Buying human bones

August 29, 2018, 4:46 AM · I can't help but laugh out loud at the sheer absurdity of that title, but unfortunately it's actually pretty accurate.

I have a penchant for collecting interesting things to put in my teaching studio, so I think my students are pretty used to the fact that I'm just an eccentric. With that said, I recently got it in my head that I should buy an articulated human arm (bones only) and put it in a glass case (for those of you who don't know, buying human bones is actually perfectly legal here in the USA).

However, I'm thinking this might be a bit TOO over-the-top, even for me and what my students are accustomed to (such as the 5 foot tall oil portrait of me hanging in there).

What do you guys think? Is an actual human arm a bit too much? I was thinking of mounting it in conjunction with a violin to demonstrate how the bones of the hand interact with the strings. As much as I think it's really fascinating, I'm not sure others would feel the same...

Replies (72)

August 29, 2018, 4:58 AM · I'm all in favour, although a replica might be cheaper and more practical. As an ex-neuroscientist I keep a replica human skull in the fireplace.
August 29, 2018, 6:15 AM · Don’t do this. If you must, get a replica.
August 29, 2018, 8:10 AM · You have to think of your studio as a space for them, not you. I’m sure you mean well, but you had to put your students’ comfort and needs ahead of your own wishes. You can have a replica to show are movement, but keep it in a drawer ad bring it out for that particular lesson.
August 29, 2018, 8:29 AM · As someone who is looking for a teacher on the other coast and thinking about what I can accept (and what I cannot) I would be a little put off, but it wouldn't be a deal-breaker. Too much in your studio that is too weird, and I'd feel uncomfortable.
Edited: August 29, 2018, 8:48 AM · I feel like this is the sequel to my "How to clean blood from violin" thread.

@Steve Jones

Post a picture of the skull. I want to see it.

August 29, 2018, 9:08 AM · Creepy! I’d say no.
August 29, 2018, 9:33 AM · how about an anatomy chart of upper body muscles instead?
August 29, 2018, 9:45 AM · Just don't hang a sign on it saying "This is the last student who didn't follow my instructions."
August 29, 2018, 9:57 AM · The best thing my violin teacher ever taught me was how to use the natural resilience/bounce of my arm muscles/tendons in my bowing. Invaluable!!! Friends are always surprised when I show them what I learned. NO amount of bones, human or replica, can demonstrate this; it takes a knowledgeable teacher with a living arm. I say no to the bone thing, and yes to a proper demonstration of what the arm can do. I have come to expect a certain amount of eccentricity from violin teachers, but the human bones thing crosses the line...
August 29, 2018, 10:18 AM · a real one may draw the attention of a forensic investigator :0 lol
August 29, 2018, 10:29 AM · No big deal compared to the self portrait (and still, no offense is intended towards Mr. Williams.) Do understand why some of you are "wary" of such imagery, and that most people are too conservative to even contemplate the possibility. My "just be yourself" side says do whatever, but my "logical" advice would be against the idea, considering the "nornalcy" expectations of many would be students/parents out there-whatever that may mean.

You do know your students well enough, though. It's the newer pupils who may be "turned off".

I would find it quirky more than weird, as I am not fond of judging people I don't know on first appearances. There are far more "normal" things in society that should scare people off, but they usually-and wholeheartedly-embrace.

Best of luck, bones or no bones.

(On the issue of fake vs real-for the easily scared it won't matter much and it would be "strange" all the same.)

Edited: August 29, 2018, 11:06 AM · If you are going to use it to showcase arm mechanics, I think it's a great idea. However a replica would work better and the students would be fine on touching and testing those mechanics.

If just for decoration, it's a matter of taste. I think it's extravagant, but only as much as any "organic item" collecting (stuffed animal heads, horns, etc).
However, extravagant is neither good or bad. Can even be part of self branding...

August 29, 2018, 11:00 AM · Ha))))
I can imagine it )))))
Your studio is your business. And as for any other business case, everything you do, you have to do for some aim.
A) to attract more money
B) to refocus the target auditorium
C) to increase the auditorium

From this point of view:
A) will your students pay more, if you have it?
B) do you want to rule out the students that do not match with your personality?
C) do you want that everyone in USA and now in EU says "a, that crazy man with the arm..."

