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Jonathan Hai

Violin Maker's Wife: The Viola that was Left Behind

March 11, 2012 at 8:13 PM

Post no. 4
So what's the deal with the viola? Why was it left behind? Well, the answer is that after having picked the model and prepared a form he had already used and liked before for the viola, Yonatan had second thoughts and finally decided to use a brand new model of his own invention.

Over the past weeks, in parallel to working on the Quartet, Yonatan has been building a new, relatively large viola with body length of 42.5 – almost a small cello… This particular viola is being built for a special person – Yonatan's sister Galia who is one of the best viola players of her field in Israel, and likes to play large violas that have a particularly large sound. Galia's new viola will also have an unusual color – golden-yellow rather than the "classical" shades of amber, brown and reddish-orange. I can't wait for the day that Galia gets up on stage with this lovely new viola that her brother built especially for her – how cool is that? Don't worry, I'll keep you posted :)

So for his sister's order-made viola Yonatan designed a new model – with a so-called "large ass" (meaning a wider lower section..). After he saw how beautiful this new model looks, he decided to use it for the Quartet viola too, but since the Quartet viola will be shorter, this meant building a new form and basically starting all over again. (While a violin's measurements are very rigid and the length of its body is basically always the same, a viola is more versatile, and its length may vary from 39 cm to up to 44cm. This may sound like not much of a difference, but for viola players this is like … well, like the difference between wearing an S and an XL shirt for most of us).

So when you think about the process of building a new instrument, it may appear to be a linear process – wood needs to be worked, glued, shaved, and modeled – and made into something new. But in reality, this is much more like art than it is like carpentry… you should see the look on Yonatan's face on the days when this artistic indecision is happening: he walks around the house all tangled up, all engrossed with the pros and cons of the various options. I may be trying to talk with him about my day, the kids' day at school or what to prepare for dinner, but then I can see in his eyes his mind is far far away... occupied, no doubt, with the intricate differences between a "small ass" and a "big ass" model. What chance to I stand? Until finally a decision is made, often based as much on his gut instinct (meaning experience, professionalism and intuition combined) than on plain logic. Which I guess is another reason why I find this sphere so intriguing and fascinating: you never know when an artistic consideration may come your way.

Here you can see the three other instruments with ribs already glued and ready, while the viola form is still "naked".

viole catching up

Don't worry. By next week it too will have its ribs attached – provided not too many clients come along with emergency repairs – and all four instruments will again be more or less in the same phase. We have about 9 more months to go and the quartet is beginning to take shape, but still lots and lots of challenges ahead of us – will Yonatan make it on time?

I guess this week's post turned out to be a bit more technical than I had planned. Sorry about that. Still trying to find the ballance. So to make things more interesting you are invited to see Galia playing with the terrific Panic Ensemble, in a really original and beautiful clip "Spring in Your Heart".

I now leave you with a last, life-altering question that will be answered next time I write: "What is a Giunta?"


From David Rowland
Posted on March 12, 2012 at 5:57 PM
You do a wonderful job of explaining the technical details. I am enjoying your posts and look forward to following the progress of the quartet.

If anything, it makes me wish I could afford a hand made violin. Maybe someday.

From Jonathan Hai
Posted on March 14, 2012 at 9:03 PM
thanks so much David. that's really great to hear!

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