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Karen Allendoerfer

The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Rehearsal

February 3, 2013 at 5:25 PM

I already knew that this week's was not going to be an ordinary orchestra rehearsal. As a member of the Board of Directors, representing the orchestra, I had received a preview of our conductor's letter announcing his decision to retire at the end of the season and his intent to inform the orchestra at large at this rehearsal. Now, in theory, this is not a terrible, or even surprising, decision. He has conducted the orchestra for the past 33 years, and has already retired from one of his other jobs in education. He is at a time in his career when many people look to move on to the next step. While the fame, prestige, and financial rewards of conducting an all-volunteer community orchestra are of course nice ;-), it's a job that a conductor could really only do for love.

The regard was mutual. I was not alone in considering him one of the best conductors I had ever worked with. At the Board meeting we had agreed that after he made his announcement, I would get up and address the orchestra to say that we would start the process of forming a selection committee, that everyone in the orchestra would have a say in choosing a successor, and that we would keep them posted. Short and sweet, which is good, because I've never been much of one for public speaking.

With this in mind, I got there early and snagged what I thought was a good parking spot right across from the church where we rehearse. Pulling into the spot I seem to have misjudged the distance from the curb, or the curb was excessively sharp. Or something was there at the side of the curb. Or something. There was a loud bang and I got out of the car to find that my tire was completely flat. It was dark, and raining, and the last time I'd changed a tire was sometime around 1982, in Driver Ed in high school. Quickly I dashed into the church and let a fellow board member know that I had a flat tire to deal with. Okay, I admit, I secretly hoped she would take over speaking to the group about the news. I kind of just wanted to leave, take care of the car, and pretend the whole thing wasn't happening. No such luck. I got into my car and waited for AAA, who said they were coming "sometime in the next 90 minutes."

It took 45 of those 90 minutes for the truck to come and put on the spare. I spent the time listening on my iPod to the music I was supposed to be rehearsing. For the upcoming concert we are playing Britten's "A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" and Weinberger's "Schwanda the Bagpiper." Both of these end with challenging fugue sections. Often listening to music relaxes me, but this time it didn't. I felt the time slipping away and I didn't really calm down until I saw the AAA truck lights. The technician put on the spare quickly but not without some struggle and pushing (making me think that there was no way I could have done it myself, even if I had remembered how from that long-ago class), and I went back to rehearsal.

When I walk in the orchestra is in the middle of the Britten Fugue section. I recognize it right away and want to jump in too. Playing this frenetic counterpoint seems like it will be cathartic, a release from the earlier evening's tension. So, I pull my bow out of the case quickly and start to rosin it up, quickly. As I rosin the tip, the bow snaps. Slack strands of horse hair seem to explode out of nowhere and rain down on my hands. The snapping sound cuts through the brass blaring and the strings wailing away. I hear it echo through the church sanctuary. The harpist's mother, there to pick up her high-school age daughter at intermission, turns her head to look at me quizzically.

I've never seen the unvarnished interior wood of a bow stick before. It's brownish-red, like the outside, but not as dark and not as shiny. I just sort of stand there, trying to fit the two pieces back together, like a puzzle. But of course they don't stick. "I can't believe this is happening!" I announce to no one in particular. I fear the harpist's mother thinks I'm a nutcase.

The music doesn't stop, but I run up to my stand partner and ask her if I can talk to her for a minute. She says "of course," and comes out into the church entryway, where the refreshments are waiting for the upcoming break, and offers me some apple juice. We drink and munch on cookies as the Fugue rushes on in the background, without us. She knows about the flat tire already, now she knows about the bow. I ask her if I can borrow her spare bow, since my daughter has my spare bow, at school. I'm almost afraid to touch it, though, let alone play with it. It's one thing to break your own bow, it's another to break someone else's. I decide that it has enough rosin.

Between sips of apple juice I realize with relief that I'm not going to cry. Another friend had her bow break in an accident at rehearsal about a year ago, and I thought, at that time, "what if it were me?" I had said, back then, that I probably would cry. My bow is around 33 years old. My parents bought it for me and I don't remember anymore how much it cost, if I ever knew. It's not anything special in terms of provenance or materials. I'd wishfully thought it was made of pernambuco for a while, but it's just Brazilwood. It's a little heavier than the average bow. But it has sentimental value, and most importantly, I'm used to it. I'm so used to it that I wasn't ready to part with it 3 years ago when I got my new violin. I tried a few bows at that time and just didn't find anything that I thought was clearly better. My bow ricochets, it bariolages, it does what I need it to. It didn't seem urgent back then, so I put that decision off and stuck with my faithful "buddy," my first real, good full-size bow.

Now, with the decision forced on me, I'm not as upset as I feared I'd be. During the rest of the rehearsal, as I try a couple of spares offered to me by sympathetic friends, it occurs to me that bow shopping might be fun.

Rehearsal ends too quickly, since I'm only there for the second half. And then it's time for the conductor's announcement, which is greeted with shock and disappointment. I try to lighten the mood by opening my little speech with "just when I thought this day couldn't get any worse . . . " I mention that we will be starting the search with the Board members and opening it up to anyone in the orchestra who wants to participate. People are subdued, thoughtful, accepting. Some of them have been through conductor searches before, with other organizations. Not me, this will be my first.

