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Norwich string quintet a real family affair

PUBLISHED: 16:00 08 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:31 02 July 2010

Anna and Fearghus Cooper are building a string quartet set of instruments for their four children

Anna and Fearghus Cooper are building a string quartet set of instruments for their four children

Matthew Sparkes

A Norwich couple are handcrafting a set of musical instruments for their five children - to create their very own string quintet.

A Norwich couple are handcrafting a set of musical instruments for their five children - to create their very own string quintet.

Anna and Fearghus Cooper have spent almost 17 years building fine stringed instruments for each of their five children.

Mr Cooper, 55, studied for a music degree at the UEA and is now a househusband and professional singer at Norwich Cathedral.

A lifelong musician, he began taking classes 17 years ago to learn how to construct violins and cellos.

His wife Anna, a lab technician at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, stepped in when a sprained wrist forced him to stop for several years.

She instantly took to the craft and now the pair, who live off Unthank Road in Norwich, are working together on the project.

Mr Cooper said that his whole family were keen musicians, and that it was a “great skill to have”.

“So many of our friends are musical, we've played at big family parties. We've played music for people to dance to,” he said.

As a couple they have already made two violins, a cello, a bass viola and a small harp.

Daughter Frances Cooper, 21, is already using a cello made by her mother and taking a degree in music at King's College London.

Celia Cooper, 20, has a homemade violin and is currently taking a gap year.

Austin, 19, who is studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Jeanne, 15, who attends Norwich High School and seven-year-old Tadhg , who is at Sir Thomas More Middle School, are still waiting on their instruments but are already proficient musicians.

Frances said that she had to wait almost six years for her cello to be painstakingly put together by her mother.

“It's great,” she said.

“It's the most beautiful one I've had. The sound is quite well suited to what I like to play.

“I'm really proud of it and it does make it particularly special that it's the first one that's been mine.

“Having to wait so long for it I got pretty excited. It's sort of a work of art.”

Mrs Cooper said that it had been a labour of love and a therapeutic hobby, but that she may give up once all five children have their instruments.

“I've made a violin and a cello, and I'm on the process of making another violin for our daughter,” she said.

“And I hope to make a viola after that.

“They would never get such great instruments really, because we could never afford to buy them.”

Instruments like those made by the Coopers would cost thousands of pounds each if bought complete.

Mrs Cooper, who plays violin when she gets the chance, said that she had also made herself a harp that she intends to teach herself to play.

“As children my granny was a professional cellist and she used to teach, and my parents brought us into music,” she said.

Each of the instruments made by the family have come from one piece of wood, which Mrs Cooper's father bought after she started taking the classes.

The couple have been working under the watchful eye of Norwich-based instrument maker David Van Edwards.

From his workshop on Ketts Hill he constructs lutes and classical guitars for amateur and professional musicians alike and also teaches evening classes.

He said that finishing the final pieces would take another four or five years.

Does your family share an interesting hobby? Call reporter Matthew Sparkes on 01603 772439 or email matthew.sparkes@archant.co.uk.

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