straight. It’s very cylindrical. No branches at the bottom. If you ask me, there’s a violin trapped inside.”

Mazzucchi takes out a borer, which is a manual drill, and twists it like a corkscrew through the bark. He listens carefully to the knocking sound the borer makes each time it hits a new tree ring. He pulls out a core sample, and after examining it carefully declares, “Magnifico!”

Jesus says that we have not chosen Him, but He has chosen us.4 But unlike the perfect violin tree, Jesus doesn’t pick people because they are good or perfect. If we look back on Bible heroes like Noah and Abraham, or the twelve disciples, we find that, just like us, they are full of flaws. It must be that the Lord works to perfect that which concerns Him.5 He must see the potential in each one of us and something “magnifico” that we sometimes don’t realize.

Before cutting, Mazzucchi makes sure that there are tiny spruce saplings growing nearby for the next generation of violins. “I’ve felled one million trees in my career,” Mazzucchi says. “But in their place, 100 million more have grown up.”

Removing an adult tree will let more sun in and help the babies mature. “As soon as a tree falls down, those who were born and suffering in the shadows can start to grow more quickly,” the head of the forest service says. And some will be destined to become musical instruments to be played by a maestro centuries from now. The tree dies, but lives on in its new form.

This is the way of luthiers. They have a vision for the future. Like these keepers of the forest, we too should be looking to our legacy and the next generations that will come after us. At just the right day when all the conditions are optimal, the tree is cut into slabs and is put out to dry and then … wait for ten years or more before it is shaped into the wonder we call a violin.6

The next time you hear the haunting refrain of a violin, remember all that went into it. In like manner, perhaps you are a work in progress and what you are going through now is just preparation for that magical moment when the curtain opens and the Master lays His bow upon your strings for you to sing your story.

1 Short documentary on these woods:

2 A luthier is a craft person who builds and repairs string instruments that have a neck and sound box.

3 Psalm 84:5–7 ESV.

4 See John 15:16.

5 Psalm 138:8.

6 The drying or seasoning time for a piece of violin wood is generally ten years or more, depending on its size and thickness. Fifty-year-old wood is even better (

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