The last one you already succeed. I guess now everyone from this forum will remember you. The question if it is what you want.

If you think about the answers, and it what you desire, then do it.
Otherwise, it is wasting money and bad business strategy. )))))

Edited: August 29, 2018, 11:08 AM · My guess is that there are more people who would find human remains in the violin studio to be off-putting than there are who would find it fascinating. I am in the first group. Seriously, don't do this. If your aim is to show the mechanics of playing the violin, get a high-quality replica but make sure it is obvious that it is a replica.

It isn't a question of being "scared." There are quite a few cultures in which the respectful treatment of human remains is a very big deal. Having a set of actual human arm bones begs the question of where the rest of the body is. There are also a lot of people, including me, who find the implied corollary that somebody somewhere is profiting off the sale of bodies to be extremely distasteful.

Editing due to comment below: please don't ask minor children to vote on the appropriateness of adding human remains to studio decor.

Edited: August 29, 2018, 11:07 AM · Here is what no one has said, but what I think would be the most obvious solution. Have the students vote on whether they want it! You can have people on this forum give their personal opinions on how they would find it all day, but it comes down to whether the majority of those in your studio want it.
August 29, 2018, 11:06 AM · This is reminding me an episode of Hannibal... The serial killer was then a Luthier who was stringing instruments with human gut... And made a cello from a corpse... I remember I wondered how would it sound...
Edited: August 29, 2018, 11:23 AM · Link: Classroom Skeleton: Whose Bones Are These?
Edited: August 29, 2018, 11:43 AM · And what message are you hoping to convey?... that is weird! Like David said, you may as well label it: "He wouldn't bow like I said!"
August 29, 2018, 12:42 PM · I'd find it cool today and would have found it cool as a child. We had a real skeleton (not just an arm) in the biology classroom when I was 12 years old. Nobody made a fuss about it as far as I remember.

But, hypothetically, as a music teacher today, I'd probably not confront pupils with such a thing. How old are your pupils anyway?

As for demonstrating how the arm/hand works, I doubt that it's very useful. Without all the tendons and cartilage, the joints don't move like they would in a live arm.

August 29, 2018, 1:59 PM · My main issue is I really don't have any studio room for more "curiosities." As if is, I'm not really going to have room for the 9' x 5' surrealist landscape painting that I'm having done (many parts of the landscape are actually parts of violins... I'll post it once it's finished).

My other main issue is one of respect, as Mary pointed out. It's not that I'm afraid of losing students (or gaining more, for that matter), but more that I wouldn't want to be disrespectful to someone's remains, or give the impression to people that I don't respect the fact that that was indeed a living person once. And there is the issue of where the bones actually came from, because that is a concerning subject to me. While I'm sure some originated from research donation, I assume many came from other countries' poor (as in Stan Yate's article), which is just horrible.

It's interesting to see who likes the idea here and who doesn't, though.

I would actually bet that even if I had the arm, most of my students would never notice. There's a strange effect I've noticed where most people who come in my studio don't notice most of the things around them (it always surprises me). Sometimes they'll realize something was there the whole time maybe 6 months later.

As an example, when I got my oil portrait painted, I thought it was hilarious and I was sure every new student who came in would quietly ponder to themselves why this guy had a full size portrait in his studio. And yet, I've found that almost no one even sees it unless I specifically point it out.

Same thing with the double bass: it is literally stood up NEXT to the music stand, and many students didn't notice it until months later.

August 29, 2018, 2:16 PM · I have a pelvis and shoulder joint. I use them for teaching on a daily basis - both replicas.
Edited: August 29, 2018, 3:14 PM · I love bones. I don’t find them creepy one bit, I actually think the shapes are stunningly beautiful. That being said, even I have to second Mary’s remark concerning where do these bones come from? Who profits from these? Is denying a human his final
rest tasteful, regardless of what you believe?

