I did speak to one scientist at a nearby technical institution, one who is a musician and specializes in issues of sound. Though he wouldn’t go “on the record,” he expressed some interest – and skepticism. He said that he could only truly comment if we did the following experiment:
See if listeners can hear a difference without knowing whether the magnet is on the violinist's back or not. Also, the violinist must not know if the magnet is on his/her own back. That would mean having something else that could be put on in place of the magnet which weighs exactly the same, has the same weight distribution, and feels the same to the violinist in every way (hmmm, maybe a mouse pad?). Without this "placebo," there's no way to prevent the violinist's bias about the magnet---preconceived notion, that is, whether 'it will help' or 'it won't help'---from interfering.
He theorized that the magnets could have some kind of effect as weights, but he questioned their effect as magnets. If the benefit was because they shifted the person’s weight, then this could be achieved with other means, like a different position, Alexander technique, etc.
Still, as he said, we must hold this to the scientific method.
So does anyone want to try an experiment?
This is the question I asked a fellow violinist who was subbing in the Redlands Symphony last week.
“You have to experience it for yourself to know,” he said. “I’ll let you try mine.”
This was not the first time I had heard of this phenomenon. The last time was in the ladies’ dressing room during a summer Bowl concert, when a friend was struggling to re-tape a very large magnet to her back. It had come off during the first half of the concert and started sliding south, much to her dismay.
“Oh it’s just wonderful,” she said, fumbling with the tape, “Can you guys help me here? Hmmm, I might not be able to get it back on. I hate to play without it.”
I thought it was strange, but being a Californian now, I also wanted to have an open mind.
This week I got my opportunity. During a short break in the middle of Barber’s “Toccata for Organ and Orchestra” my colleague removed the large magnet from his back (it was held in place by the waist of his jeans), leaned over and whispered, “Here, you try it!”
I took the magnet, and eyed it suspiciously. It felt like a mouse pad and was roughly the same size. I stuffed it in the back of my waistband.
“Eeeeuuwww!” I heard softly but clearly from the woman behind me. “He just had it in his pants and she’s putting it in hers!”
Oh, come on, people. This is research.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Are all the nuclei in the cells of my body supposed to line up, then, like, vibrate with the music? It felt nice to have something on my sore back that was cool, but I wasn’t getting the vibe. During the break, I gave it back.
“What is it supposed to do?” I asked him.
He shook his head, hopeless for me. Then he ran a green thingie over the magnet in an effort to demonstrate its strength.
“Let me show you, give me your violin,” he said. He played a little scale on my fiddle, ending with a lot of G’s on the E string. Then he grabbed the magnet and stuffed it down his back. “Now listen.” Same scale. I watched for signs that he was playing differently, to throw the outcome, but he really wasn’t. Especially when he landed on the E-string G and gave it a good saw. Hmmm, it really sounded different. He put down the bow, took out the magnet and played again. Definitely not as resonant.
“See? Do you hear it?”
I did, actually. I think. But I also think that I need to hear some scientific justification before I go sticking a magnetic mouse pad down the back of my pants again. So I am off to find an expert in the subjects of magnets and music. Stay tuned.
“Geez, violinists are talkative!” I said to Robert as I scrolled through dozens of new posts. Then it dawned on me: people are posting from all over the world.
Not that long ago, this site consisted of little more than me, a few friends and a couple curious violinists who stumbled onto the domain.
As of today, Violinist.com has 1,463 registered members, from 67 countries. In the United States, there are registered users from all states except New Hampshire, North Dakota and Vermont.
Just to give you an idea of how far-flung we are, here are the home towns of our 10 most recent members: Mansfield, Pennsylvania; Manila, Philippines; Peterborough, Canada; Wilton Manors, Florida; London, United Kingdom; Seoul, Korea; Lillehammer, Norway; Jerusalem, Israel; Enugu Nigeria, Nigeria; and Melbourne, Australia.
Is it possible to imagine how different our daily lives are? For some of us it is now fall, for others it’s spring. For some it is day right now, for others, night. Some walk through snow, others through sand on a tropical beach. Some are surrounded with wealth, others with poverty and war.
Yet as violinists we share so much: the classical repertoire, our heroes of the violin, the rich yet trouble-fraught endeavor of learning to play the instrument, a desire to continue learning, a desire to teach, a great love for music.
How did we all come to love this small but gracefully-shaped wooden box called a violin? When we draw the bow across the strings, something amazing happens. The sound pours forth, but some of it stays and vibrates deep within us as well. This is what we give, and this is what we share.
At any hour of the day or night, all over the world.
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles went to Austin, Texas to cover the Menuhin Competition 2014, watching some of the world's top young violinists. Read her ongoing coverage.
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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