Written By Content Writers for My Local Utah
One of my favorite chapters of my life was during the years I served in the symphony world, putting pen to paper to author all sorts of printed pieces that brought people into the magic of music and savoring hundreds of concerts from both behind and in front of the stage. I witnessed how music lit up a child’s face with joy and promise and how instruments from centuries past merged with great artists to reach and restore the soul of every listener. Upon hearing Joshua Bell, I was especially drawn to the violin as he transported otherworldly sounds from his instrument. So, when I took the leap into the children’s book writing world, these moments inspired The Sound in the Woods, the story of a young boy’s journey toward becoming a violin maker and the passing down from father to son of a nearly lost art.
The writing of The Sound in the Woods began with a road trip into the Pacific Northwest to visit with David Gusset a violin maker who would become the cornerstone for the book’s creation. My discovery of David happened by sheer luck. His name was the first to pop up on a web search as I was looking to find a luthier with whom I could research the art of violin making. Intrigued by David’s ties to my home state of Utah — he was one of the first graduates of Peter Prier’s Violin Making School of America in Salt Lake City — along with his mastery in creating what some deem as the ‘world’s most beautiful violin,’ I called him up. What ensued was extraordinary…
When David opened the door to his workshop — a wooden structure tucked behind his home in Eugene, Oregon, I felt as if I had stepped back more than five centuries when the art of violin making was born. Warm bulbs hanging from the ceiling and a quiet natural light illuminated this one-room shop. A crowded array of hand tools lined the wall just beneath a row of stringed instruments in various stages of creation or repair. Books about music, physics, and architecture stood on shelves. Patterns and pieces of instruments were scattered across well-loved workbenches, among swirls of wood shavings. Creaking stairs led to an attic where David lifted a block of red spruce from a carefully stacked trove, and we made our way back down to begin lessons in this art form.
David handed me the wood and asked me to tap it and listen. From this small piece of spruce came the most beautiful ringing tone. I was riveted as I learned what made this wood so magical. For centuries, the red spruce tree has flourished in a forest that stretches along the slopes of the Dolomite mountains in the Val di Fiemme of northern Italy. The cold air of this region coaxes the spruce to grow straight and tall at a slow, slow pace, packing the tree rings tightly together and giving the wood great strength. With years of drying, the wood acquires this ringing quality that no other wood can match. The red spruce tree held the kind of wonderment that every writer hopes to harvest for a story.
Reaching into a small tub in the corner, David plucked a smooth pink stone from a colorful grouping and set it on the table. He said these stones were used to sharpen every tool he made —an essential step for an artist whose every violin was crafted solely by hand with the same patterns, materials, and methods as the old masters. The next three days were spent soaking in the science and subtle nuances of David’s artistry — the kind of skills and understanding that create remarkable instruments with the same warm, rich tones that had captivated me in Joshua Bell’s performance.
When the lessons came to a close, and the recordings of David’s every word were packed in my bag, I realized this visit had offered more than just the foundation for my children’s story. It was the start of a friendship with a humble, hardworking man who dedicated his life to creating the ‘sound in the woods’ so the violin’s music would never end.
I wrote The Sound in the Woods in celebration of all the moments along the way to making a magnificent instrument and to illuminate all the time-honored traditions and treasures of a trade that must continue to live. So, in harmony with the violin’s creation, a lyrical narrative was shaped shined, and refined.
Now nestled within the vibrant watercolor paintings of illustrator Bradley Clark, the story of The Sound in the Woods is making its way into the hearts and homes of families. I give my heartfelt thanks to luthier David Gusset and illustrator Bradley Clark for making this book possible. And to every child and adult alike who reads The Sound in the Woods — may its story be an enduring reminder that you have an artist inside, and any dream you dare to dream can be yours.
The Sound in the Woods was honored with a First-Place award at the Writer’s Day Contest presented by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators of Los Angeles. The editor who judged the story shared these words…
“The Sound in the Woods is a lovely and moving piece of writing… The sense of place, the
woods, and the sense of time – summer, ground the story and make it an earthy experience. The father-child relationship is warmly satisfying. The subject matter is unique, introducing children to the art of making an instrument in a highly personal and accessible way.”