A short biography of Jill Woodward, musician born in 1920 who is currently a member of the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra in Auckland, New Zealand.
Jill Woodward has devoted her life to violins, but only one violin has devoted its life to her, a famous instrument dating from 1765 that now enjoys pride of place with the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra that regularly performs in downtown Auckland.
Although the violin’s owners have never been traced by name, it’s a matter of record that the instrument once belonged to a Jewish musician in Europe who passed it on to an eastern European family before being arrested and then killed in one of the Nazi death camps. Jill might not have ever known the sound of the owner’s voice, but every week she is reminded of the sound of his heart.
John Woodward, who was born in 1920 and later employed by the New Zealand government to help settle Jewish refugee families in Europe who had survived the Holocaust, lived in Geneva for many years. Through his work with the resettlement programme, he got to know Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Europe from 1966-1978, who entrusted the violin to John’s care on behalf of the family for whom he had been holding it in trust. The Prince expressed the family’s hope that the original owner of the violin or his descendants could be found.
That wasn’t to happen. But John did pass the violin over to his younger brother, Denis, who had married Jill. When Jill first saw the violin it was cracked and discoloured, it lacked strings and pegs, and the bridge was missing. It looked ripe for the scrap pile. However, when the violin’s new owner realised the path it had travelled since its manufacture, she gave everything she had to restore it to its former glory, a task that would occupy her for three years.
Today, she plays the same violin regularly in the St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra. And each time she plays the violin, she says, her thoughts are with its original owner, so long ago and far away, separated from the creation he most admired.
Image above header: Jill Woodward. Photograph reproduced here with the permission of Jill Woodward. Photography by Stephen Robinson. © JoM 2012