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Terez Mertes

Reckless Authority

July 29, 2008 at 8:06 PM

So I bought a new bow. Not a cheap one. In fact, it is equal in value to my violin.

This is a big deal.

The thing is, I was just dipping my toe into the market to buy one. My main bow, an upgrade two years earlier from my beginner bow, needed a rehair, that was all. I’d put it off for months and months, in denial, but finally it was so offensive to my ears—a scritching sound like kitten claws against glass, sadly indistinguishable from the beginner bow—that I said enough is enough. My teacher agreed. Off I went to Stevens Violin Shop in San Jose. A rehair was my goal, but I needed a substitute for the week it was in shop. Kill two birds with one stone, then. Start my search for The Next Bow while testing a loaner.

Twelve bows had been laid out for me, ranging in price from $395 to $1000. The testing room at Stevens Violin Shop is an elegant, softly lit, climate-controlled room filled with violins, glorious violins, old ones, new ones, all of which resonated softly whenever I hit a G, D, A or E. It was nice to play in that room. Seductive and mesmerizing, all those fiddles humming their approval. I felt instant affinity with several of the bows. I finally chose two to take home. Merely testing, I told the shop’s staff.

And we all know how the story ends.

This is not normally how I shop. When I bought my violin two years ago, I spent six months looking. Tested out fifty violins. Visited six shops. Interviews. Back and forthing with authorities. Anguishing. Sleeping on it. More consulting. Thinking about it a lot. Talking about it a lot. Soliciting opinions.

There is an interesting correlation here between this and my novel writing. Last time I wrote a novel featuring a professional violinist and her world. I knew absolutely nothing about the violin; I had to start from scratch. I commenced violin lessons. Joined Violinist.com. Coaxed myself to overcome my intimidation and visit the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, pelting violin professionals with idiotic questions. Email queries, phone calls, interviews with luthiers, violinists, reading any book I could get my hands on. I nervously asked for help at every turn, needing to know whether my violin-related passages sounded “right.” I encouraged judgment, feedback. I needed permission.

So. New novel. No longer the world of the violin soloist, this time it’s the ballet dancer soloist. Completing a rough first draft, I then set out to find my authorities, planning to follow the now-familiar routine: visit sites, interview professionals, seek permission to phrase scenes a certain way. San Francisco is home to one of the world’s premiere ballet institutions. No better place to start.

Long story short. I could find no one at the San Francisco Ballet Association to help me. Calls went unreturned but finally I received a response to an email, from the PR department. “Due to the high number of requests we receive like yours, and due to a myriad of union regulations, we are not able to accommodate you.”

A hiccup, then. I was shocked, disappointed, angry. But once I got over it, I saw the gift I’d been handed. I didn’t need permission. Not this time around. I have twenty years experience in ballet, after all. (Check out the proof HERE.) Maybe my ballet performance years weren’t on a world-class stage. What the hell. This is fiction, after all.

What a paradigm shift. What liberation.

This new state has taken over the driver’s seat in my writing, in my life. You don’t need permission, this voice whispers every time I wonder if I can get away with taking some risks in my writing. You don’t need permission, the same voice whispered when I brought home the tester bows and decided it wasn’t just the resonating violins in the tester room at Stevens Violin Shop that made them sound good. Playing the one that quickly became my beloved (the more expensive one, of course) was like biting into a really good chocolate truffle. The sound it draws from the G string—a miraculous absence of breathy scritch, which my old bow, even with good hair, could never quite avoid. Heavenly. It responds well to soft pressure; I love that I can produce rich sound from the lightest touch. It weighs well in my hand, glides evenly over each string.

I brought the beloved into my next lesson. I didn’t even ask my teacher if she liked it. I said, “This is the bow I’m going to buy.” This, after constant consultation two years earlier when choosing my violin. My teacher took one look at the bow, then the determined set of my chin and said, “Okay.” And that was that. Which, now that I think of it, was pretty much the scenario when I announced the news to my family.

Reckless authority. There is a time for it. There is a time in your life where you should research like mad, ask permission, listen but don’t speak, defer to authority. Look before you leap. Sleep on it. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning. Mind the gap. And so on.

Then there is a time to say “What the hell.”

It’s good to know which comes when.


© 2008 Terez Rose

From Joe Pasillas
Posted on July 29, 2008 at 10:14 PM
Congratulations on the "beloved" bow. Don't you love it when the path is made clear for a solid decision?

I once lived on Potrero Hill and rented a Jay Haide violin from across the Bay. It made the decison for me and I enjoyed that first violin immensely.

ps - I used to hang out at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for every recital. I asked questions of people who knew the Kronos and I even got a year of lessons from a Turtle Island String Quartet member. I too was an adult beginner. I learned a ton during my years of "classical weekends". Cheers.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 29, 2008 at 11:16 PM
Due to a myriad of union regulations, we are not able to comment on this blog this month.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 29, 2008 at 11:16 PM
Just kidding!

