'The Work' as Experienced by a Young Violin Maker in London

'The Work' as Experienced by a Young Violin Maker in London

Posted in [Violins] By James Robinson

‘The Work’ as Experienced by a Young Violin Maker in London

Over the years, ‘The Work’ has made a big impression on me, an indelible impression I might add, as a young violin maker working in London, not too many years out of violin making school in Cremona, Italy.

‘The Work’ is what it was called. Some people called it ‘The Third Way.’ What I am referring to is the system or teaching as passed down by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, that strange Russian mystic teacher. I was a member of the London group which was led by the Gloucesters’. I don’t remember their first names.

This was an Esoteric School, not, by any means, a cult. I think there were a number of other groups in London but I have no knowledge of them except that sometimes when I joined a ‘movement’ class, there were lots of people there that I had never seen before.

The Gloucesters had been members of a group led by Maurice Nicoll, a famous psychologist whom I believe spent time with Gurdjieff. Most of the meetings I attended were in the very early mornings at the Gloucesters very exclusive and impressive penthouse apartment across from Hyde Park, in London.

This all came about as a result of a friendship I had with a young violinist who was a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Due to my uncharacteristic insistence, he introduced me to Mrs. Gloucester , however this was not any kind of proselytizing on his part, but rather a strange kind of favor. After an initial conversation with Mrs. G she invited me to join her group, but I was instructed to not discuss anything about the group with any one else. Also, I was never asked for any money nor did I ever pay any money for any of the different meetings and activities I attended over a period of only a few years.

Some of the early morning sessions were about developing ‘attention’ through a special meditation practice. During and sometimes afterwards, I experienced a strange ‘super memory’ that I have not had since. Some meetings involved discussions about ‘attention’ tasks we were asked to secretly practice during the week and others were group readings of Gurdjieff’s main work; Beezelbub’s Tales to His Grandson . Anyone familiar with this book knows that he wrote in an unusual way and had a habit of making up new words loaded with special meanings. Ouspensky’s main book In Search of the Miraculous, was also discussed in some of these meetings.

The Gloucesters also owned a large beautiful estate in the countryside. Sometimes, on a weekend, the group I was in would go there to practice ‘attention’ while performing certain manual activities.

As mentioned above, the ‘movement’ classes were another activity I participated in.

These were practiced in a large group, arranged in rows, beginners like myself, at the back. The music was very unusual and was played on a piano for the class. These movements were very complex, so a ‘normal’ approach of trying hard to remember what to do and what came next was never very successful. Instead, one needed a mental state of heightened ‘attention’ and a kind of letting go/trust to make progress on these movements.

These were interesting times for me and I met some very remarkable people. One of them was Norelle Hardie, a Scottish artist who had been in The Work for many years. As it happens, one thing led to another and we decided to open a violin shop. As luck would have it, she had a couple old friends who assisted us with providing capital and business expertise. A building was acquired right on Portobello Road with a great shop front and two flats above. I lived in one and she lived in the other.

In those days I was a violin maker at the firm of Ealing Strings which was owned by Malcolm Sadler and three partners. The firm had a big workshop and I managed to convince one of my colleagues there Adam Whone to become a partner with us. Later Martin Godliman formally of W.E. Hill and Sons, and then Paul Ayers also joined us as a partner. 

Later, I decided to leave The Work with out any dramas, and I became a Nichirin Shoshu Buddhist, along with Norelle and Adam, but that was all many years ago now…….

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