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Played on John Shal’s violin #128, by Dr. Gina Mashburn Heath (2017)

Humoresque (Dvorak)
0:00/2:54
Ragtime Annie (traditional)
0:00/1:34

John Shal was born in Everson on April 20th, 1910. John loved violins since the age of 9 1/2 years when he tried to teach himself how to play. By the time he graduated from school he was helping friends make small adjustments on their violins and he did his best to scratch out tunes on his own. He found a man in Lemont Furnace to teach him the art of repairing them. He always took his vacations of three weeks together and attended violin making competitions around the country to meet and pickup tips from the best. During all this time with his obsession he found time to marry his wife Mary and they would live in south Connellsville. But it wasn't until the age of 50 that he began taking violin playing lessons from Everett Thomas of Connellsville, the Concertmaster at California State College. As he learned his art of making violins, he collected thousands of dollars worth of tools and could ask one to two thousand dollars for a violin that could take at least 240 hours to make. He came to model each violin after those of the famed Italian master Antonio Stradivari. John was a member of the Southern California Association of Violin Makers. There was an annual contest held in Phoenix Arizona and he was proud that he had a violin take the Grand Championship for Tone there in 1969 and he had another take 7th place in the same championship. John passed away on November 25th, 1994 at the age of 84 and was buried in the Holy Trinity Cemetery.  John was one of the founders of the Fayette County Fiddlers Association.


Connellsville Post Office - Date Unknown

In loving memory of my parents, John and Mary (Omatick) Shal

My father worked as a machinist at Anchor Hocking Glass Factory for more than 40 years to support his wife and three children (Raymond, Arnold, Janet).  The couple had lived in apartments at first, and one day Mother announced to Dad that they were going to build a house.  "Mary, I don't know anything about building a house!"  dad exclaimed.  "We'll ask questions," Mother responded.

The couple worked on blueprints for two years, then built a finished basement and moved the family of five into the basement for two more years.  Mother worked just as hard as Dad and developed the arm muscles of a man.  Unwilling to go in debt, they paid for materials paycheck by paycheck and did almost all the work themselves.  By the time they finished the house eight years later in 1959, the oldest child (Raymond) had been lost in a bicycle accident at 15, and the other two children, now adult, had moved out of town to work and attend college.

At that threshold my father, at 49, was feeling the sluggishness of hypothyroidism (later treated) and the boredom of his new but uninspired life.  after work, he slept a lot.  Mother, at 46, now managed Karnes Bakery on highway 119.  One day the shop owner brought in a small wooden replica of a violin to decorate the storefront window. Mother, concerned about Dad's lethargy, brought the little violin home and reminded Dad that he'd always loved to whittle and he'd always loved the violin - so why doesn't he make one?  "Mary, I don't know the first thing about making a violin!"  he exclaimed.  We all know the rest of the story...

What many people don't know is the immense influence my mother had on my father.  She not only got him started making violins.  For the rest of his life, she supported the passion that got him up every morning at 6:00 am to go down to his basement shop, where he built some 130 violins, several violas, and a cello.  She was "the woman behind the man," enabling the thriving and all-consuming business Dad developed.  She put up with a sometimes inconvenient flow of people into the basement as well as many years of Dad's trips to deliver carloads of repaired instruments to schools all over Fayette County.  Mother encouraged Dad- and this was huge- to co-found the Pennsylvania State Old-Time Fiddlers Association!  She accompanied him to their meetings and generously hosted some herself (offering amazing home-baked pastries).  Mother sewed beautiful Western shirts for my father and bought him initialed Western belts.  His world became pretty much hers.  Her reward was the warm social life and happy music he filled their lives with, and the constant joy she saw in his face.

My father's violins are without a doubt spread around the USA, and probably have made it overseas.  I recall their making it into the hands of Pittsburgh Symphony members as well as professional musicians, teachers, students, and casual players throughout the region.  One day years ago I got a phone call from a man looking for more information about the maker of his fine viola.  He had found my name in my father's 1994 obituary and had taken the trouble to track me down in San Diego.  He was a full member of the Denver Symphony at the time and gave high praise to my father's viola, especially its C string.  I was pleased to tell him all about my father.

I am very proud of what both my parents accomplished in their lives  and of the impact they have had on the Connellsville community, Fayette County, and far beyond.  My father's violins have brought pleasure and personal fulfillment to many a musician.  Because they are so well made, I anticipate they will survive for hundreds of years to bring joy to countless others!

Janet (Shal) Parkerson
Ashville, NC
August 7, 2017

John Shal House located at 316 Vine Street, South Connellsville
To took John and his wife 10 years to complete this house from start to finish.
Photos courtesy of of John's daughter Janet Parkerson.