As a former New Yorker, I get a little homesick when I get my latest issue of New York magazine and read through all the wonderful concert listings, play performances, and art shows. There is no doubt that New York City is home to some of the world’s greatest artists, writers, and musicians. When I saw this press listing come across my desk recently, it made me miss the city just a little more. The Queen’s Chamber Trio will be performing at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery on Sunday,... Continue
One of the satisfactions of helping to develop our sheet-music line, Strings Charts, is being able to provide string ensembles with new music that would be practical at a variety of gigs. If anyone is looking for new wedding material, we’ve got a couple of tunes coming up that should suit the occasion: “At Last” (think Etta James) and “La Vie en Rose” (think Edith Piaf) for string quartet. They’re classic, they’re romantic, and they’re audience favorites. I’ll post again once... Continue
“More chamber music coverage!” That’s what I hear on a weekly basis from the editorial director of Strings magazine. But my boss' demand isn’t just a passing fancy. Truth is, our reader surveys confirm that a massive number of Strings readers are chamber-music players, both professional and amateur, eager to learn about technique, repertoire, and performance opportunities. And they’re proof that we are a nation of doers.
OK, so I sound like a home-improvement commercial or, even worse,... Continue
Time to start a new viola! Here’s the set of wood, all ready to go:
But before I begin, let’s take another look at what it is I’ll be making:
To me as a violin maker, this is not the viola. This is:
All the sound is created by you, the musician, when you bow the string. Sound is a wave; it’s created by the displacement of air. The string, by itself, doesn’t move enough air to make a sound that can be heard. It has to be amplified. And that’s what this is:
As the days grow longer and you start daydreaming about your upcoming summer getaway, it’s a great time to think about using your hallowed vacation time to improve your musicianship through one of the many fiddle camps that take place around the country.
No matter what your skill level or musical taste may be, there’s something out there for an inquisitive musician looking to learn, share, and make a lot of music. These summertime events can do so much more that just provide an abundance of... Continue
One more thing about the form before I move on to starting the rib structure: I forgot to show how I changed the pattern as I was working on the form. The bottom bout looked too large, especially when I turned the form up-side-down. It’s always a good idea, when working on any part of the instrument, to turn it this way and that; things that don’t fit right will leap out at you. When you’re looking at it in the usual way your eye compensates for discrepancies, gliding right over them.
For the young ambitious string player, a competition provides the opportunity to really get to know and master a piece of music. Competitions can be a great way to gain quick notoriety and experience in a high-pressure setting (especially useful for preparing for college auditions and orchestra trials down the road). They’re not for everyone, and most likely your string teacher will decide whether or not you’re ready. But if you thrive in front of an audience and a row of judges, here are... Continue
Now that the blocks are set and the inside curves of the C-bout cut, I can start making the ribs. For this viola I’m using a one-piece slab-cut back that’s big enough to cut the ribs off it.
Slab-cut? Quartersawn? This is one of the most frequent questions I get—but rather than go into a lengthy discussion now, there will be an explanation of the differences at the end of this posting.
This shows how the ribs will be cut off the back:
I use a very wide blade in the bandsaw... Continue
It's day one of the Primrose International Viola Competition here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hosted by the ever gracious and accommodating Robertson's and Sons Violin Shop. The other interns and I spent the day escorting guest artists, jury members and the twenty-nine quarter finalists to Robertson's amazing facilities, newly expanded and complete with studios, a performance hall and practice rooms in addition to their enormous catalog of instruments, their shop, a courtyard with ivy-covered... Continue
Things got off to an early start today at Robertson's and Sons Violin Shop. I'm not sure how many people attended Kenneth Martinsen's play-in this morning, because after the 14-hour day yesterday I was definitely not waking up to get to the Festival by 8 AM. I rolled in at a lazy 9:30 AM, just in time for the quarter finalists to begin the first round of the competition. For the next 11 hours, the competitors each played one movement of a major concerto that lasted roughly 15 minutes.