Congratulations on your new bow! Happy Practicing! I like the chocolate truffle analogy. (Insert smiley face here).

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 30, 2008 at 2:33 AM
I'm glad you took the "what the hell" approach. It shows that you trust your instincts. Have fun with your new beloved bow.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on July 30, 2008 at 3:36 AM
Joe - hey, how cool that you got to rent a Jay Haide. I tried out one of their antique violins at the $2000 price range and it was a real contender, back when I was in the market. But in the end, it was too hard to try and back/forth it to Berkeley to do a loaner for a week. And hey, cool on the SF Conservatory weekends! I got so much wonderful help from the teachers there - Mark Sokol, Axel Strauss, Ian Swenson, Mark Kosower - all were so generous with their attention/time, and what a great, nice group of guys, to boot. Again, lucky you for your close proximity. I'd love to go to some of those SF Conservatory student recitals.

Anne - oh, you had me LAUGHING. You funny girl!

Pauline - I am having great fun with my new beloved. Happy to report that I had no buyer's remorse on this product. It's still a shock, tho, to think of what I shelled up. Oh well. When I paid $1100 under budget for my violin two years ago (and again, a decision I don't regret, although at the time I agonized over it), my first thought was, "When the time comes, I'm going to get a REALLY good bow with the savings." And hey, I had some to spare. (Actually got the bow talked down $150, to boot. I think that's when I knew I simply could not pass up the bow.)

From Anthony Barletta
Posted on July 30, 2008 at 5:18 AM
Hey, life is short, might as well live it with a bow that floats your boat!
From Emily Grossman
Posted on July 30, 2008 at 8:34 AM
Sometimes, you just know what you want. Have fun with your new bow!
From Terez Mertes
Posted on July 30, 2008 at 1:12 PM
>Sometimes, you just know what you want.

Emily, you're right, and I have to say, it does make the Big Decisions easier, compared to when you're almost there but not, and are anguishing and second-guessing.

Anthony - it's funny, the immediate image that came to mind when I read your reply was my bow floating in water. (Not an image that needs to be explored any further.)

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 30, 2008 at 5:39 PM
Congratulations on the new bow, and on the sure, confident feeling!
From Terez Mertes
Posted on July 30, 2008 at 7:01 PM
Thanks, Karen. Sure wish I could bottle that sure, confident feeling for use in other facets of my life! (Is it just me, or is that phrase sounding like something that's trying to advertise deodorant, or some feminine product that always features a golden-haired woman frolicking through a meadow on a sunny day and you're never quite certain, by the ad or the photo, just what, precisely, is being sold...)
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 31, 2008 at 6:48 AM
One of my adult beginners told me, at his last lesson, that he always got a squeaky sound on the E string. He has a very good violin for a beginner, and a crummy, heavy, beginner's bow. I couldn't see anything that he was doing wrong, so I tried his violin and bow, and the E string squeaked. Then I tried my own bow, and no squeak. I let him try my bow (a Coda), and his playing sounded very much better. I could see that he could control my bow better than his own because it didn't wander around. I had him try playing a note first p, then f, then starting with p and doing a crescendo to f. It sounded very smooth. He was really excited about my bow. He hadn't known how much difference a bow can make. I had him try my pernambuco bow, but, like me, he liked the Coda Conservatory bow better. In fact, he fell in love with it. He left the lesson muttering, "How can I scrape up $400 in a hurry?" Violins and bows can be like people: When you fall in love with one, you know it.

I wish you and your beloved new bow years of happiness together.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on July 31, 2008 at 1:52 PM
Oh, Pauline, I LOVED reading this. I'm so happy for your student, and for you, for getting to watch the transition in his mood/motivation. It's like being with someone the night they meet the guy/girl who is to become their spouse. There's a feeling in the air.

Hope he drums up the $$ fast. I've heard it commented here at v.com over the years how important the bow is to the equation, how, in a way, it is even a bigger deal than the violin, and I have to agree that having a good quality bow has doubled the fun of playing.

From Anthony Barletta
Posted on July 31, 2008 at 4:01 PM
Terez,
Not to frighten you, but if the bow is pernambuco it might very well sink rather than float - unless you can picture yourself in scuba gear it may be wise not to conjure up such imagery!
ab
From Terez Mertes
Posted on July 31, 2008 at 7:53 PM
Anthony - I thought of this too, as I was reading a discussion just a few days ago (from this site, of course) about pernambuco bows and how dense they are. Yes, not a pretty image!
From Cris Zulueta
Posted on July 31, 2008 at 11:24 PM
Congrats on finding a beloved new bow. Found mine a year and a half ago and the love affair never ends. Now you should have a wonderful refined bowing technique with no more kitten scratching.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 1, 2008 at 5:52 PM
Thanks, Cris, and glad to hear you're still happy with your own choice, a year and a half later. Ah, the grand test of time...

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