January 31, 2012 at 9:59 PMYesterday, I was teaching a lesson and was pleased to learn that one of high school students was just offered her first "steady gig". A variety show in the Hawaiian tourist town Lahaina on the island of Maui needs someone to play the Orange Blossom Special with a band for a bluegrass number twice a week. There aren't really any professional violinists on Maui (I actually fly to Maui from Honolulu to teach a handful of students to ensure that the art of string playing does not completely disappear from that island). The concert presenters had heard "through the grape vine" that there was a talented student in maui that might be able to cut the gig so they called her. She's a great classical violin student, a sweet japanese girl with a huge tone, monster technique and a huge heart. She's studied suzuki violin and played exclusively classical music in the youth orchestra, all the usual serious violin student stuff.
From the very first contact, its clear that this is going to be a very different kind of experience than what's she's done at school, in her lessons, and in youth orchestra. Of course, the band did not send music. They sent a lead sheet and an mp3. for her to learn from. Not a big problem for a Suzuki trained student. I play swing jazz in a stephane grapelli inspired hot club band and also do many blue grass gigs on the side. So learning music this way is very familiar to me as well. Plus, there are transcriptions of OBS floating all over the place so getting her though the chart and letting her know how "flexible" things might get was easy.
But as we were listening to the recording they sent, complete with pounding drum set, screaming electric guitars, and an electric bass tone that could break down the foundation of a house its pretty clear that things are going to get pretty loud. I told her, we're going to need some extra gear or else no one is going to be able to hear you.
There are a dizzying variety of options on how to amplify a violin these days so after her lesson I walked her mom through the various options
-buy a contact pick up or piezo electric pick-up, a small device that we would screw onto the bridge or stick to the body of the instrument via some gummy putty similar to bubble gum. Mom did not like the idea of attaching anything invasive like this to her nice $15,000 modern american fiddle
around $1000 or less
-buy a nice clip on condenser mic. There are good ones available by Audio Technica and DPA. I perform regularly with my jazz band using the DPA 4099 which is around $600. If you want to have the best acoustic violin sound and want your violin to sound just like it does in a concert hall only louder, this is the best option. But then she would still have to bring her nice violin to the blue grass gig, which we speculated would be outside sort of on the beach in a dinner theatre setting. maybe sound is not the most important consideration.
A little more than $1000
The best way to protect a really nice instrument is not bring it to gigs where it might get damaged...like outside gigs. While this is the most expensive solution, you can't put a price on piece of mind. I would lose a lot less sleep at night knowing my teenage daughter was not playing her $15,000 violin on the beach at a casual gig.
We looked into a couple of options. I play a semi-solid body fiddle by bridge which is made out of graphite, the ad says that you can hit it with a slegde hammer at it will still play. this durability appealed to mom. But playing a solid body fiddle has its disadvantages. Mainly that no sound comes from the violin itself but from an amp. If you have a bad sound man at a gig, you could find yourself playing without being able to hear yourself. Or you would have to invest in and carry around a good amp...extra expense and set up. We opted instead for an electro acoustic fiddle by realist. For my student it would be just like playing her normal violin. And you just plug it in to the sound system. Real easy.
I hope her gig goes well. She has her first rehearsal with the band on friday and then starts the shows next week. I'll you folks know how things worked out.
I'm glad to hear about your student by the way. Sound like I could get myself a job as a violin teacher in Maui. Tempting... :)
As things get closer, shoot me an e-mail and I can give you directions to the place, Cafe Che Pasta. Its a very casual gig. In fact, if you wanted to, it would really be fun if you wanted to sit in on a few tunes. (if you're not travelling with fiddle I could bring an extra) All of our friends come in and sit it. Things degenerate into a jam session really fast.
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