Laurie posted her blog on this subject just as I was finishing this entry! But my words may be of interest to some people anyway.
As a violinist and luthier, I’ve played a lot of nice instruments, even the supreme, top-notch 1715 ex-Joachim Stradivari. As a car enthusiast who’s had his driver’s license over 30 years, I’ve driven some high-performance cars as well, including one with a supercharger and almost 500 horsepower. That doesn’t make me an expert on either subject, but reasonably a person who can share a thought or two.
Recently my wife allowed me to purchase a sport coupe (bear with me please, I do indeed have a point to make). Not a Ferrari or Lamborghini (Strad or Guarneri, if you will), let’s say a Vuillaume, one of the really good ones. I named her Brunnhilde.
Now, Brunnhilde wasn’t new, in fact she is one of the rather rarefied examples of a production auto directly deriving from a concept car, one that was unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2003, built in limited numbers. A used car, and an interesting one. Like I said, a Vuillaume. But I digress. The point is that she was not new but broken in. The instructions said in print not to seek the highest performance for the first 1,000 miles from new.
Brunnhilde took up quarters in the garage in late January, and from the start, as it sometimes happens with a new violin, we didn’t get along. She had seduced me with her looks, but sometimes she wouldn’t respond to my commands as I would have liked, other times she’d overreact. I couldn’t figure out the logic to the transmission, and the brakes felt grabby. There was no way I felt comfortable taking Brunnhilde into her stride, our dialogue simply was insufficient. I spoke Martian, and she answered in Venusian.
I eventually realized I wasn’t happy with the power output (the sound, if you will) so I took her back to the shop and got the variable valve timing (the set-up?) revised.
Now, personalized to my tastes, we’re getting to know each other better. I’ve taken Brunnhilde up to her self-imposed top speed (155 MPH) on appropriate roadway and am learning to feel out her reactions on twisty roads, wet and dry. As my confidence grows, the performance that I’m able to safely extract from her increases, and I’m beginning to know how fast I can go and how sharp I can turn. Three months later I’m beginning to understand her character, when to exercise restraint, how much she can give, and what she wants in return. We are starting to work well together, as a team. Just like a violinist and a violin.
I understand of course that a car isn’t a violin. But they are both sophisticated objects that you must interact with to make them work, and the better the interaction, the better the result.
So my question is: if it took me 3 months and some tweaking to begin to get the most out of an automobile, how can a musician be expected to take not one but a DOZEN high-class but unfamiliar violins and make them all perform immediately at their best? For the purpose of first- and third-party evaluation, in the course of a few minutes?
It seems to me that it simply isn’t possible. At most, with such short-term familiarity, a musician can get the instrument to perform well, maybe to 80% of its capabilities, but not take it to its limits, make it really perform. Where perhaps the difference lies - and that is for both Strads and Moderns.
What do you think?
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