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Top BlogsBy Emily Grossman
October 15, 2012 19:01
(Aurora borealis, 10-13-12. Photo courtesy my next door neighbor, Stephanie Snyder)
The first snowfall came in a silent, smothering hush of white, making travel difficult for those who hadn't gotten around to changing tires. As a result, the church was noticeably thinner in audience for Saturday's performance by Kathryn Hoffer, Roxann Selland Berry, and Maria Allison. Many of the familiar elderly faces were absent, but so many of the loyal regulars managed to make it in spite of the weather. And me? I wouldn't miss it for anything. Kathryn is the concertmaster of the Anchorage Symphony, and Roxann is the principal flautist. Not only that, but they were performing a new work by Canadian composer Kenneth Nichols. As the trio shared a fresh program of modern works, I felt privileged to be able to enjoy such a treat. Looking out across the audience, I could see I wasn't alone in my sentiments.
We have such a beautiful audience here in Soldotna. I've never once taken for granted a single gracious face or thirsty ear. I can always trust their welcoming applause, un-jaded enjoyment, and appreciative reception. They come ready to soak up any culture they can get, and I feel deeply that it is our responsibility as musicians to make it happen for them. The town of Soldotna exists amidst a harsh wilderness in a climate that promotes isolation and silences our efforts to shine, and a lot of good ideas simply never get off the ground. And that's the part I hate about living here. Musicians like Paul Rosenthal, Zuill Bailey--and tonight, Kathryn, Roxann, and Maria--are my heroes, and I'm so incredibly thankful to be able to experience world-class musicians in such an intimate setting because they took an interest in creating the venues in the first place.
I crave to emulate that concept myself, but I need help from others in making it happen. I know there are more like-minded, capable people out there--people like my new cellist-friend Kevin, who could be anywhere playing with anyone, but fell in love with Alaska and came to stay. It truly is a bewitchingly beautiful state, and what setting could possibly be more profoundly inspiring to us artists and musicians? The snow may seek to suffocate, and the mountains may rise in resistance, but we will stubbornly tackle them for the rewards to be had, for the sake of the shining beauty that's to be shared with those thirsty ears.
October 15, 2012 10:40
Strad Magazine said "Although similar blind listening tests of violins and cellos are carried out with some regularity, their progress invariably follows a well-trodden and predictable course. The trial compares new against old, ideally including some famous and highly priced classical instruments (the inclusion of a Strad will usually mean mainstream media coverage). The results show that new instruments stand up very well and often outscore their older, more expensive counterparts. The test is then discredited and dismissed as meaningless by the experts." - August 2010
The experts consulted are most often dealers who specialize in selling classical instruments. They just might have a little conflict of interest in saying that the older instruments are superior and therefore worth the premium price as it is a big part of their market and profits.
We invite you to judge for yourself. Here are some examples of the numerous studies that have been done over the past 35+ years. Regardless of the expert's opinions, every study seems to conclude that the best modern makers are producing instruments virtually indistinguishable from classicals.
BBC Study 1975
Cello Test 1990
Texas A&M Study 2003
Swedish Trial 2006
Schwarze 2009 Study
Indianapolis 2010 Study
"There's some myth-making that helps old instruments," Thomas Roth said. "If you give someone a Stradivari and it doesn't work for them, they'll blame themselves and work hard at it until it works. "Give them a modern violin, and they'll dismiss the instrument straight away if it doesn't work for them. That's the psychology at work."
"Give them a modern violin, and they'll dismiss the instrument straight away if it doesn't work for them. That's the psychology at work."- source - Guardian.uk - Jan 2012
With skyrocketing costs putting classical instruments out of the reach of most musicians, it is beneficial to know that some modern makers are making instruments that are virtually indistinguishable from classicals in a price range affordable to a modern symphony player.
Click here to see an acoustic spectrum analysis of a Borman vs a Strad to see more evidence that a skilled modern violin maker can produce instruments virtually identical to the best classical instruments out there.
By Jonathan Hai
October 14, 2012 14:11
Post No. 24
As promised last time, I am moving backwards in time from the "incastro" phase… to describe one of my favorite steps in the violin making process – the scroll, which in Italian is called "chiocciola", (pronounced kyo-cho-la)meaning "snail".
