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Twenty-two Months in Germany

Bonny Buckley

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Published: June 14, 2015 at 10:07 AM [UTC]

The violin which I have been using for 25 years has finally made it home. It was made in Germany around 300 years ago and has since circumnavigated the world several times. I got it when I was 18 and taking lessons from a prominent violinist in the Seattle Symphony; the violin came from his colleague.

I played on it during my lessons, of course, and in college in Boston and Cambridge, and in China and Japan, as well as for all of my professional playing jobs for violin also here in Germany. It has survived quite a few difficult situations!

So far in Germany I have had the privilege of playing with a number of orchestras, mostly in “Swabia” which is in southwest Germany where I live. I have also had the opportunity to learn German through a number of intensive courses, through level C1. In Europe, language performance and skill is graded by a framework of reference from beginner, A1, then A2, B1, B2, C1 and lastly C2.

My ear has slowly been adjusting to tuning to A-442 which still just feels too high, but my ear is gradually accepting this. I would like to know why exactly this area of the world uses A-442 and most of the rest of the world tunes to A-440. The viola I use seems to reject A-442 for tuning with a sometimes shrill and ugly sound shrieking out of the A-string, but I’m going to have it checked by a violin maker for adjustment.

One thing I really had no idea about before I relocated here from China, is that there are literally thousands of folks who play string instruments in amateur orchestras. There must be hundreds and hundreds of them just in this little corner of Germany alone. And if people are not string players, then surely they belong to an amateur choir club. I have heard that Stuttgart boasts the highest number of choirs per capita in the world, and I would not be surprised if that is true. And this has paid off for me in that when these choirs get ready for their concerts, often they hire an orchestra to accompany them. It happens fairly regularly, for example, that I play a Bach oratorio in an orchestra for a choir which sings in a church built 800 years ago!

biggest violin
Bonny Buckley and the world's largest violin, in Markneukirch, Germany

So apparently if people are not singing or playing an instrument in their spare time (brass instruments are also extremely beloved for amateur brass orchestras), they are probably riding their bikes. Out of about 86 million people, some 60 million are said to regularly ride a bicycle. That says to me, that basically all of the people who can, do; and more or less the only ones who don’t would be babies or the elderly or those who are unable to ride for whatever reason.

One of the things I have enjoyed most so far, in addition to playing with orchestras, has been the discovery of the Rossini quartets for two violins, cello and double-bass. Also playing a Flashmob in Stuttgart for a rock band and symphony orchestra last month doing Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” was a lot of fun.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention something about Fasching, or Fastnacht, like the Proms. This is similar to the British Night at the Proms, but in German. The most famous one takes place in Cologne, and is extremely beloved by this culture, although from what I have seen it takes place all over the country under different names. If you have no idea what I’m writing about, think of Mardi-Gras or Carnival, and that would come close.

Southwest Germany, while not as famous as say Berlin or Hamburg, is a great location to live, with the Black Forest and many other forests nearby, hundreds of natural sparkling mineral water springs and hot springs, as well as bordering Austria, Switzerland and France.


From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 15, 2015 at 3:41 PM
Sounds like a great place to be a musician!

About the A-442, it does seem to be a trend. Speaking of my local area, most orchestras in Los Angeles tune to 442. As I understand, many Asian orchestras tune even higher!

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