Will L

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  1. Elements of construction and responsiveness

    I'm just seeing this, since I've been very busy for a while. I'm glad to see the question, but one reason I've quit making is because I really don't have a clue how to make what I consider a great violin. But playing them for so many years and being very aware of changes, I believe Conor's and Mason's points are right. And I'd add that adjustment can effect the sense of response greatly. More than once I got a violin back from a good adjuster to find that the notes tended to "snap into place" with much more definition and would feel better to the bow. Regarding gluing seams, as an example of the importance, I had one violin which all of a sudden sounded false and dull. This was years ago when strings were not always perfect, so I kept changing strings. Finally, I found the top where the hand goes was quite open; once glued the problem was solved. As for what constitutes a "good arch," I think that is the last secret to be found. It seems as if there is some subtlety that most people (maybe all) haven't put their finger on yet. Good luck.
  2. Violin Holds?

    The humerus is independent of the acromial end of the clavicle, at least as it applies to the range of motion needed to play the violin. If you experiment by constricting the movement of the acromial end you'll see that. Since most shoulder rests—and a violin without a rest—will be in at least partial contact with the clavicle, I don't see any difference whether touching the acromial end makes any difference. I agree with the idea of trying to keep the strings fairly parallel to the floor. But I also think the ideal is to not use a shoulder-rest* so the player is freer to manipulate the violin to the bow's advantage. This pertains especially to rotating the violin along the axis, but raising and lowering the strings a little is helpful, too. * If someone ever invents a shoulder-rest which allows as much freedom to manipulate the violin as a player has without one, I'd be the first to buy it. MO
  3. How do you play fifths on high positions

    Most fine music is composed by people who know the limitations of each instrument of the orchestra. I can't really think of any high 5ths in the standard rep. If you are playing your own music, jazz, for example, you might likely be playing on strings that are lower to the fingerboard. There may be some chords where the 1st or second finger would play a fifth, and to my knowledge a player would just learn to place the fingers just right (which is true of a lot of double stops even in 1st position). One has to sort of manipulate and adjust. All the more impressive a feat when you hear real virtuosi play double-stop harmonics. If you really found it necessary, you could go to a luthier and have a bridge notched to bring the strings a bit closer together, too. As far as using two fingers, I don't think that would work well at all, even more so in high positions. MO
  4. Gasparo 'da Salò' violas

    In the 1900s Gaspar was considered the ideal for violas. Lillian Fuchs was an extremely small woman and when she played her Gaspar it almost looked like her arm was parallel to the instrument and locked at the elbow, with a kinked wrist that looked like a 45 degree angle. I haven't been able to find a video of her playing. But here is a nice sample to show her tone and musicianship. She was a musical giant. Interestingly in a comment someone points out that she had Goffriller and supposedly used it for some of the Bach solo recordings; whichever she was using, I'd be happy to have it:
  5. Secrets in the wood (Stradivari's maple)

    I might as well waste some breath, too. One thing that I haven't seen considered is the nature of the highest level of human beings: those who succeed so well at something that they remain the gold standard for 300+ years. The few most celebrated makers had to have been serious, studious, and scientific to the extent their era allowed, to advance violins from the nice but weak early Andreas Amati to the best of Stradivari and del Gesu in less than two hundred years. These most noted Cremonese makers made small as well as more substantial changes over a good 150 years. Since they didn't have electronic equipment to record or measure sound, they must have relied on their ears and sense of feel. They didn't make and keep changes that didn't improve things. Slowly the instruments changed, and for the better, or generally in the right direction. All we have to do is observe ourselves to know that if we have an incredible drive to make fine instruments, so did they. And if we have successes and sometimes setbacks, so did they. If we hear something and like it we go all out to find out what was done. If some idiot does some oddball thing and his violin sucks, we avoid that. But if it has merit we grab the guy by the throat and make him talk. If wood was processed for preservation—or for appearance— why in the world wouldn't those makers establish whether it helped or hurt tone and function. I can't even imagine a shop like Strad's just blindly (or deafly) making and only by sheer luck falling into their greatness because of some common treatment of wood. (Yet no less a pro than Karl Roy was willing to offer that, and excuse Stainer for not living near a river capable of delivering floating logs.) They weren't, apparently, fools, in spite of recent arguments that they weren't really all that good and some of us are making even better instruments. I think if there ARE any fools in this continuing saga, it ain't them, but might be us. They made their bones a long time ago, and their instruments have withstood countless tests of time under all sorts of physical and musical conditions. We will never be exactly sure what our generation of makers has really done, unless someone comes up with better vitamins or the perfection of cryogenics. We might be laughed at 100 years from now. But I thought Brandmair/Greiner found very little minerals in the wood of Strad's instruments. Am I wrong on that? I don't feel like re-reading it any time soon.
  6. Viola scale length vs. short pinky

