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Emily Grossman


August 28, 2010 at 6:33 AM

Philadelphia seemed like the place to find a decent bow. After scanning the internet for likely shops and mapping out my directions, I wound up at the doorstep of Fred Oster Fine Violins, only to find a note taped to he door reading, "On vacation until August 23rd." The sight of it was crushing, but since I was with my in-laws at the time, I tried not to let it show. All was not lost; we spent the day sampling various cheeses, meats, and breads at the Italian market before returning home. Still, I knew if ever I would have an opportunity to shop for bows on the East coast, now was the time. I contacted Karen Rile, a violinist connection who lives in Philly, and asked her for some other recommendations. She mentioned Mount Airy Violins and Bows and agreed to meet me there the next day, along with her daughter Caeli Smith, to help me sample them.

Samuel Payton was in the shop, ready to assist. He lined up a handful of bows on the table, and I set about sampling each one. First, I listened to the tone quality, pulling notes from the lower register and then singing a bit in the upper register. Next, I followed with some various spiccato passages, some sautille, and quick detache. One bow in particular stood out immediately, and I continued to gravitate to it throughout the trial. I even chose it blind when Caeli played through each of them for me. When I asked about it, and one other bow that I was curious about, Sam informed me that the first bow was a Hill, and the second was one he made himself. Astonished by the quality of his bow compared to the reasonable price, I asked him how long he'd been making bows. "Three years," he replied. I made a mental note to keep my eye on the future of Payton bows, and pondered keeping it simply for its investment value. Two bows left on trial with me that day: the Hill, and the Payton. Karen invited me over to her house to visit her family, and I followed her through the shaded, winding roads that make up the neighborhoods of Philadelphia.

Although I'm seldom over to people's houses for a visit, I immediately felt like I belonged at the Rile-Smith household. Light-hearted and fascinating conversations bounced along late into the evening, well past the time I'd intended to leave. I would have stayed the night and enjoyed a coffee cake brunch with fresh coffee, but I had many miles in front of me and a very important objective to fulfill before the next day's end. Karen stuck some cakes in a bag and filled my thermos while her husband meticulously checked my tire pressure, double checking the manual for the proper range.

20 hours and 1500 miles. I could make it.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on August 28, 2010 at 9:10 PM

Philly is a great city for violins, bows and other things.  Glad you had a good experience there.  I hope you will go back each time you visit your in-laws and other PA relatives.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on August 29, 2010 at 6:04 AM

Have a safe journey.

From Tess Z
Posted on August 30, 2010 at 1:26 PM

Good friends opening their door and their hearts in welcoming hospitality...that's what life is all about.

From Christina C.
Posted on August 30, 2010 at 4:37 PM

great story, and given the infiniteness of possibilities when it comes to picking a violin or bow, it's a wonderful thing when one jumps out at you as being the obvious choice. Hope you get the Hill!

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