This is maybe the most obviously impractical part of the stringed instruments – it has nothing to do with the instrument's strength, sound or playability. However, in addition to becoming one of the violin's trademarks, the scroll is the place where the violin maker can really express her or himself. I'm sure that for most of you, like for me, most of those curly "snails" at the end of the instruments' neck look about the same. Oh how wrong you are!
There are endless intricacies, variations, proportional differences and three-dimensional improvisations that go way beyond what we mortals are able to see – scrolls can be delicate or heavy, protruding or relatively flat, with a big or small "eye" (center), flowing downwards or upwards…. And these oh-so-subtle differences make the scrolls of each violin maker uniquely his. Not only that – the scrolls are one of the places that experts in violin evaluation look to decide whether this particular instrument is, in fact, a really valuable antique or whether it's just the old, used instrument you happened to find in your grandparents' attic, and wildly hopes that maybe, just maybe, you had stumbled across a long-lost Stradivari….
Since I am far from being one of those experts, I want to share with you what I find so magical about the scrolls: it's Yonatan's ability to three-dimensionally-imagine the perfect curve of the snail figure, and then to actually take a block of raw maple wood and turn it into that perfect, totally symmetrical, completely flawless, flowing form. Honestly – I still have trouble drawing a good two-dimensional circle… so seeing this process amazes me time and again. And thus, without further ado, I turn the stage over to pictures that will much better describe this amazing process:
Cutting the raw block of wood into the initial scroll form:
Further cutting it with a saw:
…and using a chisel to begin the three dimensional work:
Then cutting again with a saw:
And beginning to slowly, patiently, sculpture the scroll, based on nothing but the eye's perception and evaluation:
Then going round and round to deepen the curves and perfect them:
Then gently shaving and smoothing the edges:
Then working on the back side of the scroll:
Until finally there's a perfect, flowing, almost sensuous, curvy chiocciola:
Need I say more? Pure Violin-Making Magic :)
By Bram Heemskerk
October 13, 2012 09:21
I Palpiti op.13 from Niccolò Paganini(1782-1840)for violin + piano:
October 12, 2012 14:52
KREUTZER, RODE, DONT AND A TOUCH OF MADNESS…
October 9, 2012 · by Simon Smith
I need some help, please. Let me explain.
So, Louise, our new head of strings here in Birmingham and I start an email exchange. I volunteer to do one of her lecture/recitals that she is planning, in which a musician will talk through their approach to a piece of music. I am thinking of all my favourite pieces, Szymanowski perhaps (I could tell Neaman’s version of the story to Fountains, that he got from Thibaud, who played it with Szymanowski) or maybe some other piece of which I am proud of my interpretation.
I am, however, slightly wrong footed by a reply from Louise. “Maybe if you are doing a session like this you could even include some relevant tips on preparing for technical assessments within this? Just wondering”. ” Well she can keep wondering” is my first reaction. How would I do that? Why would I want to?
After clarification that I can really do anything I want, and that it was just an idea, I begin to think. Of all those Studies that I have heard from my students over the years, of what it must be like to sit on the panel for these midyear exams. A twinge of guilt sets in, maybe I do have something to contribute, maybe what the students need is to see me stand there and tell them all about the context of the composition of Rode and Dont and Gavinies. To show them how they can prepare studies with the same musical attention to detail as they would for a concerto, and find the drama and emotion hiding beneath the surface of a technical drill. So, I agree, I’ll do the research and practice, it will be good for me, Szymanowski can wait, studies it is.
As it happens, my regular end of summer post holiday technical rebuild includes (as well as a complete traverse of the Flesch Scales obviously!) the relearning of a classic set of Studies. Rode, Fiorillo, Gavinies have featured in the last few years, and this year was Kreutzer. Inspired by the new Schott edition (edited by one of my former classmates, Maria Egelhof, with the attention to detail that I used to find quite charming when we were younger) I have just got to the end of the 40, having decided to ignore the two that weren’t written by the master himself.
