Since Friday, June 1, was my third and final day here at the 2012 International Viola Congress here in Rochester, New York, I decided it was time for another stroll through the exhibition halls, filled with gear, bows, and lots of violas. There were also a few violins (the luthier said they had yet to be played), and Ithaca-based violinmaker Bob Spear had even brought his New Violin Family instruments, originally conceived of by the late acoustics pioneer Carleen Hutchins.
I picked up some viola swag along the way: strings, pencils, chocolate, a glass of wine, and a viola pin with little blinking lights. There was a pile of stickers with a karate figure that read, “I am a violin ninja.” Since by the third day none of the other violists seemed the slightest bit interested in declaring their violin ninja status, I grabbed a bunch to use as prizes for my students.
In the midst of all those tables of violas was Denig and Frisch, a company that makes custom-fitted chin rests. It’s kind of like an erector set or a Lego kit: all these little pieces fit together to provide almost unlimited options, with the end goal of giving the player more comfort and less tension.
Claire Stefani, who was working at the company's exhibition booth, offered to give me a custom chin rest fitting.
Let me preface this by saying that I’ve tried a lot of chin rests and shoulder rests, and I have an embarrassingly large collection of them at home. There’s a whole section of my bookshelf devoted to the collection: various sizes and types of Kuns, a now-contorted Bonmusica, a Wolf, a Kaplan Shoulder Horn, two Shoulder Cradles, an Everest, tons of chin rests, and so many little red cosmetic sponges that I’m pretty sure they’ve begun reproducing on their own.
Several months ago, I read a blog post by eighth blackbird violinist Yvonne Lam, in which she included pictures of her personal shoulder and chin rest collection.
This felt immensely reassuring—at least I wasn’t the only one.
But back to the chin-rest fitting. The process began with Claire taking close-up photos of me while playing with my current setup, and measuring my neck. She showed me the photos of my jaw, shoulders, back and neck, pointing out what she thought did and didn’t work about my chin rest. She then spent about an hour trying various chin rests, some of which I’d never seen before, which she could make higher or lower by inserting thin wedges of cork.
With each rest, she’d evaluate it, sometimes taking photos to show me what she did or didn’t like.
She was very conscious of eliminating tension and asking me for feedback along the way.
And while I ultimately didn’t buy a chin rest, and still prefer my current setup to the one that Claire came up with, the process was useful, and I can see how it could be really helpful for those struggling with tension issues. I’m more aware of certain playing habits than I had been before the process.
And who knows, maybe I will invest in a new chinrest in the future.
After all, there’s still room on that bookshelf. . . .
- 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
- Montreal Violin Competition, Pt. V—It's a Wrap!
- The Montreal Violin Competition, Pt. IV, the Results
- The Montreal Violin Competition, Pt. III, The Finals
- Live from Montreal: The Montreal Violin Competition, Pt.II
- Making a Cello, Part II
- Live from Montreal!
- Making a Cello: Part One