Musician Spotlight: Cheri Lyon Kelley

My Own True Voice 

February’s Audience highlights CHERI LYON KELLEYfirst violin with the LO.  Hear more from Cheri at the CONCERT TALK before the “Kentucky Spring performance on Saturday, February 23. 


A violinist’s relationship with their instrument is, well…personal, unique, rather intimate actually. After all, the violin is our voice. The sound I hear in my head is my violin. In high school, my parents made a huge sacrifice for me and purchased a beautiful French violin for my future education and career. I named “him” Pierre. Perfect, I thought for a Paris 1839 beauty. Pierre took me through college, lessons with renowned violin pedagogue Ivan Galamian, Tanglewood, quartet coaching with the Tokyo String Quartet, and my winning audition with the Louisville Orchestra. I loved that violin and still do. But then one day Pierre became “second fiddle.” Here’s our story.

Orchestrated by my husband’s boss, we met two New Albany brothers, William and Earl Hedden, both retired businessmen who were also amateur musicians. Mr. Earl played the cello and Mr. Will the violin. For years they met in the home of Hattie Speed on weekends to read chamber music with music-loving friends. When one of these friends passed away, his remarkable old Italian violin from Cremona, Italy – the city in which Stradivari and Guarneri lived and worked – was acquired by Mr. Will who loved and admired this instrument, often just opening the case to gaze at its marvelous craftsmanship.

Years later, at the age of 100, Mr. Will passed away. This beautiful Cremonese violin was inherited by his nephew who wanted the instrument to continue its life here in Kentuckiana, honoring his dear uncle.  Unbeknownst to me, he gifted the violin to the Louisville Orchestra with the stipulation that I, alone, was to play it as long as I remained a member. What an honor! And now I had a new voice!  Mr. Will’s violin is a Giovanni Battista Ceruti, circa 1810.  His chamber music friend had bought it from a traveling Chicago dealer in January of 1901.  The Ceruti has spent over half of its life right here in Kentuckiana!  Now it’s time in our story to fast forward another two decades.

The year was 2000 and I owned “Pierre,” but not the Ceruti.  However, Tom and I were now in a position to make an offer to the LO Board of Directors to buy the Ceruti from the Orchestra. Understanding that this would fulfill Mr. Hedden’s nephew’s desire to honor his uncle, the Board approved the sale and this glorious instrument, my own true voice, was mine. We became permanently and joyfully united!  I still find my eyes tearing with emotion when I tell our story. I am blessed to have a beautiful example of Italian craftsmanship in my hands – an instrument with a history so dear to me and this community. Now that is an amazing relationship!

~Cheri Lyon Kelley