At this point the madness of the obsessive violinist takes over. How will I decide which of the Kreutzer studies to perform? Why not let the audience decide? Let them vote! To begin with, I laugh at myself – how could I even contemplate walking in to a room full of students ready to play any one of these 40 pieces, that range from quite tricky to very hard indeed. I have a family, and a mortgage, I don’t have time to do that much practice. But I know them all already, some from memory, and have taught them many times. I seem to find the difficulty of the plan a challenge; exciting in a typical testosterone filled masculine way, and I feel the urge to give it a go.
So, please help me. Tell me not to do it, tell me to pick one or two and practise them thoroughly. Tell me I have enough on my plate already. Tell me it would be like signing up to do a marathon in a months time, when you are only capable of jogging 2 miles. Tell me it would be professional suicide.
By The Weekend Vote
October 12, 2012 09:14
We're all human, and so it happens: we break something on our valuable violin. Sometimes it's pure physics, like the bridge snaps on its own or the tip simply snaps off while you are playing. Other times, it's clearly your fault: you fumble the rosin onto the cement floor and it shatters like glass; you sit on your violin; your luthier accidentally lights your bow on fire…sometimes the stories can be quite interesting!
For me, I had two major mishaps as a teenager, both ending in broken bows. In one case, I was walking up steps at a concert and clumsily got my feet tangled in my dangling bow. I tripped over it and snapped it clear in half. The other case, I'd argue, wasn't my fault! I was playing with a cheap bow from my grandmother's attic, and as I was playing, the tip simply snapped off! I think it was 100 years old, made of cheap wood, and ready to go.
What are your stories? Please vote and then share your mishaps!
By Javier Orman
October 11, 2012 23:21
I have put in 10,000 hours. I have played recitals and concertos. I'm a professional musician. But, lately, I’ve been going back, way back, to when I was a kid.
See, I've always put my imagination into whatever music I was playing at the time, whether it was changing things up in the Mendelssohn Concerto cadenza, performing Bach's Ciaccona (Chaconne) with a modern choreography, or improvising on Radiohead's "Everything in its Right Place" with Entropy Ensemble and Christopher O'Riley. But at some point, I decided that wasn’t enough.
For the last 15 months, I've been writing, recording and performing with guitarist Tom Farrell. Together (Dúo del Sol), we play music. Yes, we play music. That means that every time we meet, there are dangerous quantities of imagination, intuition, innovation and crazy ideas. How about a reggae groove? Singing while drumming on our instruments? What if I play play the violin like a guitar or a ukelele? What if I create distortion and feedback like an electric guitarist with my bow? In a way, when we create, we become children all over again.
We also surround ourselves and collaborate with artists that share our quest for artistic adventure. From putting on an old-circus-themed show with Dallas-based artist Michele Mikesell, to performing whole improvised songs with Los Angeles' classy/dirty band Magnolia Memoir, to whipping up nostalgic and delusional waltzes with accordionist Oscar Rospide, we love new musical happenings and we are always open to them.
As a teacher, I not only try to remind my students to work hard, but also to not take themselves too seriously. The ones that have the best understanding of music (as a whole, not just technique) are those who get together with friends to play, pick up songs from the radio (or iTunes), make up their own tunes, play other instruments and, of course, do their homework. Playing violin involves innumerable simultaneous tasks, so it's easy to get lost or stuck. But the best way to learn is by play and exploration under patient guidance.
I've been fortunate to meet violin teachers and performers who are at the vanguard of this philosophy: Mark Wood, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Margaret Lysy (Sol-La Music Academy), Robert Anderson (String Project LA), Mark O'Connor and Pam Wiley are just a few of them. Unfortunately, not enough. I've met a lot more musicians who have forgotten how to search for special moments of deep and beautiful musical connections through exploration, openness and a sense of wonder.
Why are there so many more in the second, less exciting category of musicians? Is it the fault of conservatories, orchestras, or the Classical music world's rigidity? Or is it a larger, more general issue of the music world or even the society that we live in? If you have an easy answer, you're probably overlooking something. What I do know is that curiosity is contagious and, as performers and teachers, we hold the key to spreading it.
Here is what I propose:
Plenty has been said about how most education systems neglect and therefore damage our ability to be creative, an ability that we used constantly as children (you’ve watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, right?). Yes, the system needs to change. But that's not going to happen until we change.
