What to do with grant money

September 19, 2019, 5:55 PM · My son (freshman in HS) has been extremely fortunate to be granted a second fellowship this year that assists kids from traditionally underrepresented groups in classical music. As part of this fellowship, he gets $3000 he can spend on an instrument or bow any time in the next 2.5 years or so.

He currently has a very nice modern violin that is appraised for $11,000. It's the quality of most violins twice its value because it is new and the maker is not particularly famous. He has a bow appraised for $2000 that is good, but has some weaknesses (doesn't bounce great).

His teacher has said both are sufficient for now, but he may need to upgrade for college auditions. She said expect to need to go to the $30-40,000 range for the instrument, and a comparatively better bow.

We are saving, but to be honest, I am not sure us buying a violin in that range is realistic, even saving for 3 years.

My question is, what would you invest in? Spend it all on a better bow earlier on? Save it for the better violin, which may or may not happen? We don't get cash, so if he doesn't spend it, the grant monies disappear.

How do people afford this violin thing????

Replies (24)

September 19, 2019, 6:01 PM · not an expert but given his violin already cost 10k, i would spend the grant money on a bow upgrade, maybe sell his existing bow and add that to the 3 grand, so ultimately you have 4-5 grand for the bow.
Edited: September 19, 2019, 6:10 PM · I would invest in a better bow - a strong bow that really engages the string makes advanced bow techniques so much easier, not to mention the fact that it limits the chances of E-string whistling. Your son will be able to draw a deeper tone out of his instrument as well, which will make him sound even more impressive than I'm sure he already sounds.

I have to be honest - I don't really know where the teacher is coming from. I'm sure she is well-intentioned, but I know plenty of musicians who attend top conservatories (Juilliard, NEC, Rice, IU, etc.) and own instruments in the $10-20K price range. Unless your son is playing on an instrument that he has moved past (i.e. there are no more colors to be found and it is only limiting him from getting better), the price point alone is not a reason to upgrade.

You may still want to upgrade the violin, but I would urge you to consider instruments in the 10-20K price range, as you may find a better instrument even at that price point. I don't know too many people who play on instruments more that 30K, and those who do usually come from families that have the money for it or have been loaned those instruments by foundations (applying for such a loan from a local foundation is not a bad idea either). Either way, please don't feel that acquiring a far more expensive violin is key to your son's college auditions - it isn't.

September 19, 2019, 7:01 PM · Don't rush your decision. Your son is young, and he already has a good instrument, and the bow might become a high priority over the next two years, or it might not.
September 19, 2019, 7:37 PM · to add to evan's point, my best mate went to conservatory with a 5k usd violin, and a friend of mine who is considered a child prodigy who performed at various professional levels including soloist at lincoln center also didn't have a violin that cost that much. the point i'm trying to make i guess is he doesn't need a more expensive violin, unless its a violin that cost 11k but sounds cheaper.
Edited: September 19, 2019, 9:18 PM · I would invest in the better bow right now. If you are in the $5k-6k range, you can buy a bow from just about any contemporary maker. You should have plenty of choices in Chicago. As a high schooler, I got a bow from a now-Michigan based bowmaker, Douglas Raguse, whose bows should be readily available in the Chicago violin shops and are worth trying.

The better bow will help refine his technique, rewarding more control and precision. It should also provide a bit of tonal boost to the violin. And if the current bow doesn't bounce well, it should be replaced ASAP anyway; there's no excuse for a $2k bow to not be responsive and it will rapidly become more and more annoying as more works require a great sautille, up/down-bow staccato, etc.

I'm going to assume that your great-value $11k violin is comparable to the typical contemporary violin at the $20k-ish price point -- i.e. comparable to a Conia, Wilbaux, Grubaugh & Seifert, or the like, but not as good as the higher end of the contemporary market (like Benjamin Ruth, David Gusset, David Burgess, or similar maker whose commissions are now in the $30k+ range). You're almost certain to get better bang for your buck with a contemporary if your eventual violin budget is $40k.

What he's playing is probably perfectly serviceable and should be fine for use in conservatory, usable professionally, and whatnot; if he ends up entering international solo competitions he'll probably need to borrow something, though.