Anecdotal story: my biology teacher in highschool who was hands down the best teacher I ever had in anything, owned a complete human skeleton. It already was old when he bought it with no way of knowing how and where it was originally sourced. He used a replica in class, because he knew it made some of us uncomfortable. He did make the skeleton available to those of us who wanted to see it, but never without giving us a complete lesson on burial rites across the world, the realities of black market bone trade and the long relationship between human bodies and medical science. He said if you want to handle this thing you have to sit through this 90 min class first so I know you don’t just want to see it for the sensationalism of it all.

I personally am super thankful that someone woke my senses to all of this, when he could have just put a skeleton infront of me. It didn’t make him lose his reputation as an eccentric either, but it added to his reputation of being someone who had alot to teach.

August 29, 2018, 3:16 PM · It is really interesting to see for how many people this seems to be crossing a red line, probably some historically deeply build-in religious features.

To me personally, I would not care as long as it was not obviously disrespectful towards the former owner but more in the direction of art.

There are so many things around us which are consciously or un-consciously accepted/tolerated like child labor, fur, porn, human rights violations across the globe ... I would clearly prefer you had all my bones for your studio after I died peacefully in a high age than making those carpets for all my life.

That being said, better do not showcase that ;)

August 29, 2018, 3:20 PM · What Mary Ellen said...
Edited: August 29, 2018, 3:34 PM · I think the dying peacefully in old age is the part that’s questionable when it comes to human bone trade. Other than that I’d prefer that too.

Death is a funny thing. I actually think that most of the western world lost their ability to stare it in the face and it becomes this thing we are hush hush about. Being weirded out by bones is strange to me, aswell as the idea that owning, using or displaying bones automatically is disrespectful. The point is tho, that to some people it is disturbing and a very serious topic and I think it’s only polite to respect that and be aware of that the same way I don’t walk around randomly insulting people.

Edited: August 29, 2018, 3:43 PM · "Buying human bones."
I think it would be a lot of fun to be your student.
I don't think a replica would be too off-putting, but I wouldn't do real bones, for the reasons listed. The idea of arranging it as if it is holding a bow (better yet, actually gripping an old one you don't use) is, in my opinion, just incredible.
Do you mind terribly if I steal this idea from you, should I ever begin teaching?
"As an example, when I got my oil portrait painted, I thought it was hilarious and I was sure every new student who came in would quietly ponder to themselves why this guy had a full size portrait in his studio. And yet, I've found that almost no one even sees it unless I specifically point it out."
Some people really aren't too observant. I could describe to you all six of my teacher's studios, even though in the case of four, it's been a few years since I've been in them (two violin teachers, four piano). But for some people, when they have an objective in mind, that's all they think of, I guess.
"Same thing with the double bass: it is literally stood up NEXT to the music stand, and many students didn't notice it until months later."
So I'm assuming you play the double bass, as well, then?
David Ford's comment is hilarious.
Michael, I do agree. There are a lot of things we subsconsciously ignore, that should raise red flags. I love bones and don't find them creepy, but I wouldn't respect real bones being used for decoration. Science is one thing. But how many people don't have an issue with taxidermy?
Edited: August 29, 2018, 3:56 PM · One additional point is, whether or not it is respectful to current religious beliefs, you have NO WAY to know what the religious beliefs of the original person, whose bones you would be acquiring, were. For example there are Native American cultures for whom the display of what might be the bones of their ancestors is offensive in the extreme.

Editing to add that I have no problem with donated bodies for science--I've thought about doing that myself--but what Eric is talking about is acquiring part of a body from an unknown human of unknown beliefs and culture, unknown family members, no idea where the rest of the body is, to the profit of someone else, essentially for its curiosity value.

August 29, 2018, 3:55 PM · Michael Krauss said: "I would clearly prefer you had all my bones for your studio after I died peacefully in a high age than making those carpets for all my life."

Would you like to put that in a contract? :) Just know that your full skeleton will be posed holding a violin!

