December 2009

Violin shopping is fun: Adventure #1

December 31, 2009 06:18

Violin shopping is fun, especially when the violin is for someone else and someone else is paying for it. In the last month and a half, I've had fun heping three of my students select a violin at my favotie local luthier. (For my photographs of violins at the luthier's, see my blog of Dec. 12, 2009).


My first adventure was with "A," an adult beginner who has been studying the violin with me for about two years. He started with a cheap rental violin, and after a few months bought a good beginner's violin. It sounded wonderful for a little over a year, and then his G string started sounding fuzzy. The more he played, the fuzzier it got. He tried changing the string for another of the same brand and then for another of a different brand, but nothing helped. The sound of the G string got fuzzier and fuzzier. I couldn't understand why, so I posted a question on the discussion board. I got a lot of helpful responses, and the consensus was to sell the violin and get a new one.

"A" and I when back to the luthier who had sold him his violin, and the luthier accepted it back in trade. "A" had also accumulated some additional money since buying his first violin, so he was ready to get a higher quality violin. I let him discuss finances with the staff while I admired and photographed violins there. Then a staffer brought out eight violins and three bows for us to try. My student played each violin and then give it to me to play. What I found particularly interesting was that he and I agreed on the sounds of all of the violins. One of them looked ugly to me. It didn't look like varnished wood. It looked like mud. I hoped that it would not sound very good, and it didn't. It didn't take long for us to narrow down our selection to five violins.

From Violin Shopping, November, 2009

Then we worked hard. We played different kinds of music, each on different strings and different positions on the fingerboard. Again we agreed on everything. When he finally chose the violin he wanted, I wanted it too. I asked him not to buy it now, but to allow me some time to find a wealthy benefactor to buy it for me. That didn't work. Before committing to the violin we both liked the best, I had him try all the violins with each of the three bows we were given: one brazilwood, one Coda diamond, and one JonPaul. I liked the Coda bow the best. It felt light and well balanced in my long hand and weak wrist. My student, however, preferred the JonPaul, and it did play well in his hand. We went back to the first violin that we had turned down, and he played it with the JonPaul bow. It sounded much better, but not as good as our #1 choice.

Before we left, "A" asked a staffer whether they had any electric violins he could try. They had two, and we both picked the blue one to try without any amplification. I was surprised that the violin had a soft, but very pleasant, sound. I played it for a while, and then decided that I didn't like it because every note had the same quality of sound. My student, however, liked it quite a bit. The staffer told us that most of the people who bought electronic violins from their store were amateur classical musicians who traveled a lot. The electric violin could be put in a suitcase with clothes around it, and the suitcase could be checked. No hassles with the airplane's staff about taking the violin onboard as a carry-on. When the traveler reached his destination, he could practice quietly in his hotel room.

My student loves playing his new violin, and I love listening to him.

There are more violin adventure stories to come, so stay tuned.


P.S. Check out my website.

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December 26, 2009

December 26, 2009 23:31


Another Christmas has past. Whew!

I'm sure I'm not the only person on this site who experiences holiday stress, but I may be the first one to write about it this year. I'm divorced. I have no family. My family of origin, like so many others, was rather dysfunctional. These are the ingredients for a spell of depression. Indeed, on December 24, I was listless during the day and sleepless at night. I was sure that I would feel better on Christmas day, when I would go to the home of some friends for Christmas dinner, and I was right.

My friends have dozens of photos, mostly of their children and grandchildren, in their kitchen. Other photos show their extended families or friends of various ethnicities from the years they spent living and working abroad. I took one look at a picture of the man of the house with one of his grandchildren and thought, "My father loved me!" That was the key that opened Pandora's box for me.

Our brains behave strangely at times. One part of my brain had been trying to protect me from bad feelings by walling off another part of my brain, where memories of my family are stored. I had lost touch with both good and bad memories until I saw that photo.

Christmas dinner was a lot of fun. There were seven people at the dinner table. The youngest, an 18 month old girl, sat quietly and contentedly in her mother's arms, watching the rest of us, one by one, with intent blue eyes. Our host played little games with the toddler, trying to make her smile. He reminded me of my father. Our conversation was wide-ranging and interesting. The baby's mother, who had moved back into her parents' home, talked about her baby and what wonderful babysitters her parents were. A man in his twenties told us about his trip to Morocco with some friends to shoot a film and the near-death of one of them in the remote Moroccan desert. This was not the Morocco I had seen in the classic film "Casablanca." We talked about digital photography, Macs vs PCs, Robert Burns, songs of the progressive movement, apartheid, health care legislation, traditional Irish foods, and lots more. The whole scene reminded me of dinners and conversations with my parents and their friends long ago.

In spite of all my misgivings, my homecoming felt great.




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Violin Cadenzas for Beethoven's Birthday

December 16, 2009 03:00

December 16 is the anniversary of Beethoven's birth and a good time to listen to different cadenzas written for the first movement of his Violin Concerto.

First is the original cadenza as played by Miron Polyakin, one of Leopold Auer's great students.


Then comes the well known cadenza by Joachim, played here by Schneiderhan.


This is another well known cadenza, written by Fritz Kreisler and played here by Dmitri Berlinsky.


Next is the Schnittke cadenza played by Gidon Kremer. It is distinctively different from the previous two.


Now for something really different. The Cardenas' cadenza, played here by Anke Schittenhelm, is rife with discords.


Joshua Bell, who is well known for writing his own credenzas, has written one for the Beethoven Concerto, but I couldn't find free samples to listen to on the Web.

The musicians with the ability and the gumption to write their own cadenzas for the Beethoven concerto have personalized and enriched Beethoven's masterpiece.



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Violin shopping is fun

December 12, 2009 01:25

Violin shopping is fun, especially when the violin is for someone else and someone else is paying the bill. In the last month, I've enjoyed shopping for violins with three of my students. There are stories for each of them, and I will tell them later. For now, I'd like to share my feeling of excitement at my favorite local luthier's in a photo blog.


From Violin Shopping, November, 2009


I get such a strong feeling of excitement when I see so many riches hung together in one room. I know that the more expensive violins are kept in cases elsewhere, but that doesn't change my feeling of excitement.


From Violin Shopping, November, 2009



These violins remind me of ripe fruit on the vine, just ready to be picked.



From Violin Shopping, November, 2009



We've narrowed our selection down from eight to these five.



Here is something interesting but not for sale: a viola d'amore.


From Violin Shopping, November, 2009

Here you can see the viola d'amore's two sets of strings. The upper ones are bowed, and the lower ones resonate.

From Violin Shopping, November, 2009

I had so much fun looking at these violins, giving my students information and advice about them, listening to my students play them, and playing them myself.

The decision process and the outcome were different for each student.

To be continued


P.S.  Check out my website, at

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December 8, 2009 00:54

Today, December 8, is the anniversary of the death of John Lennon. He was shot and killed by a madman outside of his home in New York in 1980. He was 40 years old.

John Lennon was a very complex man. He was filled with jealousy, loathing, and self-pity. At times, he was horribly cruel verbally and psychologically to many people, including those close to him. He was also physically violent at times, and at least once, almost killed a man. Yet there was another side of him, the dreamer, singer, song writer, poet, author, and radical artist who championed the causes of peace and love. It is this side of him that I honor today.

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