I suppose I should title this "Adventures in bow shopping" now, since I'm pretty much decided I'm not going to buy a new instrument at this point. There are very few things I enjoy shopping for, and violin bows are definitely not among them. I don't like spending large sums of money on purchases I'm supposed to be satisfied with for a long time. Bow shopping is ranking down there with furniture and car shopping, but without the advantage of being able to turn to my non-violinist husband and say, "Hey, you pick it out." Fortunately, I hope a decision is forthcoming soon.
This afternoon I drove down to Kamimoto Strings in San Jose, where I met fellow V.com member Clare Chu. It's always fun to turn online relationships into real-life ones. Err...strike that, I once had a bad experience with a romantic relationship that started online, way before the 'net was everywhere...but I digress. Anyway, Clare is an experienced violin and bow shopper, and the people in the shop know her well, so it was nice having her there to show me around, especially since the store seemed understaffed today.
I found it quite a bit more difficult to evaluate anything in the crowded, noisy shop, though; it was quite a different experience from Ifshin, where they put me in a quiet room where I could close the door and concentrate. I tried several wooden bows in and above my price range, but didn't find anything I like better than the wooden bow I've got on trial from Ifshin. I did, however, try a Spiccato Arpege CF bow, and liked its handling and appearance better than the Arcus Veloce. Clare pointed out---and I agree---that the CF bows have a "fuzzier" sound than the wooden bows, which articulate much more clearly. But I'm still interested enough in CF bows to return to Ifshin tomorrow and try out the Coda Classic and Arcus Sonata. Then I'll have my lesson in the evening, and maybe I'll be able to come to a decision soon.
The two major violin shops in my area (Ifshin Violins in Berkeley, and Kamimoto Strings in San Jose) are in opposite directions from where I live, so I decided to split the shopping into two separate days. Today was Ifshin, since I also needed to go up there ASAP to return my daughter's rented 1/16 that's still too big for her.
The sales staff at Ifshin is very competent, but also a little intimidating. I've never shopped for violins or bows before in my life. The instrument I've had for twenty years is one I got when I was about 13, and I had a choice of two that my violin teacher found after my parents told her their price range. So going into such a well-known shop to spend a large sum of money on my own was rather daunting.
As with anything, though, you get more comfortable as you get familiar with the routine. I told them my price limit and they brought out six violins. After playing a variety of things on each of them, I started to get a feel for what I wanted. Surprisingly, although all of the instruments were at least twice the cost of my current one, many of them had a very dull sound in the lower register, especially when I played high on the G string. They all, however, sounded beautiful on the upper strings. There was only one violin, an American, which I liked enough to consider purchasing, even after the sales guy brought me five more to try.
By this time my ears were tired and I contemplated leaving without even trying any bows, but I figured that since I was there, I should really take advantage of the opportunity. So I asked for a few bows, not even really knowing what I should specify as a price range, figuring I'd just try a few for posterity and go home.
WOW! I've heard that a bow can make your instrument sound a lot better, and I did once try an expensive bow and noticed a very slight difference...but this was amazing. I expected to feel a difference in the ease of spiccato and all that, but I didn't expect the bow to make the upper register of my violin sound gorgeous. And the funny thing was, when I tried these bows on the expensive violin I'd liked, I didn't like the violin nearly as much. So it really is true that bow and violin must be matched.
The final thing I wanted to accomplish was trying out a carbon fiber bow. Again I expected to do this only for completeness...and again I was wrong. I was quite impressed with how they sounded, enough to consider buying one instead of the two wooden ones. I'm not such a purist that I insist on wood, and in fact since I did my doctorate in the area of hard materials, I sort of feel compelled to champion new technology. :) The only problem is that they're UGLY! The Coda Conservatory I tried was passable, but the Arcus Veloce which I liked better looks like it's made out of rubber or something. However, the Veloce is the lowest-end model, so maybe they do make nicer-looking ones which I didn't get to try.
I decided I'm probably not going to buy a new instrument when I can get a sound I like at 1/4 the cost just by buying a new bow. So I took two wooden bows and the Arcus Veloce home on trial, and made my husband do a blind comparison. He's not a string player, but he's got an excellent ear, far better than mine. I was impressed! He guessed correctly which was my current bow (it sounded "dead" compared to the others), described the carbon fiber bow's sound as "very full and rich" whereas the wooden bows were "pure and floaty". His opinion was that each bow was suited for a particular type of music but neither would be ideal all the time. So maybe I'll buy two bows after all, or maybe I can find a higher-end carbon fiber that's more versatile.
