Of all the awesome articles and interviews and columns in Strings magazine, my favorite is What's In the Case? It's also the first thing I read when a new issue lands in my mailbox. I love reading about other artists who are connected to their instruments on a deeper level that only another artist could appreciate.
We get attached to our instruments. We describe them as having a soul. Some of us see them as extensions of our bodies. Some even see their instruments as gender specific. For all of us, our instrument is our voice.
After reading this months issue with four Paganini Strads featured in a What's In the Case? format, I decided it would be fun to write about my own instrument and my relationship to it using the same format. This is what I wrote:
Player: Kevin Keating
Instrument: 2008 Capri Maestro
Physical characteristics: Golden brown varnish, double purfling with diamond inlay, decorative black etching on sides. It’s modeled after the 1679 Hellier Stradivarius.
Bows: Pernambucco French bow; mass produced “brazilwood” Baroque bow
Strings: Originally it came with D’Addario Zyex. I’ve tried Thomastik Dominant and Pirastro Violino. However, it sounds best with gut core strings, Pirastro Passione when I can afford them. I’ve used a wound E string for the past few years, but am using a plain steel E now.
*Is this your primary instrument?
*How does it compare to your previous instrument (and what was that instrument)?
My previous instrument pales in comparison. That was a $90 pawn shop China made Vinci, which I still have. Its tone is much thinner, no depth, doesn’t project well. However, a luthier described it as a good “sturdy” student instrument.
*What gift does this violin bring to your playing that cannot be found in any other instrument?
I have a very strong attachment to this particular instrument. Its gift is its voice. And she has a beautiful voice.
*How does this violin inspire you as a performer?
A violin never lies and this one is no exception. It gives back what I put into it.
*What do you know of its history?
My wife bought it for me for my forty-third birthday which was just three months before we got married. So I think of it as an engagement gift. Before that, it was mass produced in Romania, labeled “Made In Beijing,” shipped to a distributer in New Jersey, and somehow ended up at the Violin Shoppe in upstate New York.
*Have you thought about the people who have handled it before you?
The only person who handled it before me is the luthier from whose shop my wife bought it. And he’s a bass player. Maybe other prospective buyers before me?
*What intrigues you about this instrument?
I very rarely struggle with tuning issues on this instrument. Out of the case it’s almost always right there ready to speak.
*What is the violin’s personality?
Elegant and sophisticated.
*Have you given your instrument a name?
Diane. It’s my wife’s middle name.
*What are your instrument’s strengths and limitations?
I’ve only been playing five years so I’m still discovering its strengths. As for limitations, I think any good instrument is limited only by the players ability and what he or she puts into it. I wonder what it would sound like in the hands of someone like Itzhak Perlman.
*What are your violin’s other likes and dislikes?
It doesn’t like the really hot humid summer days or the dry cold winter air.
*When and how did you truly learn who your instrument is, the soul of the instrument?
It’s a new instrument in the hands of a new player so I think the depth of its soul has yet to be discovered. We started out together maybe we’ll find it together.
*Have you ever done anything that might have robbed your violin of its “mojo” such as a repair or changing the strings? What was the result?
It’s set up very well. Thomastik Dominants had a very metallic sound which never went away. Gut core strings bring out the best tone in this violin. I put Knilling Planetary Pegs in this instrument which was a worry at first, but they have since proven their worth.
*If given the ability, what would your violin say to you if the two of you sat down for tea?
I need my strings changed. And we need to get out of the house more often!
(This is my instrument and what it means to me, what I know about it and what I've yet to learn. It's what's in my case.)
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