PLOS One study finds wood typically used in violins throughout Europe in the first half of the 18th century have similar characteristics to wood chosen by Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del GesuBy Shar Wood
October 11, 2012 12:37
Press Release October 11, 2012
PLOS One study finds wood typically used in violins throughout Europe in the first half of the 18th century have similar characteristics to wood chosen by Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu
A study published in the October 10th release of PLOS One finds that the top (spruce) wood chosen by violin makers in Europe contemporaneous to the careers of Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu is remarkably similar in density.
Wood biologists recognize density as perhaps the key prognosticator of the three principal wood characteristics necessary to build high quality musical instruments (density, stiffness, and damping) and as such these findings have significant impact in supporting or debunking the common conception that Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu has access to wood with significantly different wood properties than wood available to other makers in other countries and at other times.
In another study published in PLOS One in 2008, Stoel and Borman found that the wood chosen by these two most illustrious classical makers had overall density quite similar to woods chosen by modern makers. They also noted differences in the density differential between early and late growth wood. This expanded study, testing woods from 12 modern instruments and 18 classical instruments, focusing primarily on overall density and the significance of density as a key forecaster of tone-wood suitability.
The authors state, "based on the well-understood relationships between density, wood stiffness, and internal damping, our results indicate increasing difficulty in sustaining the notion that the classical Cremonese violin makers such as Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu had access to wood with significantly different material properties than what contemporaneous could, or modern makers can, access".
For access to the full article go to: PLOS One.
Berend C. Stoel is assistant professor at the Division of Image Processing, Department of Radiology at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), Leiden, the Netherlands (www.lkeb.nl). This group of 40 people performs research, implementation and validation of image processing techniques, with a goal of producing objective and reproducible assessments of medical images.
Terry Borman is a luthier and acoustic researcher with over 35 years experience making violins and studying instruments of the classical period. He has previously published research papers and articles on the subject of CT scanning of historic instruments and the acoustic properties of stringed instruments.
For questions related to CT densitometry and image processing contact:
For questions related to acoustics, violins, or wood biology contact:
Download pdf, word doc, and web and print quality images for publication purposes by visiting our website at InstrumentalInsight.com. Right-click on the link to download any file.
By Karen Allendoerfer
October 11, 2012 11:30
Last Sunday I did a performance that had been a long time coming. I played "Simchas Torah" by Ernest Bloch, in church for the offertory. I first heard of the piece about 4 years ago, from my violin teacher, who mentioned that she'd had a high-school-age student perform it in a recital, and he'd "done a terrific job." I've always liked Bloch, and so I thought I would give it a try. I downloaded a Joshua Bell version from iTunes and bought the sheet music, and then took it to a lesson.
That first lesson was long enough ago that I don't remember it too well. I do remember thinking, gee, if a high school student could play this in recital, why not me? The answer to that became clear pretty quickly. Climbing up there on the E-string? Lots of fingered octaves? Harmonics galore? Mmmm, double stops! And, by the way, what key is this piece in? It starts out looking and sounding like a relatively straightforward A-major but, um, no. Key changes. Modulations. There went my simple plan for practicing one scale a week and matching it to the piece I'm playing. I ultimately set Simchas Torah aside, in favor of the 4th movement of the Franck Sonata.
But, fast forward a few years, and the Bloch is still there, on my iPod and on the music shelf, calling me. It reminds me of birds, somehow. Birds singing, birds flying, birds hopping on branches, getting ready to fly south for the winter. It's tonal without being trite or tired. It's also modern without losing any sense of melody and musical line. It's not really like any other violin piece I've heard before. I have a history of avoiding high notes--at one point I felt so anti-E-string that I bought a viola and learned to play it--but this piece makes me *want* to play the high notes. The birds need them.
