My first Ben Hall viola da gamba

Last night I heard that Ben Hall (1935-2017) had passed away. Ben was a painter, an artist, a musician and a luthier (instrument maker). He was good at everything he did. You may never have heard of him but the Sydney Morning Herald published an on-line and printed version of his obituary. He was a very talented yet humble man. Perhaps that is why he was not a household name.

Some 35 years ago Ben made my first viola da gamba (pictured above) and made It possible for me to begin my journey as a one of Australia’s few professional gamba players. In the Australia of the early 1980s people probably don’t realise that is was almost impossible to get your hands on a concert standard viola da gamba. I was a cellist and my teacher Katie Finnis had introduced me to this strange, 7-string instrument with frets that I had never heard of. I loved the “gamba” as it called and wanted one. Someone told me this guy called Ben Hall made them. Ben Hall? The only Ben Hall I knew was a long dead bushranger! So I met him and loved him immediately – it was hard not to love him. I ordered an instrument and sat back and waited. I vividly remember the call from Ben apologising in his very recognisable, husky voice for being late finishing my gamba. In fact he had finished it 6 months early. I don’t know even today if I had jumped the queue. This was the first instrument of any kind that I had bought custom made and paid for out of my own money so it was special for many reasons. Ben’s viola da gamba travelled with me to The Netherlands, it saw me through my post graduate studies there and featured in many concerts in Europe.

I loved visiting Ben at his workshop, it looked and smelled great! I also admired his paintings and architectural drawings. Just 6 months ago he brought me a treble viol to try out. He was such a master craftsman and so generous. I don’t know how many musicians he sold instruments to at what I suspect was a discounted price. He had genuine humility and was a beautiful human being. Thank you Ben for taking a risk and building these historic instruments here in Australia. So many viol players, lutenists, guitarists and cellists in Australia owe much to you and to your work. This is a photo of the day I collected my first ever gamba. I will miss you Ben. Much love to all your family at this time.

Jenny Eriksson