Jonathan DeBruyn earns right to play fine violin

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Lakeridge High graduate Jonathan DeBruyn is an award-winning violinist.Two violins ended up in Jonathan DeBruyn’s hands in unusual ways — one that a nonprofit corporation bestowed upon him when he was stricken with bone cancer and another delivered to him last month along with an award.

When DeBruyn was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma at age 11, he had the chance to fulfill a dream through Make-A-Wish Foundation, which helps children with life-threatening medical conditions realize their dreams. DeBruyn had been renting a violin, and he asked for a fine one to have all to himself.

“I feel like that kind of says it all: It’s really important for me to have a great instrument,” said DeBruyn, now 20.

Wish: granted — back then and again a few weeks ago.

He recovered after surgery and chemotherapy, finishing Westridge Elementary School, then Waluga (now Lakeridge) Junior High. He graduated from Lakeridge High School and moved on to Portland State University where he is a junior majoring in music. The Lake Oswego resident recently spotted an opportunity to enjoy a fine violin via the Franke/Altman Young Violinist Award. DeBruyn applied and snagged the honor, earning the right to play a $10,000 violin with a $3,400 bow for two years.

“Jonathan has a huge musical talent and combine that with his drive and hard work — I’m not at all surprised he won this award,” said Nita Van Pelt, Lakeridge orchestra teacher.

He made his new strings sing last week for his jury, a test music majors must pass to advance in school. By then he’d practiced on the little hourglass-shaped powerhouse for two weeks, performing in 11 concerts with it.

“It’s amazing, and I’m really excited because there are a lot of things I want to do in these two years, and it’s really going to help me do them well,” said DeBruyn, who is a member of a quartet and a sub for the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra.

Jonathan Franke, a violin craftsman, and Ken Altman, a bow artisan, created the Franke/Altman Young Violinist Award in 2011, aiming to amplify young musicians’ talents.

“Some bowing techniques and some fast passages lesser instruments aren’t capable of producing, so the player can be ready to produce those thing, but their instrument isn’t up to the task,” Franke said. “You’ll get that classic screechy, bad-violin noise on some lesser instruments because they don’t respond fast enough because the bow will kind of ride over the strings and not make a sound except for a bad sound.”

DeBruyn noticed the difference immediately. Franke and Altman looked on while DeBruyn and one of his teachers tested three violins and three bows.

“As (DeBruyn) was trying them out, he was trying this real demanding stroke where you go across all strings, and the bow bounces across each string,” Altman said, “and he was doing that several times, and he said ‘I’ve been trying to do that, and I couldn’t do that with the bow I had.’ It’s so gratifying to see what you can allow a student to do if they’re just a little better equipped.”

Altman polished off DeBruyn’s bow of choice in two weeks, fashioning metal parts of metal sheets and employing a dense wood called Pernambuco that won’t snap when winnowed down to a slim, musical tool.

Shaping DeBruyn’s borrowed violin — wrought of spruce wood on its top and maple wood on its back, sides and neck — took Franke 200 hours.

DeBruyn not only will be able to hone his own skills but also be a stronger teacher for the students he offers private lessons to and those he gives music theory lessons to at Portland Youth Philharmonic.

“To have a really nice instrument just changes everything, and I play so much that it’s just a really big part of my life,” DeBruyn said.

He doesn’t want to let it go when his time with it is up.“I’m already thinking about buying it,” he said.

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @jilliandaley.

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