If you play the violin, this instrument may look familiar. But if you’re someone like me, who only took three years of piano lessons as an elementary student and can barely hammer out a few Christmas songs on my parents’ piano (much to their chagrin), you may wonder what this strange object is. It is a practice violin believed to be from the 1850s. This practice violin has a wonderful carved animal head as its scroll.
Practice violins have been played since the eighteenth century. Sometimes called a silent or mute violin, it is hardly that. The strings vibrate in the air when played with the bow causing sound; however, because this violin does not have a resonating chamber, the sound is not very loud. Instead of being played for performances, this violin would be good to practice with when you do not want to upset your neighbors or fellow family members.
This particular practice violin was owned by Rockford musician Augustus Dedrickson. August immigrated to Rockford from Germany in 1854 at age 24. He served in the Civil War as a musician in the 11th Illinois Infantry Band. He enlisted on September 23, 1861 and was discharged July 29, 1862.
August Dedrickson is considered a pioneer band and orchestra leader in Rockford. In 1867, he organized and led the Forest City Band while participating as a cornetest. His Opera House Orchestra was an outgrowth of the Forest City Band. He led both for thirty years. Eventually, the Forest City Band’s named changed to the Rockford Watch Company Band and later to the Third Regiment Band.
Not only did August play several instruments, he built, repaired, and sold them as well. This ad appears in the 1874-1875 Rockford City Directory. According to the ad, he also sold engravings, picture frames, and toys, as well as acting as an agent for the Germania Life Insurance Company.
This ad from the 1885-1886 Rockford City Directory promotes another community role played by Dedrickson. He provided bass and string music for different events such as parades and dances.
By his death in 1902, August Dedrickson was well-known as a respected musician. A Rockford newspaper said that August was “never a brilliant player… [but] counted among the best of local talent… [who] played more dances [in Rockford] than any other living man.”
Practice violins like August’s are far from outdated. They can still be purchased in music stores today. While they haven’t changed too much in terms of design and appearance, there is more the violinist can do besides avoiding complaints from the neighbors. This is a SV-150 Silent Practice Plus Violin from Yamaha. Now the practice violin comes with a control box featuring a digital tuner, digital metronome, and over 20 digital sound effects – more than I’m sure August Dedrickson could have ever dreamed.