This week I enjoyed some hilarious real-world confirmation that stringing a fiddle is indeed a special skill.
My husband Robert and I have enjoyed watching the CBS show The Amazing Race for many years, and the latest season began airing a few weeks ago. It features teams of Americans who travel in a sort of "race" around the world, with the producers giving them local "challenges" and tasks along the way.
Imagine my surprise this week, when one of the "challenges" for the contestants was to build a stringed instrument from items procured in a landfill!
I'd actually heard of the "The Recycled Orchestra" a number of years ago. It's an orchestra created around 2010 by Paraguayan music teacher Favio Chavez. He solved the problem of procuring instruments for children by making violins, cellos and other stringed instruments from the contents of a landfill on the outskirts of Asunción, where the children live in poverty. It's a remarkable story that speaks to the power of music to shape the hopes and dreams of young people whose lives are very difficult.
But back to the Amazing Race -- the teams were tasked with scavenging for supplies and then making a cello using a big metal barrel, wood, nails, and an assortment of pre-made bridges, strings, rough-hewn pegs and tailpieces, etc. To help them along, they could refer to an already-made model. Assembly certainly seemed more challenging than putting together a piece of IKEA furniture. But what was the hardest part? The final step: putting on the strings!
Several contestants became extremely flustered, spending hours just on this step. Tailpieces fell off. Pegs caused great confusion. Strings broke. Bridges collapsed. One woman said in exasperation, "This is the hardest thing I've EVER DONE!" (And they didn't have to tune the instrument, just get the strings to stay!) In the end, everyone completed the task and delivered it to the children's orchestra, which was truly touching to see.
Beyond the serious issues of poverty and access to music education, this little segment made me ponder a more trivial question: Is it really so hard to string an instrument?
I could say, after doing it for decades, that it's all pretty straightforward. Of course, I'm generally not starting with a bridge down, with no strings! But the first few times that I changed a string, I can still remember that it took a generous amount of time and concentration. After all, this is 300-year-old technology. The pegs stay put only because they are jammed into the peg box. Each string goes into a little hole in the peg and needs to be looped in just right. And the bridge stays erect only because it is held in place by the pressure of the strings. It's a complicated balance act.
Incidentally, next week I'm planning to make a little video about how to change a string, if you'd like a little tutorial for yourself or someone else. (Some of us have not changed our strings since the start of the pandemic!)
In the mean time, please share your thoughts on this question: is it so difficult to string your instrument? Do you have enough experience that it goes pretty smoothly? Or do you tend to have complications each time you do it? Or, do you simply have someone else change the strings on your fiddle? Please participate in your vote, and then share your thoughts. If you do string your own instrument, did someone teach you to do so, or did you learn on your own? You can also share your thoughts at endeavors such as the Recycled Orchestra.
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