Violinist, violin maker are in harmony

President Thomas S. Monson recently was treated to a violin recital that served as a kind of "Chapter Three" in an on-going real-life account of a young woman's love of music and determination to conquer challenges.

"Chapter One" harks back to November 1995, when Melissa Engle performed a recital in the Church Administration Building for President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency; his wife, Frances; and his office staff before leaving to serve in the Croatia Zagbreb Mission.Melissa, born with just a thumb and only portions of each finger on her right hand, is an accomplished violinist. As a youngster, she discovered through trial and error that she could manipulate the violin's bow by gripping her thumb around it and pressing it into the palm of her right hand. She had no problem fingering the strings with her left hand, which had developed normally.

President Monson learned about her and her accomplishments when she, as a teenager, was accepted to attend an intensive eight-week music training course at Interlochen, one of the world's renowned music camps located on a lake in Michigan. The cost of attending ran into several thousand dollars; she could not afford the cost. About a week before the deadline for sending in the money, Melissa and her mother, Lynette, were called into the office of a man who had a grant for someone with a handicap who was pursuing the arts. The grant covered the cost of the music camp.

When President Monson heard about Melissa, he arranged to meet her and her mother; he has kept track of Melissa's progress ever since and has, upon several occasions, spoken of her as an example of one who has persevered.

The Nov. 25, 1995, Church News reported on the small recital Melissa performed for President and Sister Monson.

It was at this point that "Chapter Two" began: Clif Alsop, at his home in Salt Lake City, was drawn to the article as he read the Church News. For years, Brother Alsop, a member of the South Cottonwood 10th Ward, Salt Lake South Cottonwood Stake, has made violins as a hobby and has become an expert craftsman. Several violins have been placed with musicians in New York and other eastern states, and he has donated some to talented youth who have needed assistance in their musical pursuits. A former member of the Utah Symphony, he studied the photograph accompanying the article about Melissa and wondered about the quality of the violin she was playing.

Putting down the newspaper, he picked up the telephone directory. Using information gleaned from the article, he found the phone number for Melissa's home, called and spoke with her and her father, Roy Engle. He asked quite pointed questions about her violin, and learned that it had cost about $100 when she bought it several years earlier. Brother Alsop figured that the violin was of rather poor quality.

After he hung up the telephone, he went to his workshop and selected his best violin. It was made of the finest woods he could purchase from throughout the world: The back, sides and scroll were of maple, having come from what was then Yugoslavia at the time he purchased it from a dealer in West Germany; the top was made of Swiss pine, and the finger board and pegs were made of ebony from Africa.

With the violin safely nestled in a carrying case, Brother Alsop went to sacrament meeting in the Taylorsville Gardens 1st Ward, Taylorsville Utah Central Stake, on Sunday morning, the day after he read about Melissa. It was the last Sunday she would be home before entering the Missionary Training Center. Just a few minutes before the meeting began, he presented the violin to her.

Stunned, she searched for words, thanked him and blurted out, "I'll put this away until I return home."

"No," the violin maker responded. "You take this with you to Croatia." (Missionaries do not generally take musical instruments on their missions. However, her missionary calling included violin performances.)

"If anything happens to this violin, I'll give you another one," Brother Alsop said. He insisted that she take the very best instrument on her mission. After all, he reasoned, she would be playing while on the Lord's errand. He felt it appropriate that she take the violin to Croatia, near the very region in which much of its wood had been grown.

"Chapter Three" opened just recently, a couple of months after Melissa returned from a successful mission as she and Brother Alsop, 84, went to the Church Administration Building and met with President Monson. She happily reported that the violin had been very helpful to her during her mission, that many people listened to the missionaries after hearing her play.

With President Monson, members of his office staff and several of her family members present, she gave a solo performance of several classical selections, hymns and Croatian folk tunes.

Then she, with her magnificent violin in her hand, played a duet with the magnanimous violin maker at her side. It was the first time they had performed together.

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