July 2013

Freedom regained -- with better-fitting chin rests

July 25, 2013 10:01

My experience bears out the wisdom of advice I've read on v.com several times: If your setup is unsatisfactory, then, before adding or ditching a shoulder rest or changing to a different one, first consider the chin rest.

In summer 2005, when I first tried the Flesch flat chin rest, a popular model centered over the tailpiece, I liked it right away. In general, all seemed well these last 8 years; yet there was a subtle nagging feeling that something was a bit off. Since using the device didn't degrade my playing or cause discomfort, I largely ignored the feeling.

Then, in early May, one in-home session of comparing this model with two others I'd used before helped me pinpoint the problems: 1) The Flesch flat model was too tall for me. 2) It made me hold the instrument farther left than I wanted to. 3) It made me point the scroll farther left than I wanted to.

So what did I do? I detached the Flesch and substituted a Guarneri rest from my collection for comparison. That helped me hold the instrument a little more to the right and point the scroll more toward the front; but I no longer felt comfortable with this model, even when covering it with the Strad Pad, a detachable, washable chin rest cover.

Next I pulled out a vintage rest from my student days. It reminded me of the Teka medium -- same basic shape and size. On two fiddles, this one was too tall for me; but on the third fiddle, it worked great. I couldn't safely use it now; one bracket would no longer remain securely in place.

So I ordered a new Teka medium, which works great on this third fiddle. The other two instruments now have Dresden mediums, which are shorter.

What freedom regained -- not to mention the enhanced feeling of security. Indeed, sometimes it turns out that the old way was better after all. Oh -- what is that classic song -- "I Could Have Danced All Night"? Well, I don't know how to dance, but I felt as if I could have fiddled the night away -- out in the garage. Be assured that I didn't -- for three reasons: 1) I'm not a night person. 2) I try to be a good neighbor. 3) 4:40 AM -- rising time -- comes fast.

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Violas and Bullfrogs

July 12, 2013 05:40

Treating the viola like dirt? Not at my place.

For one thing, I've never owned or even rented a viola. In fact, I don't recall ever handling one. And I don't read the C clef fluently, although I'm familiar with it from reading orchestral scores -- a pursuit I picked up in my teens.

I love the sound of a viola -- always have. Probably my main barrier to playing one, besides sub-par C-clef fluency, is having three older fiddles already and spending about 3 hours a day playing them -- 1 hour per fiddle. On the 1869 and 1883 instruments, the stiff versions of Pirastro's Eudoxa or Oliv (Olive) D and G strings bring out a viola tone in the contralto range -- especially on the 1869 instrument. So l get a partial viola "fix" by working a good dose of sul G tones into the daily warm-up.

The viola is also one of several instruments I associate with animal or bird life. Flutes remind me of birds. Oboes remind me of kittens. Bassoons remind me of cows. And violas remind me of -- bullfrogs. That's right -- just like the ones I heard in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan as a kid. No -- that's not a viola joke!

The only remaining barrier is hand size -- maybe. While I don't have quite the problem another v.com writer described -- puny paws and diminutive digits -- still, my hand size, M (medium), is toward the lower end of the range: S-M-L-XL-XXL. I can vibrate with the 4th finger sul G on the violin in 1st position and can play 10ths. But to stretch the left hand any farther than this? You ladies, who generally have smaller hands than we fellows have: How do you manage it? How is it that so many of you take to the viola so well?

Maybe, if I just plunged in and tried it myself, it might not be as tough as I thought. For now, though, I'll just sit back and enjoy the music -- and be thankful that there are others, whether ladies or fellows, who give time and talent and effort to play this seductive instrument.

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