So here I am, looking for a new bow, and looking for a new conductor. Things change, and change can be good.


From Dottie Case
Posted on February 3, 2013 at 5:56 PM
Karen....dropping my violin on the concrete auditorium floor just prior to playing an opera about 3 years ago was the same way. I was stressed, upset, disbelieving and at first, disgusted that I had to find a new instrument and get used to it. Not to mention that, like you, I'd felt like my violin did what I needed it to do, thought it had a special sounds, and really liked how it looked.

I was I got to shopping, I quickly realized that my instrument actually had some issues that had meant that I was working a lot harder than I needed to for various technical skills. I found a new first, I had to get used to a different sound under my ear, but universally, others told me that this instrument had a much better projection and focused tone that my older.

The luthier that I bought it from had very wise words for me. He told me "people get all sentimental about violins, but really, for you, this is a 'tool'. If I had a tool in my workshop that was making it more difficult to do my work, I'd get rid of it without another thought."

SO, 3 years later, I'm happy to report that my playing has improved in unexpected ways, because of what this violin will allow me to do that my old one did not. I'm so thankful for dropping the first violin on the floor because had I not, I'd be playing it still, and never knowing.

Hoping for the same sort of positive experience for you. You weren't looking to buy a new bow, but since you must, may you find something that adds to the playing experience for you too.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 3, 2013 at 6:43 PM
Dottie, I hope so. I have three new bows here at home to try out over the weekend, and they seem nice enough, but I'm still waiting for my wand to choose me, so to speak. The Britten Fugue sounds okay with all of them, and I haven't had a real Eureka moment yet.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on February 3, 2013 at 10:42 PM
My second bow is a Coda -- I like it quite a lot and it's fairly unbreakable!
From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 1:56 PM
Karen - you have all my sympathy for having had such a rotten day. Like Laurie, I have a second, Coda bow, which is ok if I need it, but if my current one broke, I would hate to try to look for another as good. And, looking for a conductor is daunting. My orch went through several of them in fairly quick succession after the first one, who was excellent retired. We did not find a new, very good one, until recently. It was not a great process. Hopefully, yours will go more smoothly. Good luck in your searches. Surely things will improve from here.
From Terry Hsu
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 2:08 PM
Sorry about your day Karen. Yuk!

It sounds like your bow is a good sounding bow that happens to not have too high a value, although great sentimental value.

My friend broke the tip off his bow, and had it splined for something like $125. And while it lost some value, it works as good as before. So while hardly good news, it may be repairable.


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 6:22 PM
They told me it could be repaired for $250, which is probably about how much it cost new. I'm considering doing that anyway so that I have a spare. I'm liking one of the Codabows pretty well, at least today. My opinion seems to change hourly ;-)
From Terry Hsu
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 6:40 PM
OK, good. I just wasn't sure if you had gone down that path already, but sounds like you've looked into it.

Some days just suck, but like Anne Shirley says in Anne of Green Gables, "Tomorrow's a new day, with no mistakes in it." :)

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 5:07 PM
What a crappy night!

I guess buying a bow is like buying a car: a lot more fun when you can take your time, check out the options, and do some research. When the engine falls out or the bow self-destructs, it's NOW. At least you live in a large, metropoloitan area with lots of choices. your new wand is out there somewhere!

If you can swing it, what with also having to buy tires and all, it's lovely to have two bows, one of them unbreakable. Another vote here for keeping a Coda in the case.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 9:01 PM
Picking a bow is not easy. I spent hours trying them. Also, you might want to extend your price range upwards. At about $800, you get some very good bows made in Brazil, plus your pick of the carbon fibers. Good luck!
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 4, 2013 at 9:34 PM
Tom, I think you read my mind. I also have on loan a pernambuco bow from Brazil that is $850. It comes through Horst John but has a different name stamped on it. I was reading about the company on the internet, and apparently the eponymous founder of Horst John passed away several years ago, but while he was alive he planted pernambuco plantations in Brazil to make bows. There are factory bows from the company for about $400 made of that wood and stamped John Brasil. I tried one of those and it is ok, but not better than the Codabows, and about the same price. The more expensive one is made by an individual craftsman, D. Silveira out of pernambuco from the plantations. That one is my favorite of all the ones I've tried, but I'm not sure I can justify paying 2X as much because the difference between it and the Codabow Luma in my hands is pretty incremental. I need to have someone listen to me from a distance when I play with them.
From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on February 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM
In the <$1000 price range it's been my experience that a carbon bow often outplays a pernambuco one in the same price range.

Thee are a few companies making bows in Brazil. I have a lovely viola bow from United Strings, and had a good violin bow from Water Violet. Remember too, if you get something now you're not in love with, you can always upgrade later, especially if you buy from a shop with a good trade-in policy.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 5, 2013 at 4:46 PM
Oh, Karen, what a horrible evening for you, but how wonderfully you chronicled it here! Hope your bow search yields fruitful results.

Dottie - loved your story/response here, as well! Love the wise words you were told.

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