That's the report for today...more tomorrow, after I visit Kamimoto Strings.
So I'm practicing rhythms with my daughter this evening, and we're working on that classic Suzuki pattern for "Twinkle," four 16ths followed by two 8ths (or is it four 8ths followed by two quarters?). Anyway, I remember learning "pepperoni pizza" as the chant for the rhythm, but I've heard other teachers say "Mississippi Hot Dog". So I start chanting that while clapping with my daughter, and she interrupts me, "No, Crissa [her teacher] always says 'Mississippi Stop Stop'!"
This makes little sense to me, so I respond, "Well, ok. Mommy learned 'pepperoni pizza', or you can say "Mississippi Stop Stop' like Crissa, or you can say "Mississippi Hot Dog'. Which do you want to use?"
No more orchestra for the year, and I've got all of next week off work, so I might actually have a shot at practicing more than 15 minutes a day. That's the only Christmas present I need, that and the health of myself, my husband, and my beautiful daughters.
Happy holidays to all!
I've been wanting to get a new bow for a while, so I decided I'd wait and see if I got an end-of-year bonus at work, then buy it out of that if possible. Our company had a good year, because my bonus was quite a bit bigger than I expected. (Hmmm...I'd like a new instrument too, while I'm at it, but I don't think I deserve one until I'm a better violinist.)
Looks like I'll be heading back up to Ifshin Violins in Berkeley again. (Hate the city, love the shop) If anyone has advice on bow-buying they'd like to share, I'd appreciate it. I've tried other bows to know that they can affect my sound dramatically, but I'm not sure how to detect quality. I borrowed a bow from a fellow orchestra member once that I liked and she said it cost her $45. Shows what I know!
My orchestra director is nuts. He totally overprogrammed our winter concert, which was yesterday. We performed Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, Mozart's Bassoon concerto, and Haydn's Symphony no. 73. This would have been plenty for an orchestra of our caliber, especially at his tempos, but then we were also scheduled to play the Xmas part of the Messiah plus Hallelujah Chorus.
Anyway, it's over, so hallelujah. It was definitely not a concert I wish to remember, but in the words of my former thesis advisor---when I finally passed my qualifying exams---"All's well that ends." We were just not prepared. I've never felt like my position as assistant concertmaster meant anything until yesterday, when my stand partner was missing entrances right and left and was dependent on me to come in on time. (I missed entrances too, but I think only once did we miss the same one.) I think everyone was just exhausted. She forgot about our half rest at the begining of Fireworks, and the winds forgot to change key between the Mozart and Haydn. Eeek. And as for the Messiah, we might as well have been sightreading it.
The one great joy about doing the Messiah at all was working with professional singers. I freely admit to "instrumentalists' snobbery", whereby I believe that the vast majority of singers are not real musicians. They have no knowledge of theory or history and can't sightread to save their lives. But our Messiah soloists, borrowed from the Opera San Jose company, were fantastic. I only wish we could have done them justice.
Now I'm free for a while. The orchestra doesn't begin rehearsals until mid-January, but I've told people (who are desperately trying to get me to change my mind, and may yet succeed) that I'm going to sit out the next concert so I can have a longer break. I'm just not progressing as quickly on my solo work as I'd like, and that's important to me too.
My nearly-three-year-old daughter had her very first violin lesson last week. I wasn't there; my husband's the stay-at-home parent, so he's taking her to her lessons and learning violin too. Judging from his report, and what I've seen in her practice sessions since, it's a good match. She behaved well, even though all they did was practice holding the instrument, and her setup already looks way better than mine did when I was twice her age. Apparently the teacher was quite impressed with her enthusiasm and how much she already knew about the violin. I'm trying to be very careful not to push my kids into doing something just because it's important to me, but she really seems to have developed this interest on her own.
Now I just need to get my nine-month-old to learn the cello, and we'll have a family quartet. ;)
As Sydney already mentioned in her latest blog entry, today is Joshua Bell's birthday. You can send him wishes on his birthday board here!
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