Here is a song by Eric Bogle for Veteran's Day. The chorus describes the traditional Scottish funeral service for men killed in war. I've discovered that I can express anger and a certain form of grieving better on the viola than on the violin.
"I'd like you to take a look at a violin and viola I've got."
The call was from a friend who likes to pick things up at second hand stores, hoping that they might be worth something and that they can repaired readily.
"Sure," I said. "When can you bring them over?" I was excited.
I was even more excited when I saw the instruments. The viola, especially, was beautiful. I loved the grain of the wood and the varnish. It was relatively light in weight with a gentle curve to the back, resembling my violin. I looked it over and could not find any serious flaws. It needed new strings and a new bridge, and if I were to play it, a new tailpiece with four fine tuning screws.
I picked up the viola and played it for about 30 seconds, mainly scales.
"I want it," I said.
"You can't have it," he responded.
I knew that my luthier should look at both instruments, but I kept them on loan so that I could play them for a while. I especially liked the viola. One string was nearly worn out, and I broke another one while trying to tune it. Even with only two strings, it sounded beautiful to me. I spent a lot of time playing it before taking it to the shop.
At the luthier's, I watched with some trepidation while one of the professionals looked at it.
"It was probably made in the 1950s," she said in response to my first question. I asked her how she could tell. She explained that the varnish was relatively even throughout, with no evidence of antiquing. She also said that the light yellow color of the rims was characteristic of violins and violas made at that time.
I watched her run one fingertip along the edges where one piece of wood was glued to another, feeling for cracks or separations. Her verdict was very good. It only needed gluing in one small spot. I know that even a small glue job should be done by a professional, or the instrument can develop new stresses that may eventually destroy it. When I knew that the viola was in almost perfect health, I was thrilled. I had her write down the cost of the repairs and replacement parts and told her to keep the instrument on hold until I consulted with my friend about the cost. I also asked her the rental cost for a reasonably good beginner viola, and I was pleasantly surprised by her response. I called my friend about having his viola repaired. He gave the go-ahead, and the viola was on its way.
When I went with my friend to pick up his repaired viola, I tried out his viola and several rental violas. My friend is not a musician, but he has built a few stringed instruments and he is an avid listener to many kinds of music. We discussed each viola after I played it, and we heard similar qualities in each one. I selected one of the viola rentals as just a bit better suited to me than his viola. The one I chose sounded a little tinny to me, so I had the strings changed from Heliocores to Pirastro Tonicas, and the viola sounded immensely better. I felt the kind of excitement that only a new instrument could bring.
End of prelude.
To be continued.
More entries: October 2010
Pauline Lerner is from Rockville, Maryland. Biography
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