Tafelmusik baroque ensemble plays rest-free and easy

February 7, 2008, 4:02 PM · Last night my daughter and I went to Disney Hall in Los Angeles to see a good college friend of mine, Tricia Ahern, play in a Baroque ensemble called Tafelmusik, out of Toronto.

My friend and I had played together in a string quartet in college, working up serious music for coaching sessions and also schlepping all over the greater Chicago area, playing fancy wedding receptions, a party in someone's yard under a fruit tree... all kinds of crazy gigs.


Though she and I did a lot of slogging through gig music, I always noticed what a natural feel Tricia had with Baroque music (as did the teachers and other students); she just knew how to make sense of it. She went on to study Baroque violin with Stanley Ritchie at Indiana University, and six years ago she joined Tafelmusik. My conclusion is that she's found a group of people who all have the same kind of sensitivity and natural love for this kind of music.

I've not specifically studied Baroque music and period instrument practice, nor am I well-versed in the many recordings made by period ensembles. But after last night I want to be! These guys made Baroque music look more fun than rock 'n' roll. Beyond that... now brace for something controversial, V.commies: they made playing without a shoulder rest look like the breeziest, happiest way possible to play. This from a staunch Wolf wearer.

They moved together, and they moved a lot. This visual aspect of the performance gave it feeling of fluidity and complemented the ebb and flow of the Baroque style. They all seemed to have mastered a comfortable exchange between the left hand and shoulder, and while they were much more physically mobile, bobbing their heads and turning to look at one another. But I noticed that when a player turned his or her head and looked away, the fiddle stayed over on the shoulder. The fiddle stayed quite steady.

They played works by Bach, Vivaldi, Handel and a lovely oboe concerto in d minor by Alessandro Marcello which put that pillowy Baroque sound to good use: the perfect cushion over which to lay an oboe solo.

After the concert, I went backstage to catch up with my old friend. Actually, we talked about that; even though we've been friends 22 years, somehow we're both celebrating our 24th birthdays within a month of each other. ;)

She showed me her Baroque violin, with its straighter and shorter fingerboard, and her Baroque bow, made by Ralph Ashmead. I told her all about the numerous V.com Shoulder Rest Wars, and asked her about what technical adjustments she makes when playing rest-less. She has studied, and played, extensively, using both techniques. And she had some great advice, especially about shifting.

“Show me!" I said.

She also mentioned a "Perlman style" philosophy of shifting, which reminded me of the Ricci glissando technique...

Let me add, she said that when she plays modern violin, she uses a shoulder rest. So she has cultivated both techniques. I'd endorse that idea. Thanks, Tricia!

By the way, here's a cute video of their group. Tricia also mentioned that they offer a Baroque Summer Institute in Toronto, aimed at advanced students, pre-professional and professional musicians. It sounded like an ideal grown-up summer camp for the serious amateur or the professional musician needing a Baroque boost!


February 8, 2008 at 01:47 AM · Baroque style is by far my favorite style of playing.

My violin teacher, second chair in a baroque orchestra called the Washington Bach Consort (one of the premiere baroque orchestras in America) has a good friend who sits first chair. I he a amazing baroque violinist named Timothy Haig, who was playing in Tafelmusik when he was 19! He is definitely better than many soloists today i.e. Manze, Kuijken, etc. He will sadly be retiring this year thoguh to go into real estate although he is only 29.

February 8, 2008 at 02:50 AM · Thanks so much for posting that, Laurie. The video clips were especially helpful.

February 8, 2008 at 04:35 AM · When I made the jump to no shoulder rest my teacher insisted on her method two. Fingers followed by thumb. Most people would think that it was simultaneous but the motivation starts in the fingers then the thumb quickly follows.

I noticed though that he frequently uses her method three of an intermediate thumb position and moves around it. I gradually adopted that for some purposes.

February 8, 2008 at 06:15 AM · My understanding of period (Baroque) music

is that the violinists use no shoulder rests, no chin rests, and gut strings.

February 8, 2008 at 09:32 AM · I like this teaching; concise, fast, and not metaphysical. This would be well worth the $150/hr bucks people are apparently asking.

February 8, 2008 at 09:36 AM · Thank you so much for posting this! Many things make sense now.

February 8, 2008 at 02:14 PM · Thanks. Very interesting.

February 8, 2008 at 05:03 PM · Excellent blog, Laurie. Thank you for sharing the videos and a big thank you to your friend, Tricia, for demonstrating her techniques.

Happy Birthday to you as well!

February 10, 2008 at 08:15 AM · Adding choreography and the Fantasia-like Tafelmusic "Wave" seem a tad effected. Auditioning behind a screen would seem pointless if form points are given for synchronized swaying.

Seriously, is this added body motion, which is personally distracting, an authentic, documented portion of Baroque performance practice ?

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