    FWIW Fredell Lack's left little finger was partially cut off accidentally while she was at Juilliard. Galamian offered to work to re-finger her whole repertoire. She said no, she'd learn to deal with it. She did. And had one of the finest little finger vibratos I ever saw. IMO, most of us don't like the conformation of our hands and fingers, and, no matter who, we have to figure it out. (Sure, some people are luckier than others of course.)
  7. I don't think you can go wrong with De Beriot—it is very ordered, and learning the positions in his way (a couple of weeks to a month on each one) is solid and lets everything really sink in. I agree with those who mentioned Dounis, Kreutzer, and Sevick. If you want to develop left hand technique to the extreme, get the Galamian Scale system; but make sure you find someone to explain how to use it and why it works. I especially recommend a lot of metronome work. Evenness of tone, pitch, quality, dynamics, while working on what the Galamian school calls "Bow distribution." Basically, the idea is that if you are playing along at one dynamic, if you use half the bow for a half note, then you'll control the bow and use 1/4 of the bow for a quarter note, etc. It's one way of controlling the tone. Good luck.
  8. Beethoven Violin Concerto

    Repletion! A good word. New to me, or I forgot it along the way. Now when someone in a bar tells me, "Hey Dude! You're repleted of it!" I'll know he wants to pick a fight. I love that concerto with all my heart; will listen to Ehnes.
  9. Tape to prevent 3d position sweat spot

    It's funny to me that in the several times we have discussed this since I've been on MN, I don't remember this possibility coming up. But it makes sense, and might be the most likely culprit. After all, the thumb would be coming in more parallel with the fingerboard so there'd be little damage on the bass side, but the finger's nails would be coming pretty much straight down on the treble side.
  10. Harvesting and processing horsetail

    I'm sure there are some sophisticated tricks I don't know, but it is pretty simple. You cut it, trim off the segmented ends, slice it along the axis, and spread it. It can be used green and fresh or dried between two flat surfaces. Or you can let it dry as is, and later soak it to make it soft again. It can be glued to other things to support it. For example, denim iron-on patches work well. When you don't have much this is especially useful. I think it's best to cut off the segmented ends because they can make scratches. That obviously should be done when they are flexible. In general, the drier the stuff is the easier it is for it to break into useless shreds. (I've never figured out how to use the shreds some companies sell. If someone can explain that I would appreciate it.) The first batch I ever used gave the wood a greenish cast which scared me. But within a few days the wood changed to a beautiful cinnamon-tan, which everyone wants anyway. I thought I'd found the secret of Cremona! Unfortunately I've never had that happen again, at least to that extent. One of my teachers would tie the stalks in batches and hang them to theoretically drain the color. I don't see much point to that. I forget which way he hung them. I don't think it's a good idea to use it wet, but slightly damp seems to work ok. All in all, if you're lucky enough to have a large supply, using it fairly fresh is the best, IMO. I like it when it is still flexible for broad surfaces, but I also find it works great on the edges and chamfers when it's still a cylinder and very dry. It just requires a more delicate and controlled touch. The difference between how sandpaper and horsetail work seem to be day and night. Gimme equisetum every time!
  11. Milstein's bow technique

