Business

Linguist turned violin maker

A mystery illness contracted in Kenya has led a Perth man from one creative line of a work to another which is proving to have recuperative powers.

In 2007, Joel Sheard, now 31, was working as a volunteer linguist in a small Kenyan village when the illness – which causes severe muscle pains, headaches and fevers – cut his missionary trip short.

In late 2007, after he had contracted the illness, Mr Sheard came across violin making when attempting to fix an instrument he had broken 10 years earlier.

Violinmaker Joel Sheard (featured) fixing his great, great grandfather's violin in late 2007.

Mr Sheard fixing his great, great grandfather’s violin in late 2007.

“I’d been sick at home for some time so I bought a repair kit to fix my great, great grandad’s instrument and that was the starting point,” he said.

Fast forward seven years and Mr Sheard now runs one of Australia’s only violin making courses, in the Perth hills.

“My health isn’t as good but I’m a lot happier now than I was before,” he said.

“Having to give up on linguistics doesn’t feel like a failure.”

Mr Sheard says the progression of his first two clients in 2007 gave him a lot of energy.

“Even if I’d been too crook to do anything that week, I’d at least get up there, get the workshop clean and keep myself occupied for one evening,” he said.

“I gained a heck of a lot of energy from watching them progress, so I decided to make a bit more of it.”

In addition to building violins, Mr Sheard teaches more than 20 people how to play the violin.

He is regularly consulted for instrument repairs.

Mr Sheard (right) says teaching people how to build violins is aiding his recovery.

Mr Sheard (right) builds a violin.

Mr Sheard has also appeared on the ABC television show ‘New Inventors’ after creating a device that measures the density of violin wood.

He said similarities between linguistics and violinmaking made the transition easier.

“Developing a feeling for listening to a sound and imagining what’s going on definitely transfers to some extent to musical instruments,” he said.

“There are some fairly obvious overlaps.”

When he contracted the illness, Mr Sheard was volunteering in the Kenyan town of Marigat to develop a written language for the native dialect.

“I remember sitting there thinking: ‘Wow, I’ve got serious butterflies in my stomach, though it is the tropics so the butterflies are a little bigger here’,” he told InkWire.

Symptoms point towards Rift Valley Fever – a mosquito-borne viral disease that led to the death of 20 Kenyan locals during his six month stay.

But he says that all tests, in excess of 50, have returned inconclusive.

“I don’t think I’ll ever know what I picked up over there,” he said.

Categories: Business, Health, Music

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