For music or arts and crafts, my hometown had not very much to offer.
This changed when an old frail looking white-bearded man moved there. He was a talented musician who played every music instrument on the planet to perfection.
It didn’t matter whether it was strings, winds, or percussion. If it could produce melodic sounds, chances were, he mastered it.
His name was Arthur Skinner, and of course everyone called him “Art” for short and obvious reasons.
He was a talented musician and an artisan as well. He built his own instruments to play in his own concerts.
Of course, he became a local sensation fast.
The youth asked him for advice or even lessons on learning how to play various instruments. Art was a lovely old man. As gentle and kind as you could imagine. He gave lessons for free and integrated his students into his concerts too when they got good enough.
Gifting someone with the ability to make music was his only wish.
I too asked him for lessons on various instruments. In my case it was the obligatory guitar, the trumpet and the violin.
I gave up on the guitar early on. 7 years later, I gave up on the trumpet as well. That left me with one instrument to put my energy and focus on. This decision proved just right. My abilities in playing the violin multiplied in just a few months and I got to play concerts with Art.
A lot of local and non-local musicians wanted to collaborate with Arthur, and he always invited them to join him in his concerts. No matter how good they were, Art just outshined them every time. Not just with his skillful playing, but with the intriguing sounds he coaxed out of his self-built instruments.
No matter what instrument you had, whether you played a $7000 Gibson Les Paul guitar or a 2 Million Dollar Grand piano. You could never produce the sounds he was getting out of his instruments. They had a hypnotizing unique sound to them that just lured everyone in. Even more than just the beautiful melodies he was performing on them.
The music he produced on his own concert instruments was otherworldly. He could play any of his instruments and put everyone in a trance. There was some strange atmosphere going on when Art played his pieces. An indescribable mix of positive natural emotions stirred up by the musical beauty that Art performed for us. Imagine what must have gone through the people’s minds in the movie “Perfume” when they smelled the titular perfume of Grenouille - just with sound rather than smell.
I don’t know how else I could describe that pure emotional and spiritual experience, but this comparison - to me at least fits.
Of course, people discussed whether his secret lied his virtuous play and techniques or in his instruments. I got to admit it was us students most of the time. Many of us got frustrated. No matter how hard we trained or how well we played, we felt like he refused to show us how to reach the next level of mastery of our instruments.
Even I, his best violin student, knew he not only held back a personal secret, which I understood, but I believed he held me and the other students back as soon as we reached a critical point in our progress. Art just refused to teach us anything other than techniques, theory, and site-reading.
One time I asked him how I could build my very own Violin to produce the same hypnotizing music. He just ignored my question and continued his lesson. I never asked again.
My relationship with Art profited from this decision. Although he never had a bad day, a foul mood or was angry, I sensed our lessons became much less stringent. He seemed to enjoy teaching and performing with me more than with others. I guess this was his way of expressing his appreciation for me not getting on his nerves any further.
He became a surrogate grandpa to me, and since Art had no family of his own, he took on that role just as he took on teaching us.
Over time, Art became known as the Da Vinci of music, because of his sheer endless musical talents and abilities. His concerts became the most exclusive in the land. Every musician sought lessons from him. But Art stuck to the students that came to him first-meaning us pestering small town kids.
But Art did not get younger. His slim body got more and more skinny, and his usually steady hands started shaking. Everyone could see that Arthur Skinner would not get much older anymore.
Considering the ever-shrinking time-span we had to learn from him we tried to get as many lessons as possible and appeal to his standards as much as we could because secretly, a lot of us hoped we might inherit one of his famed legendary concert instruments if we just could impress him enough. Weeven saved up on money to have the chance of buying at least one of them if his possessions would get auctioned off after his death.
Pretty morbid, I admit, but the way he handled his self-built instruments and that unique hypnotic sound they produced were more than reason enough for us to obsess over owning at least one of them.
Back then, if I had the choice of owning either a real 40 Million Dollar Stradivarius or Art Skinners Concert Violin, I would have taken Arts Violin any day.
