From her workshop in Heid Music’s front window, Kara McCanna coaxes infinite circles of stories from the instruments she builds and repairs.
A professional violinist and luthier, Kara works with precision instruments to build ethereal ones. She is the conduit between musician and instrument, the means by which each has the ability to play on.
“It feels like a gift to be able to help people create and experience music,” she said.
Her work requires a unique set of skills ranging from math and science to art and woodworking. She can build a viola from scratch or repair a 200-year-old violin. Last year, she restored a Vuillaume violin.
“I take just as much care in restoring economical violins as I do with those of substantial value,” she said. “They all have a voice, and you can make an improvement to the sound of any instrument by putting in place a proper set-up and understanding the mathematical relationships and how the acoustics function.”
“I recently asked if we could source some instruments that have good bones from auction houses. I was able to get and restore seven. Two have since sold.”
A violinist since the age of three and the daughter of an artist and woodworker, Kara comes to her craft naturally.
“We’ve lived in some remote areas so, when my violin needed repair, it was often easier to figure out how to do it myself,” she said.
In addition to an innate skillset, she has an impressive list of credentials. She attended the Chicago School of Violin Making, while simultaneously earning a degree from the Appraisers Association of America Comprehensive Appraisal Program and a certificate in Museum Studies from Northwestern University.
In May of 2020, she graduated summa cum laude from the Violin Repair program at Minnesota State College Southeast Red Wing Campus and was one of ten recipients nationwide to be awarded a historic instrument loan from the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America. Kara is a member of the International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen, British Violin Making Association, Violin Society of America, Appraisers Association of America, Hardanger Fiddle Association of America, and the Guild of American Luthiers.
When she is not building and restoring instruments, she is playing them as a violinist with the Weidner Philharmonic Symphony and as a coach for the Fox Valley Youth Symphony viola section. In fact, according to Kara, nearly all her colleagues at Heid Music are also professional musicians.
“They really understand music and instruments and it’s neat working with a bunch of experts. That makes it fun,” she said. “I’m just so impressed by them and how they work hard to support their community. It’s a real culture of kindness.”
So, the next time you stroll past Heid Music in downtown Appleton and see a young woman working in the window, stop in and say hi. She and her instruments have some fascinating stories to tell.