The scores... Continue
Thanks to my amazing fellow interns, Forrest Wu and Alex Smith, day three of the festival was about as smooth as these kinds of events can be. They solved just about every logistical problem we had yesterday and we therefore had very little to do today except listen to the competition and drink coffee. The second round of quarter-finals consisted of two contrasting movements of a Bach Suite, Sonata or Partita or the Ciaccona from the second Partita, as well as a Primrose transcription or a... Continue
After the first full day of the competition wrapped up, Thula (Nokuthula Ngwenyama), and interns Alex, Forrest, and I were in the hotel lobby assembling paperwork for the judges for the first round of performances the following day. It was 11 at night, and we had all been at work since 7:30 in the morning. Thula could tell that morale was already beginning to wane when she commented, “You know, I feel like this is what the competition really is. It’s happening now, behind the scenes.”... Continue
The C-bouts are now done:
Now, I work on the upper and lower ribs. I cut the outer curves of the blocks, like I did before, starting with a gouge:
The last round of semi-finals took place today, with astonishing performances that matched or outshone yesterday's. I tried to not look at the scores during the day and focus on which performer I thought really deserved to advance; it's been hard with live scoring and instant access to public opinion via twitter to asses who I truly felt should be the next Primrose prize winner. I honestly have to say that by the end of the day, when we discovered which three contestants would advance to the... Continue
Today was a much quieter day at Robertson and Sons' shop. There were no performances by the finalists today, but rather a series of workshops that were attended primarily by local musicians, volunteers and leaders of the Albuquerque music community. The day highlighted the aspects of the festival that were geared toward honoring Primrose's values of inclusion and outreach.
It was also a day for reflecting on the impact and history of the competition. The festival featured a luncheon with past... Continue
This exhausting and wonderful week wrapped up at the University of New Mexico's Keller Hall where Vicki Powell, Elias Goldstein, and Ayane Kozasa played with the New Mexico Chamber Orchestra in the final round of the competition. The competitors played a classical concerto of their choice, either Hoffmeister or Stamitz. After three absolutely brilliant and refined performances, an awards ceremony was held. Third place was announced: Vicki Powell, a young artist of the highest degree. There was... Continue
A word about the wood used for tops: It’s always spruce. But, there’s a large variety to choose from—spruce is one of the most ubiquitous species of tree in the world. It’s found in every Northern Temperate Zone, from North America to Scandinavia, Europe, and into Russia. There are any number of different kinds—Sitka, Norway, Engelmann, etc.—and I wish I could tell you more about which work best, but I can’t. I buy the tree, I buy the wood already cut into billets; and... Continue
I logged on to post the next installment of the viola making blog, only to see Greg's announcement that Edith Eisler had passed away. What a lovely person. I met her years ago, when Strings was first starting; and then I used to see her often at concerts. She was the epitome of what a critic can be at their very best: as enthusiastic and generous as she was exacting. Most of all, her love of music was paramount, and abundantly evident. She had an innate sense of what made a performance great;... Continue
Now that the final outline has been cut, it’s time to do the purfling—the double black striped border around the edge. It’s an actual inlay, made up of three pieces of veneer glued together that are then hammered into a narrow trench. Visually, it acts like a frame to complement the black of the fingerboard, tailpiece, and f-holes. Without the purfling, the outline of the top is curiously undefined:
You might have dreamed of playing in a big league orchestra at one time but life pulled you in another direction, and now your 9-to-5 obligations keep you from taking the stage. Not to worry! Now more than ever, orchestras and festivals are offering amateurs performance opportunities. So take a vacation and play.
The latest organization to offer up such an opportunity is the Minnesota Orchestra, which will present the Orchestra Fantasy Camp for amateur musicians September 15 and 16. For... Continue
In some ways it seemed appropriate that during my trip to Cremona, my flights would take me directly over Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Montpelier, France. These two cities boast many luthiers who continue the traditions laid in place by the violin makers of history. And, though it often doesn't seem like it, one of the traditions of violin making is innovation.