It might not be ideal, though. I think if you put a top-notch contemporary in his hands, you'd probably hear a difference even now, and he'd feel one. The instrument would guide him in refining his playing further; I think he'd find himself doing things subtly differently and better.

For funsies, bring him to check out the Reed Yeboah exhibition of contemporary violins in NYC next month (LINK) if you can. Arrive in the early morning to get quieter trial time. There's plenty of stuff there in the $10k-20k range as well as higher-end contemporary violins. And it includes contemporary bows, too. You are not allowed to bring your own violin or bow for comparison, though.

Here in DC, which is undoubtedly much closer to your environment in Chicago, it's not uncommon for serious high school students to own instruments in the $20k range, and for students bound for top conservatories, whose parents can afford it, to be playing things that are $100k+. Obviously, a kid whose parents have limited means can make do with what they have if need be, but it's not optimal. (And at the exhibition you will undoubtedly encounter other parents and teenagers doing some shopping.)

When I was a kid, my teacher also advised my parents to spend about $30k. At the time, that could have bought a Vuillaume, a Deconet, etc. -- things worth several hundred thousand dollars today. But you may be able to get fairly comparable sound if you find the right contemporary violin.

(EDIT: Sorry, for some reason I keep thinking you're in Boston! Had to adjust for Chicago.)

Edited: September 19, 2019, 9:41 PM · that Reed Yeboah exhibition is 10 blocks from me i think i'm going to go check it out haha

is it public entry?

Edited: September 19, 2019, 10:28 PM · With the size grant you have there, a bow is kind of an obvious choice. Especially if you are concerned his existing bow has limitations.

You say the bow doesn't bounce? Have you tried dropping it off the top of the Sears Tower? LOL

Your other option is an intermediate student viola, but $3k won't buy you much, especially since you need a case and bow too. You're looking at 5-6k to get into that game.

September 19, 2019, 10:31 PM · I have never owned a violin worth more than $20K in my life. I am currently playing on a $17K Cison, as are several other people in my orchestra. There's no reason to move up in violin until his current instrument limits him, and even then you may be able to find a suitable instrument under $30K--look at the Cisons, for example, which I think are now at $20K.

Completely agree to use the money towards a bow upgrade, and I second Lydia's recommendation of a Raguse. I have the use of one of his bows and it is marvelous.

September 20, 2019, 2:36 AM · I am so glad for your family and your son that you received this! I don't have any better suggestions on how to use it, but I just wanted to rejoice with you!
September 20, 2019, 3:07 AM · That's one teacher full of BS or taking a percentage from the local violin shop.
Edited: September 20, 2019, 10:53 AM · Susan, based on his (lovely) videos, I think you probably won't need to be concerned about another violin until he starts competing internationally and people show up with borrowed Strads.

Whatever he's playing (I'm super curious about the maker!) has a nice clarity and decent range of color, and it projects well even through an orchestral texture. Of course there's a strong element of the player's technique in that, so assuming that it's not costing undue effort to get that sound (i.e. he can get through all three movements of a concerto without exhausting his energy or experiencing fatigue-induced pain) the violin is probably just fine.

I assume you've already had the instrument optimally adjusted, so the relative balance of the strings is simply the character of the instrument. The top range is better than bottom range, especially the G. I doubt anyone who isn't specifically listening for the traits of the instrument will notice though.

Yes, he would probably enjoy playing something that's another step up, and I suspect he's pushing the violin to its limits and is capable of more variance in the sound than it can give him at a soloist's volume, but it's not one of those situations where you see violinists clearly pushing the violin beyond its limits.

(I sharply disagree with Gordon's thought. I've spent enough time with high-end violins, and seeing how the playing of a child instantly changes for the better with great equipment in their hands, to be a believer.)

I continue think a different bow will be helpful, though. I have the impression that his bow doesn't always respond predictably (and correctly) to his off-the-string technique even though the technical execution looks fine. Also, I'm curious if he feels that there's something about two-thirds up the bow that's not quite stable.

Edited: September 20, 2019, 11:06 AM · I am late to the party, definitely agree with folks suggesting to start auditioning bows. By far the biggest potential bang for the buck assuming the current violin sounds good.

Did you get his current bow at a good local shop? If so that's the first place I'd look because they will probably offer some trade-in credit, so the net cost would be even less. Otherwise aren't there so many good places in Chicago for this?

