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Jonathan Hai

Violin Maker's Wife: A Scene with a Viola, A Story of a Double Bass

April 1, 2012 at 6:24 PM

Post No. 7

This week I have decided to take a pause from covering the construction of the Quartet. No, don’t worry, nothing is wrong – Yonatan is just still working on finishing the borders of the cello and the two violins, while the “left-behind-viola” is still untouched and needs to go through the “sgrossatura” process. In the meantime, though, I have a beautiful scene to describe and a great, true story to tell you:

So here is the scene that was played out (literally) at our home yesterday evening: Galia, Yonatan’s viola-playing sister, came over for dinner. Right on time, too, as Yonatan just finished putting the strings on her new, gorgeous viola (which, as you, Attentive Readers may recall, he had built especially for her). So now please picture this: Galia is sitting on our sofa, with the new, shining viola to her shoulder, playing for us the first notes this instrument has ever sounded – and it sounds amazing! The two of us and our three kids are all gathered around her, and even our not-even-one-year-old baby Alona is mesmerized by the sound this viola is making.

To make the viola unique, Yonatan chose very unusual keys for it. Unlike most keys, made of ebony, these are pure maple wood, and they have tiny shining stones embedded at their tips, which might sound awfully kitsch, but turns out to be very chic instead. Now Galia needs to play the viola for a while to “warm it up” and “open it”, as both violin makers and musicians like to say. One of the amazing facts about these instruments is that although the wood they are made of appears to be dead, it remains a living substance that is affected by the vibrations passing through it as music is played. The wood actually changes over time and instruments sound much better – warmer, more vibrant, more powerful and pliable – after they are played for while (musicians even claim it is also important who plays the instrument; and that a different touch on a new instrument would ultimately result in a different sound). I promise to report and send pictures from the first début of Galia’s new viola on stage!

…And here is a great story I have been wanting to share with you of how we brought the double-bass Yonatan had built in Italy, back to Israel with us. This may seem like a simple enough task to accomplish, but it turned out to be an extremely bizarre story – like one of those Roberto Benigni films:

This was about three and a half years ago. We were going back to Israel for good and we had to take with us the double bass Yonatan had constructed in Cremona. It quickly became clear that sending it the way you would send an over-sized package wasn’t feasible, since we had to put it in a special wooden crate, the weight of which would cost us an incredible sum. The only solution we could think of was to buy the double-bass a plane ticket, bring it on board with us, and put it in a regular seat next to us. We checked this with Alitalia and they said it would be fine. So we bought an extra ticket and, when we received it, we were amused to discover the name on this ticket actually read “Mr. Contra Bass” (double bass in Italian…). I swear this is true – I have the ticket receipt to prove it!

OK, so we got to Verona Airport, and we stood in the check in line with all our bags, two kids, a violin, a viola and…Mr. Contra Bass. When our turn came, the lady at the desk just stared at this huge instrument – over 180cm tall – and said there is no way it could enter into a seat next to us. And she was right of course, because we didn’t think of the simple fact that, unlike a 180cm tall person, the bass cannot bend and sit down. What to do? The lady called her supervisor, who took a long look at Mr. Contra Bass … and called her supervisor. The super-supervisor suggested that, because there is one broken toilet on this plane, we could put the double bass in there and tie it securely for the duration of the flight. Yonatan, needless to say, strenuously objected: “Mr. Contra Bass bought a ticket”, he said, “and deserves his own seat!”

What to do??

Well, let me tell you, the Alitalia people started running around in circles, calling more and more supervisors to the scene, and basically, I think, cursing us, the Stradivari School in Cremona and probably Stradivari himself for inventing the violin to begin with. Anyway, to make a long story short, the solution ended up being upgrading Mr. Contra Bass’ ticket to First Class, where there was a seat that fit his size. And so we arrived in Israel – us four in our coach seats and the double-bass being served a better meal in First Class!

No pictures this time but you are invited to view new and updated pictures from the Quartet building process here.


From Ellie Withnall
Posted on April 3, 2012 at 1:23 AM
Oh lovely story, I will think of "Mr. Contra Bass" every time I check in to a pane from now on.Thanks for posting.

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