And so, two more years passed. Arthur Skinner died of old age peacefully in his sleep. People at once looked for Arts instruments. It didn’t even matter if it was by legal means or not.
As his favorite and best violin student, the others came up to me. But even I had not the slightest idea where he stored them. I only could assume. I believed, since they were priceless and he was so protective over them, he would not have risked them being stored somewhere he could not watch over them permanently. This sounds like grave robbing or being heartless, ungrateful and greedy for someone’s possessions, I know, but believe me, you would understand if you ever heard these instruments in play.
People later banked on the belief that his belongings, including the concert instruments, would get sold off soon. However, a mere day after his passing, his house suddenly got closed off by authorities and the property got swarmed with police. Soon rumors started, saying someone might have killed Art over his unique instruments, and police forces were now looking for clues on who it was. After all, the entire town was after his concert instruments in secret. Everyone blamed everyone else. Soon, no one trusted anybody else in our town, based on mere rumors with no proof.
It was weeks until the secret of the police investigating around Arts property got lifted.
The investigation report showed that “Art” or “Arthur Skinner'' was not the old man’s actual name. Police found inconsistencies in his birth certificate.
It turned out that his actual name was Oscar Sherfield; wanted for violations of graves, grave robbing, and desecration of corpses.
That meant, of course, that his music instruments would not get sold off. The lead investigator said that Arts instruments will never get sold, ever. The reason behind this answer shook us to the core and suddenly it clicked in our heads and everything made sense-grim sense.
“Art Skinner” was not a name Oscar had chosen by random.
He went from being the Da Vinci of music to being the Ed Gein of music within seconds. Art built his instruments using human remains!
The strings on his violin, harp, piano–basically on every string-based instrument of his used human tendons. The bridges were joint sockets, the bowstrings were a mixture of ulnas and primed human hair woven together. There were Saxophone reeds made of shoulder blades and collarbones, picks made from finger bones. Drums used human skin and rib bones. Mouthpieces for Trumpets and trombones were vertebrae carved into shape. Basically, Oscar used nearly every part of the human bodies he exhumed and robbed for his instruments. He didn’t even waste the wood of the coffins and used it to shape violins, cellos and violas out of it.
“Art Skinner” -That sick bastard.
Still, everyone adored him when he was alive, when he taught us music with his ever so sweet grandpa charm, when he played these ghoulish instruments for us, which sound we loved so much. After the news broke, everyone turned his back on Art. At once, none of our admiration for him and his music was ever real.
“I knew something was off all along.”
“I have never been to one of his concerts.”
False pretenses like these became common. I was furious and disappointed to witness people treating Art like this. They knew him for years and he gave them so much!
I too condemned Oscar Sherfield’s actions, but that man was a stranger to me. That is why I still remember him as Art. Not Oscar. No matter what his actual name was or who he was before he moved to our town. Everyone knew him as Art Skinner. A lovely, wholesome virtuoso on a plethora of instruments. A teacher. Kindness personified. A lovely old man, who introduced our entire town and an entire generation to the beauty of classical music.
This is everything I am going to remember him for. Especially because no one else will.
I moved away after the events surrounding Art. I still remember his lessons though and practice daily.
Sometimes I get melancholic when I think about my years with grandpa Art. When that happens, I put away my instrument and pick up the present I got from Art at my last violin lesson.
I wrote a piece for my old teacher, surrogate grandpa, and friend that I play with his gift only. Shedding tears while my bow flies over the strings, I listen to this hypnotic sound my gift produces.
It now has these chilling ominous undertones vibrating through my entire body and mind, adding up to an overall new feeling and atmosphere. Chilling yet soothing, horrifying yet horrifyingly beautiful.
I play it to the best of my abilities, still trying to one day match Art’s mastery of it. There still is a long road ahead, but my progress is fast and steady. I will match Art Skinner one day, and one day I will surpass my old teacher.
I never forgot a single lesson he taught me. I especially took to heart how to take good care of my gear. Playing on my gift wears it down, and it will need maintenance too. Soon I will have to re-string it and thanks to the lead investigator’s remarks back then, I now know just the right place to go for picking up new “strings”.