Violin strings along on family’s journey

Min Kernaghan with the precious violin.

It has travelled across seas, continents, countries, provinces, towns and even suburbs. It has passed down from generation to generation and now is in the hands of fourth generation family member Min Kernaghan.

Dated 1765, Min’s ancient violin belonged to her father who got it from his father, who was given the precious musical instrument by his father.

Min’s father, Barend Johannes Koen, had the same name as his father and his grandfather – Min’s great-grandfather – who procured the violin as a young man in Germany.

When Ms Kernaghan moved to Parklands at the end of April, she decided it was time to have the violin framed, after all its years in a battered violin case.

Now it is safely kept in a glass box and proudly displayed on a wall in the entrance hall to the home she shares with her husband and daughter’s family.

Inside the violin, is an ancient label that reveals the details of where it was made and by whom: Jacobus Stainer in Absam.

A search on the internet, reveals that Jacobus or Jacob Stainer was a master violin maker who lived in Absam in present day Austria.

He was born in 1617 and died in 1683, and the violin was possibly made in the year 1765 in the same workshop by his heirs or it is a copy of a benchmark Stainer violin.

Min’s grandfather came to South Africa from Germany (she’s not sure where in Germany her forefathers are from) and settled in Knysna, and her father started his family when he became a dairy farmer in Bonaero Park close to Kempton Park on the East Rand of Johannesburg.

Min says as a hard-working man with five children, “there wasn’t much time to discuss his past” but her father did enjoy playing the violin and often joined ministers from the Dutch Reformed Church to play together.

But they did not play classical music, rather enjoying popular dance songs of the time in the first half and early second half of the 20th century.

Her father died young, at the the age of 52 in 1972, and the violin was passed on to her mother, Anne Elizabeth.

When her mother died, Min, as the eldest, inherited the violin.

Min and her husband, John, have moved all over the country, and the violin has joined them on all their travels to each home they have owned in different provinces: to Cintsa near East London, KwaZulu-Natal, Johannesburg and Gordon’s Bay; then Parklands and again to their present home in the same suburb.

“We have moved so many times in our lives, and each time we moved we put the violin with our personal belongings in our car so that it was safe.”

Talking about her days growing up (Min is now 72), she says her dad played the violin often but was mostly busy running his dairy farm and, in the old days, supplied milk to all the neighbours and many outlets in the area.

Family pictures show a robust family of three boys and two girls and a handsome bearded man who is her father. A more recent picture is of Min’s daughter, Lee-Ann, playing the violin at the age of 9.

Lee-Ann, now in her 40s, tried to find out the value of the violin but did not establish its true worth when she posted it on a sales website.

Min says she is not interested in selling it. So for now it will remain securely ensconced in the family home.

Perhaps one day a grandchild – sixth generation Koen – will get the box opened and once more the mellifluous sounds of the bow being drawn across the strings will emit from this instrument that, if it could talk, could tell a tale or two.