We’re interviewing makers from across the country. Today we’re featuring Amanda Ewing, a luthier from Tennessee.
I was chosen by my path not so long ago. Thanks to all of the twists, turns, and detours along the way, lutherie is where I find myself now. It is at times difficult for me to forget the last day I worked in the corporate world, and I am grateful to be where I am. Since then, almost six years have passed.
In 2018 I was really trying to figure shit out. Sometimes one must use the right four letter expletive to become aware of a reality we have longed for but wasn’t able to choose because of fear. When I was trying to understand things in my life, I recall watching Tony Robbins’ ‘I Am Not Your Guru.’ His documented seminar on Netflix, “Date With Destiny” is more than a way to discover who you are; it’s about connecting with your ultimate purpose, embodying your passion, and achieving the life you’ve always wanted. Literally, just what I needed.
It was clear from the start that Tony swore during his seminars. He pointed out that swearing can shock the listener into paying attention, making one uncomfortable, and potentially changing the mind’s emotional and physiological state to influence growth.
I felt his words were my call to courage, along with the question, ‘What does an extraordinary life look like for you?’ It really challenged me to examine myself and to be truthful about the life I desired. As I began to choose what I’d love to do based on how those activities made me feel – happy and joy filled, I did not realize that I was creating an environment for my path to find me rather than the other way around.
During the year of 2018, I had the privilege of living by the YES. I said yes to everything as long as it resonated with me vibrationally, emotionally, and mentally. This led me to dusting off my dance shoes, prying my violin from its case, and exploring the world through travel. Despite my lack of a plan, doing what I loved kept me sane until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. In doing so, I rediscovered the many things I once enjoyed, and even began to daydream – the powerful visualization of our realities before they happen.
I’ve always adored the sound of the stringed instruments: violins, cellos, harps. As a former gymnast in my youth, my floor routine music was often classical with a heavy string presence. I use this as a reference because it helps me realize how long string music has been in my life. I have never lost my love for string music. I’m realizing it now. I was just too far away living the life I’d accepted to hear and be drawn back to its transformation beauty.
My first faint calling came one Saturday morning after I arrived at my community center to exercise. After waking up early, I was feeling good about myself and my efforts to attend an early morning class until I entered an empty room.
As I was somewhat frustrated, I began walking around the facility looking for the instructor while hoping that the class had simply moved to another location but was still being taught. Yeah, nope! Assuring me that the class would return as scheduled the following week, the front desk employee informed me the class had been canceled a few days ago. My inner voice screamed grrrrrrr. My motivation lapsed quickly and I just weaved in and out of the hallways to get back to my car to travel home.
The sound of music could be heard clearly as I passed through one hallway. Seeing as I had nothing else to do, I decided to investigate the source of the sound. The sight of string players from all backgrounds, genders, and ages caught my eye as I peeked through a classroom door. In the practice room, an adolescent player was sitting next to a more seasoned player while working through the details of sheet music together. After I was spotted by a woman standing, I mentally arranged my burning questions as she made her way to the door.
The director of Cremona Strings Ensemble Too and Development Group, Inc., Lisa A. Spells, welcomed me into the space and her presence. The organization provides discrimination-free music education, training, and advocacy to youth, teens, adults, and/or seniors who are underserved, under-represented, and culturally diverse. There was a brief exchange of thoughtful words between us. Little did I know that within a year, I’d not only be a student in the program – partly due to a corporate layoff. It would also present the path to become a luthier.
In response to my persistent curiosity, I was offered the opportunity to learn how to make a violin from scratch. There is no doubt that I did not fully understand what I agreed to. In spite of this, I could not deny my desire to explore something largely unknown to me, as well as the bragging rights that come with making such a majestic instrument. In short, I figured it would elevate my cool and I couldn’t resist!
I always consider this YES to be one of the best decisions I made in 2018. And even though I did not know exactly what I wanted to do in life concerning my career, I was clear about how I wanted to feel daily. It’s really important to feel good. By feeling good, you send out a signal that attracts more of the same to you. So the more you can feel good, the more you will attract the things that make you feel good, and that will keep driving you upward. At least, that is my belief …
It was not long after my path found me that I realized why. Before then, I was literally immersed in the present moment as I made. In the end, it was wise to be here now while surrendering to whatever the future may hold. At the time, it was the best I could offer, and after a few months had passed, casual conversations began swirling around me about Black instrument makers past and present. I never gave it much thought before, but after the seed was planted, I began to wonder who came before. Honestly, I wanted to see a face like mine – any shade of Black or brown.
At that time, my searches only led me back to myself. I found it both strange and disappointing. It was disappointing because historically Black and brown communities have been excluded and not recognized with respect to their contributions in most fields, and I feared that this was the case with lutherie as well. As I have experienced it, in some ways it feels true. There have been instances in which unkindness has felt deliberate in its intent to discourage the pursuit of change. Additionally, feigned support is inevitable when a movement around an upcoming female Black luthier is brewing in a world where such an individual has never been documented. Openly being that person is not something anyone wants to do. It is important to remember, however, that energy is not deceitful.
There are those who have shown up in my space authentically loving with a heart to help and an intention to encourage me, and for that I am truly grateful. It is my hope that you all know who you are. This journey has been exciting and rewarding because of you all and my internal impulse to ensure a safe space for Black and brown instrument makers to thrive. It’s rewarding because a path has been revealed for me to pursue what I really enjoy, and because I get to create impact and display representation along the way to those who are destined to come after me. The importance of representation is undeniable, though not enough by itself, but it serves as a pivotal starting point.
In my newly created online community Black in Lutherie, I hope to document and expand dialogue about Black creatives’ contributions to instrument making in the past and present. In addition to this, I have an undeniable impulse to expand BIL into an incubator for aspiring Black instrument makers. Helping them develop gracefully to their full potential through direct financial, informational, emotional, and social support is a critical component of my vision. I admit I don’t have everything figured out, but what I do know is that every journey starts somewhere.
What I also know for sure is that I didn’t come this far just to go this far. The purpose of my life reaches beyond my own: to show others that they can live the life they envision for themselves despite being underrepresented in a particular field. Beyond that, I desire to inspire courage and confidence to help people live the most meaningful lives of their choosing. Could anyone have imagined that instrument making would lead to such a powerful life mission? It’s a magical endeavor indeed.
For those who also want to pursue any form of woodworking, I say JUST DO IT! If you cannot find a person to learn directly from, there are places such as Wood Craft Supply that offer all types of classes to get started. Interesting enough, online classes exist, too. Learning is not only hands-on, it is visual as well. It’s always better to start somewhere than not starting at all.
In order to do what you love, your actions must support your desires… There’s so much knowledge to consume when it comes to instrument making. Understanding wood types and behaviors, knowledge of hand tools, carving basics and beyond, the metric system, oh my! My advice is to take the process slowly and breathe. It’s not a race, and the small steps towards your goals count.
Lastly, the world needs more women, Black women, women of color, in woodworking or any other field that we are underrepresented in. What inspires me to keep going and keep pursuing is the need for change – first. And second, seeing wonderful and badass women like Jennifer Cardoso – guitar maker, Nicole Crowder – furniture maker, and Char – Woodenmaven creating from a place of love is a gentle reminder that it’s possible for me or you, too.
“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you. ”
― Oprah Winfrey
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
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