Violins and urologic surgery don’t have much in common aside from the need for steady hands. And Dr. William Sloan.
A surgeon by day, Sloan returns home to carve maple and spruce for his reputable violin replicas. Not only is he diligent in his profession, but Sloan also dedicates sizable time to playing and crafting violins.
So, how exactly do these interests meld together for Sloan?
Growing up in Chicago with an art enthusiast mother, Sloan attended concerts and enjoyed the beautiful symphony of the great violinists of the time. Sloan’s mother encouraged music lessons, and his love for the violin was apparent from a young age.
The violin dealers around downtown Chicago would actually call up Sloan whenever they were working on the strings of famous violinists. Young Sloan would ride the bus around town just to see the iconic instruments.
But the violin was only a small part of what Sloan did in his youth. As soon as he was on the path to becoming a doctor, his coursework became increasingly important. Regretfully, this meant he wasn’t able to focus as much on the violin.
Sloan may wish he had more time with the violin growing up, but he did manage to stay regularly involved with it. In fact, while studying medicine in college, he was the assistant concertmaster for the university symphony.
It started when the concertmaster invited Sloan to sit in and watch the rehearsal. The concertmaster encouraged Sloan but kept the door open for him to join. With Sloan’s love of the violin, it was impossible to resist!
College was also where Sloan met his wife, Judy. Sloan was in the anatomy lab when he received a call from a former professor, telling him there was a new student–a talented singer and pianist–he needed to meet.
Several weeks later, this young woman ate dinner at Sloan’s fraternity house. Sloan retreated to his room to play his violin before orchestra practice, and soon after, he heard a knock at his door. When he opened it, there stood Judy.
“That sounds really nice,” Judy told him. “Do you need an accompanist?”
That was in 1963. And the rest is history!
It was Sloan’s wife who called him about a rare violin available for purchase. But how did it come into their world?
After they married, the Sloans visited local violin dealers together. In making connections with dealers, Judy shared that she hoped for her husband to own a violin made by the famous 18th-century luthier Antonio Stradivari.
In 1981, Judy got the call about the Holroyd Stradivari. With great excitement, the Sloans made the five-hour drive to Chicago for the Stradivari violin.
When the Stradivari became available, Sloan was starting his career as a surgeon, performing kidney transplants. He wasn’t sure he had the funds to make the purchase, but the dealer told him to take it home anyway.
Every night, Sloan enjoyed this prized violin. How could he give it up after playing those strings?
Thankfully, he didn’t have to. Sloan was able to secure a loan from the bank and eventually pay off the violin. Soon after, Sloan was notified of another Stradivari: the Leonard Jackson, made in 1714. He decided to purchase the Jackson, which he still owns today.
He also has a Guarnerius del Gesu violin in his possession–a rare, museum-quality violin crafted in 1742.
Eventually, Sloan’s knowledge of fine violin-making paved the way for him to learn, too. At first, he was hesitant to learn the craft. After all, he was already a surgeon. How many difficult, highly-specialized skills can one person have?
For Sloan, the sky’s the limit. To date, he’s made four violins, with a fifth in progress.
It takes him about three years to make a single violin, which comes as no surprise when you learn he’s crafting replicas of his renowned Guarneri. He nicknamed his own line of violins the “Sloaneris.”
Sloan doesn’t seem himself parting with his violins but does allow musicians to borrow them. Professionals have played his instruments at renowned philharmonics and symphonies.
And, of course, Sloan’s violins have been cherished in his own home. Not just by Sloan, and not quite in the way you’d think.
Each year, the Sloans put on an annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” This is not your ordinary “Messiah,” though. The Sloans host the event in the comfort of their home!
Over 125 choristers and orchestral musicians volunteer their time and talent to perform and rejoice in a likeminded community. Many of the participants have sung or played professionally with groups like the Los Angeles Opera, Chicago Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Not only is it an act of generosity to open their space in this way, but the Sloans also offer a vibrant intermission. As if that isn’t enough, Sloan also allows people to use his violins–the 1714 Stradivari, the 1742 Guernari, and the four Sloaneris.
Once you’re invited to the event, you’re in for life, and you’re welcome back to their home for the next performance.
In the Sloan home, there are many full bookcases. One wall boasts books on music and instruments. At first glance, it seems the home of a career musician. But then, across the room, lies dense medical literature on anatomy and urologic surgery.
While Sloan would never say he has a personal philosophy, he confidently advocates for improvement in your profession and your hobbies. He encourages people to learn from others and to welcome them openly to their circle of friends.
His diverse interests serve as a reminder that we should not box ourselves in. If you have varying interests, go for it. Learn, grow, and see where your journey takes you.