    I think Galamian's grip is essentially the "Belgian" grip. And I think Dr. S is right in everything he said. I love the "Russian" grip for the basic sound, but I think off-string bowing with control and finesse is difficult. IMO this problem shows in Heifetz's Mozart. I have tried many times to develop that hold but I only get so far before hitting a brick wall. Galamian studied with Lucien Capet. One of Capet's exercises is to rotate the bow along the axis–from tilted toward the scroll to back toward the bridge. It is done with the fingers, not with changing the elevation of the arm. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucien_Capet
  12. Viola d'Amore check in, please?

    Very glad you are OK and relatively unscathed, V-damore. Not that anyone who lives in hurricane prone areas doesn't know this already, or should know it, but I never miss an opportunity to stress not relying on the attic as a last resort. Especially if there are no windows. The thing is I don't know what else one can do once they make the mistake of not evacuating, because going outside has its own problems. In 1957 my grandmother died in hurricane Audrey which killed over 400 people even though it came ashore in rural areas. Most of my many relatives didn't evacuate because they and their ancestors had been riding out storms for as long as anyone could remember. But my grandparents DID go to a neighbor's house which was better built and two stories, plus an attic. As the water rose everyone ended up in the attic and eventually had to chop a hole (not sure if they went through the roof or a wall). All got out except for my grandmother who was rather large and could not get through the opening. My grandfather was found 3 days later, still up in a tree. All his remaining life he bad-mouthed the Red Cross because there he was without anything and when he got to an aid-station they wouldn't even give him a coffee because he had no money. I don't know what that was all about. The one funny thing that came out of this tragedy was that when we finally got down to Louisiana a month later we took my great-grandfather down from Lake Charles to Cameron Parish. It's about an hour drive. As we got closer we began seeing more and more debris in the fields. All of a sudden my g.g. barked out, "See! See! That's why God did this to us!" He was very agitated and jabbing his gnarled finger at something. This was all happening in French, and I didn't speak any. But my mother finally got it sorted out and told me a while later: My g.g. was pointing at a toilet bowl. A nice white, gleaming ceramic masterpiece rising from soggy weeds. It was his belief that God had punished the people so severely because they had given in to the allure of new fangled plumbing and flush toilets instead of the more acceptable outhouse which, after all, had been plenty good enough for him and most of mankind for ages. The people–to Grand-pere's way of thinking— were getting too uppity for their own good and God was taking care of business.
  13. string grooves position at nut

    Sometimes one wonders if such subtleties are really useful or if they are a psychological boost. But IMO humans are very capable of seeing and feeling incredibly minute differences and IMO this particular one is helpful. The first time I saw this was back in about 1970 on a Strad which had belonged to Heifetz. And it appeared to be carefully and intentionally done. I always figure that guys as picky as Heifetz should be our guides instead of players who say, "Aw, I can play on anything." The other thing I noticed was that the upper G side of the fingerboard seemed flared out, giving extra space in the higher positions. Of course a neck which has pulled to the right will give somewhat the same look, and unfortunately I don't remember checking the setting of the neck; but I imagine it was fine and the fingerboard was actually flared a bit. I intended to try this sometime but never got around to it. If anyone has tried it or might try it in the future, I'd like to hear how it works out.

    Ignore this post.

    The University of Nevada, Reno, is selling a Stradivari which was donated in the 1970's. It is an interesting violin which, IMO, qualifies as one of those Stradivari that Mr. Burgess and others mention in our all-too-frequent discussions of whether Strad was all he is cracked up to be. I'm familiar with this instrument and have a few interesting stories, but will wait until after it is sold to tell them. (Please note I am not implying, or intending to imply, anything at all about its authenticity or condition.) I hope all goes well for the instrument and it finds a good home. https://thenevadaindependent.com/article/about-last-week-recreational-marijuana-coming-to-henderson-unr-seeks-to-sell-rare-stradivarius-violin-kate-marshall-for-lieutenant-governor