Jeanette, I own a cello, a double bass, a guitar, a mandolin, a recorder, a piano, a drum set, many microphones, and roughly 20-30 violins/violas (most of which are rentals). However, the only thing I could claim to *play* (in the sense of being proficient) would be the violin and viola. I often get asked if I also teach cello or piano and I refuse, because my experience would not validate that. I can play the cello OK, but I certainly wouldn't know how to teach it well.

Also, feel free to steal the portrait idea!

Edited: August 29, 2018, 4:02 PM · Yes, Mary, for that reason - as well as all other reasons pertaining to consent of the original bone-source - I probably will end up either going with a replica, or obtaining the bones of someone whom I know for a fact signed off their bones for research/display. There are many bones from the USA that were signed off to be donated, but it might take a while to obtain those.

EDIT: ok, turns out that "research grade" bones are indeed available, whose original owners actually gave consent to have their bones used. A form must be filled out in order to obtain these bones. Here's what it says:

"In order to honor the donors who have graciously made this material available to the educational community, Skulls Unlimited will only place these specimens with medical or educational professionals such as college professors, teachers, doctors, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, dental assistants, optometrists, x-ray technicians, ultrasound technicians, crime scene investigators, and lawyers. Professionals in similar fields may inquire to their eligibility in purchasing these by completing the form below, or contacting us at _____"

August 29, 2018, 3:59 PM · Jeanette, I believe taxidermy is different because that is done with animals, and we generally assume animals don’t have religious sensitivities. (There are Ravenbirds that bury their dead and I think we know less about the realities of that than we like to believe but that is a different story. ) Also, I believe in the age of the veganism wave plenty of people are highly offended by taxidermy, which I find understandble.
August 29, 2018, 4:13 PM · Yes, Anna, there is such a massive amount of contradiction and hypocrisy in the value systems which are widely adopted throughout our cultures, and animal rights are certainly no exception. We draw "lines in the sand," so to speak, because it makes us comfortable to have certain boundaries in our lives, even if those lines are basically arbitrary. Anyways, I'm one of those vegans you talk about (because, from my personal point of view, it's the highest form of arrogance to claim that something else should have to die against its consent simply so my life can be a bit more convenient). Of course, I realize this is a touchy topic and people get pretty defensive about their eating habits, so I'm certainly not meaning to start a discussion about veganism. I personally don't get defensive/offensive about the subject but I've found that most people do, and I don't want to stir anyone's emotions up here.
August 29, 2018, 4:44 PM · Oh I hope you did not misunderstand! I totally think being offended on behalf of (dead) animals is just as reasonable as being offended on behalf of (dead) humans, I just wanted to point out that the general puplic will judge a dead animal body differently for lack of moral difficulty. I so agree with you. :)
August 29, 2018, 7:25 PM · Haha no misunderstanding here, I was just agreeing with you and adding on an extra point :). And you know us vegans; we *have* to mention it at as soon as we're given the opportunity!
August 29, 2018, 7:27 PM · I attended a very interesting lecture by Dr Mary Lewis ( on Hugh Despenser the Younger (hung drawn and quartered {and worse} favourite of Edward II of England). She had one of his bones along as an exhibit. You might like to look her up, consult her? I don't think she can actually spare you one of the said gentleman's bones to hang up in your teaching studio, but it's the thought that counts.
August 29, 2018, 9:16 PM · "Because, from my personal point of view, it's the highest form of arrogance to claim that something else should have to die against its consent simply so my life can be a bit more convenient."
Thank you! You summed that up nearly perfectly. I understand taking an animal life for food of it's out of necessity, but even then, nine chances of ten one human could forage for food in a survival situation. If other food is scarce, fine. Just out of pleasure? That I don't agree with.
Anna, I don't really agree with taking a life in order to adorn a wall. It seems rather foolish to me, regardless of the species. Animals have just as much personality as we do. Believe me; I live on a farm.
Actually, when you brought up about the ravens (which is really fascinating; thanks so much for mentioning it!), it immediately brought to my mind this story from a horse rescue in Nova Scotia: an older horse in his late twenties, I think, was ailing. The owners made the decision to euthanize him, so they called the vet to their property. They locked the other horses in their stalls, so they wouldn't have to watch the horse that was a part of their herd die. They euthanized him in the paddock, and they buried him at the top of a hill inside the fence, close to a tree. When they let the other horses out, they immediately walked in a straight, perfect line to the place he was buried and formed a circle, despite the fact that they couldn't have seen him being buried there. They all bent their noses to the ground and remained like that for several minutes. Then they walked away.
Anyway, I honestly didn't mean to cause a discussion that isn't really related to the thread, my question in the last comment was mostly rhetorical, and I, too, hope this doesn't turn into an argument when future posters see it. That wasn't my intention. I do have an issue with taxidermy, hunting, and such, but again, this isn't really the place to discuss it. So I do apologize for bringing it up. Eric, you didn't (though technically, I don't think I was the first, either; I thought someone previously brought up taxidermy).

