A certain violin shop came to Boston yesterday and set up in a conference room in the Boston Cambridge Marriott. This hotel is one block away from where I work, in Kendall Square, Cambridge Massachusetts. Later that afternoon I had to call NIH, proofread a proposal, go to a meeting, go to a seminar, have dinner with the speaker. I was hoping I'd be able to come back later, but, if not, I was going to make the most of these 30--oops, 29--minutes.
The apprentice lays out the violins on the tables, attaching shoulder rests to them if you want to use them. One of the tables has affordable instruments (one doesn't). To be honest, none of them looks as nice at first glance as the violin I own now. None of them is quite the right color, none of them has the beautiful flamed one-piece back that mine has. This is indeed like speed-dating: first step, unfairly size up your potential partner based on superficial appearances.
Fortunately, except for the apprentice and all the violins looking at me, I'm the only one in the room right now, so my self-consciousness doesn't completely overwhelm me. Twenty-six minutes.
I pick up the one on the affordable table that looks the prettiest and play a G major scale. Like my own violin, it is dissatisfying on the G string. It sounds like it is straining, a little bit of the flavor of a rubber band stretched across a matchbox. I put it down. I'm not going to spend that kind of money to get what I already have. I tell the apprentice, as I already told him by email, I want something with a deep, rich sound in the lower register. He suggests two others. Both a little too red-looking, a little too wide-grained. But affordable.
Now that he's got all the shoulder rests attached, I just pick them up in a row and start playing the opening to the 1st violin part of Cappricio Italien. I don't play it that well in tune just off the top of my head, but it's not too bad. It gives me the flavor of playing sul G, of shifting to 7th position. And then I get to the C, the one that would be a 2nd finger on the A-string in first position. It sounds really odd. Scratchy. There's that rubber band and matchbox again. (Maybe it's just me--I'm not very good. At least nobody else is here and the apprentice is humoring me). I try again and it's no better. "Is that a wolf?" he asks.
"Maybe." I've never heard a wolf before. I don't think my current instrument has one. But here I am in 7th position on the G string, and somebody on violinist.com told me that was where wolves hang out. I play it for the apprentice. "Yep, a wolf." "Cool! Fascinating! I've never heard a wolf before." I play the wolf a few more times. Then I realize that I have only 20 more minutes, and I'm not buying this one either.
The next one I pick up has a wolf too, in the same place. Now this is getting creepy. Maybe it IS just me. But the next one doesn't. In fact, the next one is kind of like my viola, only smaller. I play the whole Capriccio Italien opening. Then I try a Handel sonata with a bunch of string crossings. I play some of the 1st violin part of the William Tell overture: ricochet, spiccato 16th notes. The bow seems to be doing everything I need it to do. I'm intrigued, but I'm not necessarily in love.
Next. This one passes the CI G string test, but not the Handel string crossings. The bridge/fingerboard are too flat. I hit the wrong strings when I don't want to. Next. Another rubber band/matchbox deal. Next. Scratchy, too.I only have 5 minutes left.
Out of all of these, there was only one that I really want to consider further. The one that was "like my viola only smaller." Now I look at the tag. It is a Carlo Lamberti model, and it's reasonably priced. I ask the apprentice to set it aside for me and run back to call NIH. I pick up some lunch on the way.
Unfortunately, I don't get back to the hotel again that afternoon until I'm on the way to the seminar. I can't stop long. There is a teenager there now, playing an instrument off the non-affordable table. Two adults are listening and giving advice. My apprentice sees me, and suggests we go to the room next door so I can play some more. No, I can't stay. I'm so sorry. (Aargh.) Can I take the Carlo Lamberti I reserved home for a trial? My lesson is a week from Monday.
"Play some more double stops," says one of adults. The teen starts playing the 3rd movement of the Bruch concerto. She's self-conscious too, hits a few out-of-tune notes, but generally she's an excellent, accomplished player.
While she's playing, I fill out paperwork, get the Lamberti and two bows in a serviceable, but slightly beat-up tank-ish looking case. Just the fashion accessory to take to a Brain and Cognitive Sciences seminar!
Later, as we're waiting for our table at dinner with the seminar speaker, because there was a mix-up about the reservation, the concierge asks me what and where I play. It turns out he's a local freelance musician (not on violin). I feel a connection. We get the table.
Now, the next morning, the real "getting to know you" process begins.
And an auspicious violin omen greets me upon checking my email: I won a Tasmin Little CD! I have been entering these violinist.com CD contests for, like, every day for the past year. I would recognize the names of the winners, week after week, but mine was never one of them. I'm psyched!Tweet
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