So I decided to do a little reading about the holiday itself, also called "Simchat Torah." Unlike Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and even Sukkot which immediately precedes it, Simchat Torah has not made many inroads into non-Jewish US consciousness. This movement is even possibly the least well-known movement of the whole musical suite, "Baal Shem, Three Pictures of Hassidic Life." (I think the best-known one is "Ningun," at least I'd heard that one before and it has the most YouTube videos). I also thought it might help to find out when Simchat Torah takes place. Perhaps that would be a good time for the performance. It turned out that Simchat Torah immediately follows the festival of Sukkot. It is part of an independent holiday called Shemini Atzeret, and took place this year on Oct 8, which is why I played last Sunday. "Simchat Torah" itself means "Rejoicing in the Law" and marks the conclusion--and restart--of the annual Torah-reading cycle. It is celebrated with great rejoicing, including marching and dancing with Torah scrolls.
There were a couple of things I tried before this performance that I'd never done before, but which were helpful and which I'll probably do again. The first was to make a recording and post it, which I did here: Desensitizing Myself. This helped in two major ways: 1. It got me to think in performance mode before the actual performance. I had to play it through without stopping, and I could feel "eyes" on me and get used to the feeling, before there were real eyes. and 2. I got helpful comments. The comments reinforced my notion that I needed to move beyond getting the notes, into letting go and thinking of the piece in a more musical way.
The second thing I did in performance that was new was to not only write in pauses, but plan for and practice some sort of action during the pauses that would keep me paused. For example, there is a comma printed in the sheet music after a climactic moment, after a long, high harmonic and before the opening theme is reasserted. In the weeks and months leading up to the performance I did all kinds of things to get that pause right: I circled the comma with a pencil; I drew in some railroad tracks. My teacher, helpfully, suggested to "think of a breath. Breathe!" None of this really made any difference. Truth be told, voice and singing metaphors have never really done much for me. I still felt the uncomfortable "eyes" on me during the pause, wanted it to be over, and barreled with relief right back into the main theme.
Except for the time my shoulder rest felt like it was falling off and I had to adjust my chin and shoulder a little bit before starting again. That pause was the right length. Hmm. What if I just planned to make a little chin and shoulder adjustment there, every time, no matter what? I mentioned this to my teacher and she said that yes, players will do that sometimes. And it even fits in with the idea of preparation: with the pause, you are preparing the audience to listen to what comes next, but you are also preparing yourself to play. Whatever was behind it, it worked. The pause was right.
I have to admit, marching and dancing are not the first thing that comes to my mind when listening to this piece. But I do feel a sense of both completion and beginning, with the performance. I feel as if I've come a long way since I first dug my violin out of the back of the closet almost 6 years ago. This performance had its flaws, as they all do, but it was marked by much less anxiety than I used to feel before playing anything solo, and a new appreciation for and comfort with the full range of pitches that the violin is capable of. The pianist who accompanied me, one of the music directors at church, is also a music professor, and it was a pleasure to be talking to him in rehearsal about interpretation, as a fellow musician rather than as a greenhorn student. That idea, moving beyond the notes into finding an interpretation, is the area where I feel I'm just beginning. Finally beginning.
By Daniel Broniatowski
October 10, 2012 18:33
My dear readers,
I have been recently reflecting on the purpose of music in our society. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also noticed an interesting story on the CBS evening news tonight. The story is about a man from Tacoma, WA named Don Brittain. The 78-year-old Mr. Brittain has been playing the 24-note “Taps” on his trumpet every evening at sunset for the past two years over Puget Sound.
This story had a profound effect on me. You see, Don Brittain is a polio survivor who desperately wanted to serve our country but was unable to do so. His nightly rendition of “Taps”, which he ever continues to perfect through practice, is his way of serving our country and honoring our military. This is a small yet profound gesture that has captivated residents in his neighborhood. In fact, his neighbors even come out to listen now, as part of an evening ritual.
To me, Mr. Brittain’s story is truly inspiring. It is a testament to the power of sound and its effect on our collective consciousness. Mr. Brittain does not play his trumpet because he is looking for fame. In fact, he is not even a professional trumpet player. His heartfelt rendition of “Taps” is the result of an inner conviction to give back to the men and women who serve and who served in uniform. It is the best way that he knows how.
Because Mr. Brittain followed his heart, others with a similar inclination followed him. To me, there is no greater joy than the freedom to express thanks, whether to our friends, family, strangers, or our Creator.
You can find the full CBS report HERE
Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
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Confessions of a Former Suzuki Teacher by Pamela Wiley - May 2013
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