"Also, feel free to steal the portrait idea!"
I meant the idea with the bones, not the portrait, lol. Though I was mostly joking.
I love listening to the double bass, and not too many people seem to play it; that's why I was asking about it.
It's always interesting to learn about other instruments, and the musicians playing them. Especially when those musicians also play multiple instruments. I find balancing practice time between instruments difficult. I couldn't imagine more than two! Though I wouldn't mind taking up the lute...hmm.
"I often get asked if I also teach cello or piano and I refuse, because my experience would not validate that."
Yes, I would imagine you'd be asked that quite often.
It's the same reason I've turned down people who have wanted me to teach them, though I think I could teach piano. I'm at the far end of intermediate, so I guess if I wanted to, I could probably teach total beginners. But again, it comes down to qualification. I don't feel qualified to, either. Strange how some people think that just because someone "plays" an instrument, no matter how well, that means this person will also be able to teach others proficiently, but this isn't necessarily true. So I respect that you do turn them down.

August 29, 2018, 11:22 PM · So manty thoughts here:

1. Q: How do you know if someone is a vegan? A: They tell you.

2. Victorian families used to take pictures of families with the body of the dead relative propped in a chair as if they were living. They also made arts & crafts projects out of the body parts of the dead. Hair bracelets, teeth art, etc.. Victorians also bound court records of serial killers in the their own skins after they were executed.

3. According to Herodotus, Scythians would drink from the skulls of their defeated enemies. Herodotus also said "human skin in both white and translucent" but does not mention how he knows this.

4. You can buy human bones from a place called "Skulls Unlimited"?????

5. People are weird.

August 30, 2018, 12:26 AM · I wouldn't say people are weird. I'd say too many people are normal!
August 30, 2018, 12:35 AM · It wouldn't bother me at all, but years ago I studied/measured a few dozen human skulls (& those of other primates). I also helped cut up a cadaver in gross anatomy class, so I soft of inured to it.

Perhaps if you put the case and arm in a distant corner and kept it covered for students until you knew they would be ok with it, it would work out.

Edited: August 30, 2018, 2:30 AM · Regardless of cultural or religious considerations, I think it is perfectly understandable that some of your students or their families may feel uncomfortable in a room with actual human remains. So I think it would be respectful to ask them.
As per myself, I have been around and handled corpses in different states of degradation so I am not squeamish. It is in my will and I carry a card that states that in case of death I am a donor of all my organs, and the body must be left to science. I like to think that my meat will serve for something even when I have left it.
But that is science or purpose. I would rather be compost and make something grow rather than to be someone's collected item, for the Lulz.
August 30, 2018, 6:30 AM · IMO Carlos and Mary Ellen raised a valid point; it is generally not possible to know whether the donor whose bone was displayed in such setting (some musician's teaching room) would feel happy and respected, even if the OP acquired it from a legitimate organization, and even if the OP had nothing but respect for the bone. This is because most donors donate their bodies for science, but the OP's purpose was not exactly educational or scientific (at least for me he hasn't been able to convince so).
Edited: August 30, 2018, 7:13 AM · I'm not remotely offended by human bones. But I'd have to wonder why my violin teacher would want them in his studio. I'm glad my violin teacher focuses on ... wait for it ... violin playing. He does have a few curiosities in his studio: Pictures of his Suzuki group from yesteryear, a Blue Ridge Suzuki Camp coffee mug (gift from me), etc. If Erik has a bustling studio with a waiting list and can afford to lose a few clients (read: parents) who can't acclimate to his idiosyncrasies, then I don't see the harm.