Under 6K may be a little low these days for the most well-known makers but it's close. My son's viola teacher just bought a really nice gold exhibition bow made by Raguse, good bow. But there are so many great modern makers, and it will be fun to try them all, within driving distance even :-).

My son plays viola less seriously (piano is first instrument) but we just got him an outstanding bow (Thomachot) and the sound and playing difference are huge. Mary Ellen I like your practical approach, my son's teacher played a Cison since conservatory until recently and my son has a Kiernoziak that cost about what Susan's son's instrument cost, and it's about all anyone except a pro soloist really needs.

Edited: September 20, 2019, 12:14 PM · The price of an instrument doesn’t necessarily always go hand in hand with quality. Some $11,000 Derazeys can sound just as good as a $100,000 violin in my opinion. You can get a good bow for $3,000. Have a look at auctions such as Tarisio. You can find some great deals there quite often.
Edited: September 20, 2019, 3:12 PM · Thank you so much for all your detailed comments. Lydia, especially, thank you, since you likely know the teachers involved and what his program is like. And for evaluating his violin in his recordings!

To clarify one thing -- his teacher stated that for him to move up to a violin that would be substantively better than his current one would put us in the $30,000+ range. In other words, he is unlikely to find a better instrument unless we went above that level. His teacher does plan on him doing some big competitions in his later years of high school, so that is her point of reference.

It may surprise a lot of people, but that is the price point of many of the violins the other kids in his program have. I find it shocking, too. But that is the reality.

Lydia, for your reference, his violin was made by Noah Saunders Scott. He was trained at the Chicago School of Violin Making and only makes a few instruments a year, often just 1-3. His violins sell like hotcakes, but because he makes so few, he isn't that well known. It's an incredible instrument for the price. It's only weakness is the G string; however, we recently found the fingerboard on the G string side had a bit of a misshapen area, so the maker redressed it and it is much better. It still doesn't have the depth in the high ranges of the G that some instruments do, but it is serviceable.

Anyway, long story short, I think we will pursue the bow. When he got this current one, he had really bad right hand technique. He's still working on it, but it is much better, so I think he could get a lot more out of a better bow now.

September 20, 2019, 5:59 PM · Yep. I actually have a passing childhood acquaintance with his teacher; we studied with the same teacher but at slightly different times. (My mom remembers her better than me, and tutors one of her other students.)

The G gets the job done but you can hear in his Lalo how he's pushing it (the sound becomes gritty) especially high up. And it does not sound as clearly over the orchestra. You might consider that significantly when you look for a good tonal match of the bow.

I enjoyed listening to him! (I ended up listening to entire movements rather than just sampling.)

September 20, 2019, 7:07 PM · is this your son?

i don't want to go listen and find out its a completely different person haha.

if that is him, he is very very good.

September 20, 2019, 7:17 PM · Yes, though he's not going to be happy you found his webpage. LOL The videos are mostly old. I need to update with recent stuff. I haven't gotten around to uploading in about 6 months.
Edited: September 20, 2019, 7:55 PM · yeah i can see why your son got the 3k grand money, i hope all the recommendations here helped you and your son out of course its not that his current bow is a slouch from the clips.
Edited: September 20, 2019, 11:24 PM · He's got a publicity site, so he should be happen when people find it; that's the whole point of making a site for publicity. :-)

It's a nicely put together site too. Plenty of pros who don't have sites as good.

September 21, 2019, 5:13 AM · Susan you must be very proud, congratulations! Just listened to his Wieniawski concerto movement with the DePaul orchestra.
September 21, 2019, 10:41 AM · Wow, outstanding playing! (His violin sounds great too. :-)
September 21, 2019, 1:34 PM · Susan, I agree. He is very good. Alghough I'm slightly annoyed that I'm 8 years older tban him and play nowhere near like that.
September 21, 2019, 1:50 PM · watching his vid kinda made me wish i sticked to violin more when i was at his age, instead i picked up the electric guitar and joined a band haha.
September 21, 2019, 4:49 PM · Thanks, everybody, for the kind words. He's kind of at that age where he doesn't want to stand out (except when he is on stage, ironically), so he currently finds his website and any publicity annoying. He'll get back to liking it once he gets over that.

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