A stick-figure drawing hangs on Leo Beaule’s refrigerator in Lewiston. Drawn by his great-granddaughter Ava, it shows her, her little sister and himself holding hands. Sometimes Ava comes over to play with the violins — the many violins that Beaule has crafted over the years.

Beaule, who recently turned 87, said much of his life is shared through the sounds and touches of music. Music has brought him joy and helped him through despair. It has given him purpose and allowed insight. Despite arthritis and other aches and pains that come with age, Beaule continues to play violin with the heart of a young romantic. But he crafts his instruments with the soul of a sage philosopher.

“If you like classical music, there’s something that sticks on you,” Beaule said. “The way the phrases blend together, especially in a string quartet, it’s quite beautiful. And each part is very exposed — you’re alone on your part, but it all comes together.”

A long love affair with music

Beaule’s father, who was from Canada, played French jigs on the fiddle. His older brothers played recordings of music composed by Beethoven and Bach. They listened to the classics on AM radio. However, Beaule was the only one of 13 children interested in playing music, instead of just listening to it. He took piano lessons and played in recitals. The sheet music resting on Beaule’s piano last week was opened to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, better known as “Moonlight Sonata.”

“I got hooked on classical music before I was a teenager,” Beaule said. “It was just in my head.”


When World War II came, Beaule was stationed in New York and about to ship out to Japan. While he waited for his orders, he used to attend performances at Carnegie Hall.

“They gave us servicemen free tickets,” Beaule said. “I saw (Jascha) Heifetz play at Carnegie Hall. To me, he was the ultimate in perfection. These days, there are so many young musicians who can play like that. It’s just mind-boggling.”

Before Beaule’s aircraft carrier ever left port, the news came that the war had ended. Beaule returned home, married and took care of a family. Sometimes working two or three jobs, Beaule had little time for music.

“For a long time, I didn’t do nothing but raise kids,” Beaule said. “You know, there just wasn’t time for that.”

When his children were mostly grown and his father died, Beaule returned to his love for music. He picked up his father’s violin and began to play. At age 40, he took lessons. Soon he was playing in orchestras at Colby and Bates colleges, with the Portland Symphony and with the former Androscoggin Valley Community Orchestra. The onset of arthritis later prevented him from continuing to play with a group.

Now he plays for himself. He plays to test the instruments he makes. He plays to pass the time. He plays when he’s in the mood. He plays the pieces he wants, when he wants.


“I like the solo concertos very much,” Beaule said. “On strings, I would say that Mozart is my favorite. Some are very difficult — more difficult than I can play. I play them anyway.”

Another love story

In 1951, Beaule married Eglantine Marchand. They made a life and raised six children. Just when life was starting to get a little easier, Beaule and his wife found out that she had Parkinson’s disease.

Friends and family called her Connie, but her name Eglantine means “sweet briar” and is also the name of a beautiful wild rose. Beaule continued to see her beauty even while he dealt with the thorns of taking care of her as her physical health deteriorated. Clever as always, Beaule rigged contraptions that made his wife’s life more comfortable when he was physically unable to carry her himself.

Beaule stood staring out his back kitchen window as he recalled how one day he had gone outside to split wood, and his wife went to the window to see where he was. When she turned around to return to her overstuffed chair that Beaule had moved into the dining area for her, she fell. That’s when Beaule had to let her go to d’Youville Pavilion. He went to see her every day, even when she didn’t really know him any longer, until she died in 2006.

“I went into a depression then,” Beaule said. “I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went to a doctor, and he put me on some pills. I didn’t go anywhere; I didn’t do anything.”


A different kind of love

Beaule had always found comfort in nature. He and his family frequently spent time at their camp in The Forks. He loved teaching his sons how to fly fish. He found cutting his own wood relaxing. So he walked through the woods again.

“I’ve always cut my own wood,” Beaule said. “I already had some wood around, and I’d see a piece and think, that’s violin wood. So I didn’t burn it. That’s when something in my brain just rewired itself.”

That’s when nature and music came together.

“I knew violins inside and out,” he said. “I took a piece of wood and made one after my wife died, and I’ve just kept making them.”

When Beaule played in various local orchestras, he had learned to repair string instruments and often did so as favors for fellow musicians. It didn’t take long for a steady stream of repair work to come his way. By the time his wife died, he had stopped doing repairs for others. Then after some research and studying, Beaule found the patterns of Stradivarius and Guanerius violins, and started making violins for himself.


“They’re not the same quality, but I used the patterns from both Stardivarius and Guanerius,” he said as he tapped on the front plate and demonstrated how each piece of wood has a different tone.

“The wood should be without knots,” Beaule said. “The knots are OK if it’s bird’s-eye maple. Each wood has a different timbre. Some have a softer sound; some you get more power from. Nowadays, there’s all these electronic gadgets to check the sound and tune with. I still do it the old way, by tapping on the plate.”

Beaule has since made 23 violins. He keeps them where he can see them in a cabinet, which he also built. He can remember where the wood came from for each violin. He plays each one to keep it in tune.

When asked how many he planned to make, he answered, “I guess it depends on how long I live.”

Beaule guesses that he puts about 150 hours into each violin he makes now. That’s down from the approximately 200 hours for each instrument when he started. Beaule doesn’t count the time he spends cutting and selecting his wood.

“I go up to the West Forks area, and I look around,” Beaule said. “I like that — it’s relaxing. I look at trees and think, ‘That one is older than I am.’ And I look at the grain and figure out if it will make a violin or not. Everyone tells me I’m a hermit now. I don’t mind. I stay busy.”


The love continues

Much of Beaule’s family still lives nearby, so he doesn’t really feel like he’s a hermit. His son David, who took up music as a child but later moved away, still plays guitar. He comes home at least once a year, and he and his father will play together.

“The guitar and violin go pretty good together,” Beaule said.

And now Ava, who is 6 years old, has shown interest. She comes over and asks to play. The full-size violins are too big for her tiny limbs, so Beaule holds the neck while Ava bows. A full grin broke out across his face as he demonstrated how the two of them would manage a violin together.

“For so long, I was just busy working,” Beaule said. “Then when my wife died, I didn’t know what to do. Now I have 10 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. It’s all changed. I have a different outlook on life.”

Beaule has no intention of selling any of his violins. That’s not why he made them. He thinks it would be nice if they stayed in the family. He thinks it would be nice if someone in the family kept playing music.

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