Here are a few other decorations that might go well in Erik's studio:
* Lava lamp
* Framed portrait of Donald Trump (or Fidel Castro, etc.)
* Poster advocating marijuana legalization
* Confederate battle flag
* Shrine to a lesser religious figure such as Anselm of Canterbury (I chose him because my middle name is Anselm)

Having said that, I do have one piano student and he gets his lessons in my living room. And I have framed prints there including a you-guessed-it inset from "The Birth of Venus" (along with "Heroic Roses", "Blue Poles", and "Nude Descending a Staircase.") But the boy is 15 and I know that Venus would not offend his parents. However, if I were setting up a studio to include small children (which I have no intention of doing), then I would replace "The Birth of Venus" with something else. I think a studio should be a calming, welcoming place.

One or two small conversation pieces are appropriate. For example, in my office at VT, I have a clock where the 1 is H, the 2 is He, the 3 is Li, etc. It was a gift from students.

August 30, 2018, 7:25 AM · I thought for a moment that you were referring to "L'Origine du monde" (won't link because NSFW), but that's a different one...
August 30, 2018, 8:16 AM ·
“1. Q: How do you know if someone is a vegan? A: They tell you.“

Thanks for the morning laugh, Julie!

August 30, 2018, 8:26 AM · It's OK to be "normal" if that's who you are. What's problematic-and this goes beyond the violin realms-is that too many "different" individuals are afraid to be themselves due to societal pressures, sometimes leading to unhappy lives, depression, or sadly, worse. It is for this reason I hate the "weird" labels-I myself am as far as you can imagine from the standards of "normalcy" many want to impose on us, and understand those who feel "too different to fit" (indeed, I do not care to "fit" at all.) I am not better than these "normal" people, of course, but am definitely no worse either.

So my opinion is "I wouldn't say too many people are normal, but too many are afraid to be themselves"!

While my previous opinion above still stands, I respect Mr. Williams for aspiring to stay True to Himself, "normal" or otherwise.

I wouldn't force any student to be my clone, in music or life. There are high standards to follow to be sure, but also, many shades of gray, and there are no two individuals who should be alike "just because".

(Again, this is not an would-be-absurd attack on those happy to be "normal", so do not feel offended.)

August 30, 2018, 9:25 AM · @Mary it’s actually a well-known joke. But it’s amazingly true in my experience - and Erik just told us he’s a vegan!

I’m a meat eater but I respect people who only eat veggies out of humane considerations.

August 30, 2018, 10:04 AM · I wonder if a medical publisher could provide a series of anatomy charts for a music studio showing how the muscles of the arms control the fingers, and other charts showing how good posture is good for you and your playing, while bad posture isn't.

Do professional dance studios (e.g. ballet) do something similar?

August 30, 2018, 10:19 AM · I'm not sure why someone would want real human bones. Just get a simulated human skeleton on Ebay for $30. Comes with a stand. And I'm not even sure it will really help students play better.

I have one of those music clocks with a circle of fifths on the face. $12. Maybe a better teaching aid?

August 30, 2018, 10:22 AM · My studio is very neutral, in an effort to keep students comfortable.

I do have a framed drawing of Heifetz posted on the wall -- I suppose that could make some uncomfortable -- particularly if they have not practiced.

August 30, 2018, 10:45 AM · Oh I know the joke, which also includes an atheist and a CrossFit enthusiast. It’s still funny.
Edited: August 30, 2018, 11:27 AM · Just to clarify my use of the word "weird", as defined by merriam-webster mean mysteriously strange or fantastic. Weird may imply an unearthly or supernatural strangeness or it may stress queerness or oddness. It is not meant to be derogatory, and actually I think appropriate in describing the OP's odd intent. What I don't understand is the motivation to adorn one's music studio with human remains.
Edited: August 30, 2018, 12:27 PM · Mary Ellen: LOL, probably applies to violinists as well. I can usually fit "I play the violin" into the first couple of minutes of any conversation on any topic.

