Dorothy Smith celebrated 41 years in the violin repair business on January 2, 2021. Starting her journey in 1980, after the passing of her grandmother left her a lump some of money, Smith decided to follow her dreams and travel to the birthplace of the violin: Italy. There, she spent a few years in Cremona. In 1988, she saw an opportunity to move to Whatcom and she took it.
Smith had always loved musical instruments, but when it came to the violin, she grew more interested in its craft than actually playing it.
“My hands started developing the muscles for violin work rather than violin notes,” Smith says.
Living in Gooseberry Point, Smith began a repair service for Ray’s Violin Shop, now Quist Violins, where she worked for a few years. In 1990, she decided to move from Gooseberry to Bellingham proper. By late winter of 1991, she had opened her own violin shop on Cornwall Avenue, where it remains today.
At Allegro Strings, you can find a curated collection of unique, fretless string instruments including violins, cellos, and violas, as well as standard instrument accessories. What you can’t find anywhere else, however, are the violins Smith builds from scratch.
The creation of a violin is a long, tedious, and delicate process, but one that Smith loves nonetheless. Most violins start from pieces of special wood Smith brought back from her studies in Italy. First, Smith delicately saws the shape of the violin from the wood, cutting out the shape of the ribs. She then uses heat and moisture to shape C-bout ribs. Next, she joins the neck to the body and continues the process of shaping and sawing until she can combine the pieces to create the violin.
“I’ve got one instrument that I’m varnishing now, and one that I’ve almost finished creating the mold for,” Smith says. “It’s a really slow process, it’s just a whole different set of skills, sort of like the difference between being able to play a violin and make a violin.”
Working with Smith at Allegro Strings is her apprentice, Lori Marshall, who joined the team in 2017 and became a full-time repairer in 2018. Marshall first met Smith through her husband, who is a professional violinist. He had been going to Smith for many years.
Marshall began on the accounting side of Allegro Strings, keeping the books. It wasn’t long, however, until Marshall began apprenticing under Smith, learning to repair violins just as Smith had once learned in Italy.
“To me it was an honor to learn from Dorothy, who’s learned from some of the best in Italy. I feel very grateful and honored,” Marshall says.
Allegro Strings is currently open. With current COVID-19 restrictions, you can call ahead to set up an appointment.
“[Allegro Strings] just has that old-world feel of fine instruments,” Marshall says. “I feel like I stepped into Italy, or I stepped back in time.” 1208 Cornwall Ave., 360.671.8059, allegrostrings.squarespace.com
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