Perhaps it’s easy to dismiss violins as being relatively innovation-proof and there happens to be a lot of history to support that idea,... Continue
The scene is set here in Cremona as violin and bow makers converge in the violin’s spiritual home.
The biggest rumbling comes from the group that puts on Mondomusica. They’re considering doing an event in the U.S. in 2013. If this sounds like a good idea (or a bad one) sound off in the comments section, please.
Several new specialty books debuted on the show’s first day and bows seemed to be the focus.
On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered one of the biggest earthquakes in its history. I happened to wake up in the middle of the night in my home in New York City, and found someone posting about it on Facebook. I immediately tried calling my parents in Japan, but all phones and cellphones were down. Only the internet was working, and eventually my mother emailed me to say everyone in my family was fine.
In the days following this disaster, the Japan Society in New York asked me to participate in a... Continue
Strings magazine marks its 25th anniversary in the upcoming March 2012 issue. To celebrate, we're preparing a lot of special features, including a compilation of 25 player tips from the archives. Here's a short preview, a tip from violinist and master teacher Itzhak Perlman on how to turn practice time into quality time:
Sheer time is not necessarily good; what’s good is the quality of the practicing. If somebody’s really serious, five hours a day is almost too much; no more than that. After... Continue
Hey rock violin fans. Check out this Mark Wood video from last week's NAMM trade show.
If you don't already "like" us on Facebook, we'd like to tempt you into it by offering your a free video download on bow care.
Click here to "Like" Strings Magazine and get a FREE video download on how to care for your bow.
Don't forget to share!
A quick-and-easy guide to evaluating a new stick
- Type of Material Brazilwood (prices usually run between $50 and $200); Pernambuco (priced anywhere from $100 to $10,000 or more); carbon fiber (priced anywhere between $50 and several thousand dollars); fiberglass (usually the lowest-priced option).
Click here to see 'Strings' senior editor Greg Olwell with the office purple fiddle (hand-crafted no less). In solidarity with New Mexico middle school student Camille Cruz who was told last week that her purple violin was not suitable for the orchestra class and the sixth-grader would have to rent one of the district's violins that is a more traditional color for $30.
And weigh in on the discussion: purple violins—a legitimate way to engage a violin student or the bane of string teachers... Continue
Read how the Beatles—who mark their 50th anniversary this month—launched the string revolution, not with 1966's "Eleanor Rigby," as was recently claimed in one prominent British music magazine (tsk, tsk), but a year earlier with "Yesterday." This fab 2005 "Strings" archive article sets the record straight. http://bit.ly/S1yqfX
By the time I left college to go to violin-making school I had been playing the violin for well over ten years—and yet I had not the slightest clue how the thing was made, much less how it worked. Now, approaching the 40th anniversary of that day in early October when I arrived in Salt Lake City, every time I pick up my tools I’m still amazed at the instrument’s beauty. And by its acoustical sophistication: the only instrument that produces a sound richer in overtones than the violin... Continue
Before I begin work on the rib structure, I join the top and the back. I want to let the joint rest before subjecting the plates to the stress of arching and graduating, but I'll also be using the back as a leveling plate to build the ribs on.
After I’ve run the two parts of the back through the joiner planer to level and roughly join them, I finish the joint with a beautiful old jack plane that my parents found for me 25 years ago. It was made in Pennsylvania in the 19th century, and the... Continue
- The Emersons: Reflecting on Change, Pt. II
- The Emersons: Reflecting on Change, Pt. I
- Montreal Chamber Music Fest—Brandenburgs a la Wallfisch
- The Montreal Chamber Music Festival—Canada's Instrument Bank Steals the Show
- More from Montreal: The Les Petits Violons School