Erik: Sorry my post wasn't quite clear enough and could be interpreted that I was calling you weird. I didn't mean that at all. I meant that humanity has always had a fascination with 'acceptable' and 'taboo' regrading the dead. I should have said: "Humanity is weird."

Regarding the original question: It might freak out some of the more sensitive kids or those with preexisting mental disorders. Maybe put it in on your nightstand? Best post that question to r/relationships first, I think.

Edited: August 30, 2018, 1:48 PM · Personally, I would find more discomfort with the 5 foot tall oil portrait of yourself hanging there. :^)
August 30, 2018, 2:09 PM · BTW, whatever happened to Haydn's head?
August 30, 2018, 3:49 PM · Interesting responses all around. As usual, any controversial topic will have a nice bell curve to the responses, and this is no exception.

Of course, I'm most appreciative of those who attempt to be open-minded about such things, but I also can understand those who aren't.

I think I've decided for now that the human arm is not the best idea.

However, I did want to address the topic of "curiosities" in a music studio. Almost all of the current curiosities in my studio are either musical instruments (oh, I forgot to mention my Erhu earlier, and my kazoo!), or musically related. However, it is indeed my intention to eventually build a collection of interesting subjects to put around my studio space, because I love the idea of students being filled with a sense of fascination when they come for lessons.

As it is, it's very rare that a student doesn't both enter and leave my studio with a happy smile on their face, so it's not like I have a need to make it a better experience for them or their parents.

But, to me, violin lessons have turned out to be far more than just about learning the violin. It's about sparking the love of learning in general, and building up a general sense of curiosity in every student. Curious students are sponges ready to absorb new information, and to explore ideas on their own as well. But when they come in with a sense of "I'm just here to learn violin," I find they are not nearly as ready to absorb new information. So to me, a neutral studio isn't necessarily ideal, even if the end goal is just to learn violin. Those in scientific fields now know the benefits of "cross-pollination" between different fields that were previously separated (such as how the study of waves from distant nebulae led to the understanding of atomic resonance, which led to one of the biggest medical breakthroughs, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)), and I'm confident that music studios can benefit from the same effect.

I still regret not buying heifetz's suit from that auction :(

August 30, 2018, 3:53 PM · On the other hand, some people are advocating "arming" teachers. Are we included?
August 30, 2018, 4:18 PM · I can't tell if that's a throwback pun to the original question or not, Scott.
Edited: August 31, 2018, 8:13 AM · Some have discussed the ethical, or moral, implications of purchasing and displaying human bones. We've also covered whether human arm bones are an effective teaching tool. Another consideration, that goes along with both, is what such a display might signify about the person who placed it there.

Especially if he is teaching children, I think he should avoid any possible ambiguity about whether or not he has good judgment, so parents have no question about whether he is trustworthy. Unfortunately, this is especially important for male teachers. The meaning of placing a jarring object in his studio is ambiguous, and without any other context, it might raise questions. It certainly has on this forum.

And context is especially important. Paul's Venus is in his living room, along with reproductions of other famous paintings. The visitor to his house will know that his minor children use that living room, and will presume that his spouse has approved the prints. That means a lot. If Paul takes the Venus and puts it in his office at the Department of Chemistry next to his elements clock, it changes meaning. If he takes that same print and puts it in his pre-college music studio alone on the wall, it may be "read" by students and parents that he is interested in the female form, and, further, that he intends students and parents to know of his interest in the female form. That gets a bit creepy. However, if it hangs it among an entire wall dedicated to famous prints in his pre-college violin studio, it becomes a sign of "great art" intended to inspire his students, and loses the creepy associations.

Judging from Erik's other posts about misbehaving students, and students who never progress, I suspect he a very thoughtful, responsive, and empathic teacher. Any artifact in his studio is going to be interpreted in light of the total experience of interacting and working with him, the setting, and other contextual factors. I suspect that the importance of an ambiguous object is pretty minimal in the total picture, that is, it really doesn't matter much whether he has bones from a human arm in his studio or not.

However, we've been asked to consider the bones in his studio decontextualized, which is hard to do. Hence, our conservative responses.

Edited: August 31, 2018, 12:47 PM · Excellent post Jocelyn. I was personally thinking that it would be a bit off putting in principle but you're quite right in that context helps determine our perception. But still, it also depends on the sensibility of the prospective student. Why risk lose students this way.

Personally, I find stuffed hunted animals much worse because it's more than just the uneasy factor at play.

Edited: August 31, 2018, 3:13 PM · On a lighter side, one should think twice before offering to give Erik a hand :-)
August 31, 2018, 10:47 PM · Excellent analysis from Jocelyn.
September 3, 2018, 5:25 AM · Roger, is a violin transcription of "I'll hold your hand in mine, dear" really one of the pieces Erik teaches his students?
September 3, 2018, 5:36 AM · I don't know why, or better, how useful for teaching purposes human arm bones would be, but anyways, I think a 3D printed replica will do the job just because. I'm not creeped out by "real human bones", but I guess they will be way more problematic to buy than a 3D printed version, or replica. I've heard replicas of human body in general are quite expensive, I know it because a friend of mine is a teacher of science in a school and always says that they are expensive and that kids don't take care of them and lose parts/break them.
September 3, 2018, 6:53 AM · Maybe a replica of a human arm with muscles going all the way to the shoulder might be more helpful than a representation of bones?
September 7, 2018, 7:19 PM · I'm trying to keep personal opinion out of this: it could be a very memorable and interesting lesson to show a student how the elbow, wrist, and fingers articulate while bowing. That said, there is an online store called the Bone Room ( that sells, among other things, human bones. They're completely legit--they were in Berkeley, California, my home town, for decades and are well known in the community. The owner would be happy to tell you if she has any arms.
September 8, 2018, 2:16 AM · Oh, berkeley is only a hop, skip and a jump from me! Anyhow, please don't keep personal opinion out of this; it's the best part!
Edited: September 12, 2018, 4:49 AM · Morbid. And depends on cost. Medical quality replicas are expensive. Human skeletons used to be - there was a time when the only source was the Ganges - downstream from Benares there was or is a factory that gathered the corpses and cleaned them and sold them on. If America provides a cheaper source, then that's another reason I don't want to visit America.

(and in agreement with tammuz kolenyo and others, the bare bones - if you'll forgive the expression - might not convey enough information)

September 12, 2018, 6:35 AM · Human bones in a music studio? Morbid indeed! In some countries that would be asking for a 6am heavy knocking on the door, cars with flashing lights outside, and probably TV media in attendance!

The basic problem that has fired up this discussion could be an opportunity for an apps programmer to make a digital video of a violin being played, with cut-aways showing what the muscles and tendons in the hand and arm are doing at any moment during a particular technique. In passing, I would point out that many people are unaware that in fact the work of the fingers is done by muscles and tendons higher up in the arm and hand.

Clearly, for such an app a good practical knowledge of violin playing and a detailed knowledge of anatomy would be required, in addition to high level programming skills.

Edited: September 12, 2018, 7:15 AM ·
veg = vegetable(s);
veggie = vegetarian.
I don't eat veggies - I am not a cannibal.
Edited: September 12, 2018, 7:34 AM ·

And I think you'll find this instructive at 4:23

September 12, 2018, 10:35 AM · A good illustrated anatomy book might be more useful. The structure of the muscles and tendons is just as important as the bones. Even after multiple anatomy and biology courses for my (past) day job, I don't pretend to really understand what is going on mechanically while playing the violin.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Violin Finder
Yamaha Violin Finder

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Joshua Bell and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Joshua Bell and the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition
Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Potter Violins

Pro-Am Strings

Violin Lab

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop