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A bit of help?


Niko
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Hello to all the talented players out there Please pardon this non-musically inclined poster intruding on your board. I am a writer (no, I am not published...yet, and you would not recognize my name), and a secondary character in my current work is a violin player. The violin playing is not a huge part of the story, but I do care about getting the details right.

I was wondering if any of you have particular pet peeves I should avoid? Are there any specific misconceptions that irritate you? Things you've read in fiction that made you laugh as the author obviously had no idea what they were talking about, scenes in movies that made you scoff?

On the flip side, is there anything that you've seen or read that you particularly liked, or was authentic and I should pay attention to?

Many humble thanks in advance for any help any of you might give. I know that this might feel like an intrusion merely to pick your brains, but you're the very people I'm trying to make sure I don't offend by trying to get my details right I cannot imagine that I could be of any reciprocal help to you, but if anyone is interested in writing I would be happy to answer any questions (s'long as I know the answer, of course!).

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Make sure you don't say anything about the character's long beautiful nails. As a matter of fact, it would add credibility if you could find a way to incorporate the violinist's misery over not having long, beautiful nails. Of course, that is if the character is female, but a male violinist isn't going to have much of a fingernail either.

Eve...who misses her long, beautiful nails

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One of my pet peeves is writers who write something like "built up to a crescendo". A crescendo is not a climax: it's a process, not a goal. That's not violin-specific, but since it is music-related, I'm offering it. A book about a violinist that I very much liked was "An Equal Music" by Vickram Seth. As I recall, most of it rang true. Good luck!

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THe most irritating violin faux pas I know of tend to be in films, where there are visual problems. That won't be your problem until you sell the movie rights.

For your novel, you will have to get the relationship between player and instrument right. And this can vary a bit, depending on the personalities involved, the kind of violin, the professional status of the player, etc. For example, I've noticed that in amateur circles, people often ask what instrument one plays, and that certain answers are accorded respect (as if it signaled seriousness of the player, or perhaps financial success in the non-musical sphere). More serious players (and pros) will ask the same question, but put a different spin on it, as an instrument is a tool of the trade and not primarily a social ornament.

More generally, you will have to get the musical stuff right. No vacuous references to "plaintive strains" in any piece of music, and don't make a big deal of things that aren't big deals. Some authors seem to learn one thing about music and produce it out of context just to show that they know, and that rings false. If a practice regime is part of the plot, figure out what your player would be working on but don't spend more time discussing the particular scales and etudes than your character would in real life. This stuff is really like brushing your teeth or going to the gym.

For one example of a good, unobtrusive musical reference used to illuminate character, try Dorothy Sayers' "Gaudy Night." It's really a throwaway moment toward the end of the novel (which is not at all about music), but Sayers was a competent undergraduate musician and very careful about getting details right, whether musical, oenological, sartorial, or whatever.

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Although there are some notable exceptions, most professional players focus on one particular style, e.g., classical, jazz, bluegrass, etc. Nevertheless, it has been my experience that players often admire practitioners of a different style. I think it is thus a myth that all classical players look with distain at the bluegrass crowd, or that the latter all think the former are snobs. If you want to show your character in a favorable light, he/she might voice some openness to players in a different genre.

On a related note, players in almost all genres will often refer to their instruments as "fiddles." By the way, a violin and a fiddle are fundamentally the same, although there are certain adjustments (called "setup") that may vary, such as the choice of strings.

If your character's violin requires repair, the person doing this most likely a "luthier." Luthiers have a reputation for being ideosyncratic.

Players with valuable instruments are often quite protective of them. At an orchestral rehearsal, I once asked to try another's violin and was politely told "no."

Interesting question.

HS.

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What wonderful, generous replies. Thank you all! I'm going to print the thread out so I can go through line by line. I have read Seth's novel (twice, and will be thumbing through again, I'm sure) and thought it was excellent. I am also reading "Disturbance of the Inner Ear" by Joyce Hackett, which is about a cello player.

I will be back to address some of the specifics in your posts, but wanted to get an immediate, heartfelt thank you out to you.

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Okay, now I can get organized:

vi01in, the general idea regarding the violin playing character: she originally took it up to impress her father, though she was quite good, she wasn't a prodigy (her sister is a genius) and it didn't work. She continued to play because her mother wouldn't let her quit, but her heart isn't in it. Now, at 40, she is a mother, plays, lackadaisically, in a trio (cello, violin, flute) twice a month, volunteers teaching violin to children at a community center.

Andy, based on previous experience I cannot post large pieces of my writing online (a sentence or two is fine), however, if there is someone particularly interested, who would not mind communicating with me in a more private forum (e-mail, pref.) I would most definitely take them up on it. I would be eternally grateful and would be happy to thank them in my acknowledgments…if the thing sells, of course!

Noxx, thank you, I will head over there!

saggio3of4, ooh, I bet that's some inside music thing, isn't it? I could think for days and have no idea what it meant! See why I need help?

Evie, perfect! And as she's a bit of a spoiled housewife, this would be especially authentic. Now, how short are we talking? To the quick? What about the right hand? Obviously she'd need to have them short just to visually balance out the left, but any reason why they'd need to be AS short? How does polish hold up? Wear on one side of the nail in particular?

D A, excellent, I did not know that, and will not make the mistake, thank you.

xania, I loved it, too. Made me go pick up one of his other novels…

Stephen, VERY interesting, so there are little social hierarchies, I certainly might use something along those lines. Regarding practice, I've tried to keep references to pieces brief, mostly using just the composer's name if they're only doing one piece by that composer, the way I imagine it might be spoken of when discussing it among themselves. Here is a sentence spoken by Alexander, the cellist and leader of the trio: "I'm comfortable with the Haydn, God knows we've done it enough, and the Strauss is in good shape. Can you guys please practice the Handel during those two weeks, though?" he pleaded. Does this ring true? And I will definitely check out the Sayers, thanks for the recommendation.

Hank, I was particularly gratified to read your first paragraph, as my character's son has recently discovered jazz, and has a bit of a gift for it. I didn't want her to be that classical snob and instead have her being very interested and supportive. Thanks The "fiddle" question was one I was going to ask! Excellent. I'm thinking you might be a luthier? Knowing that, I have my character's father giving her a gift of a 1/8-sized Mittenwald he picked up at auction (this would have been in the 70's)when she was a child. It's not a perfect instrument to begin with, and once he discovers the other sister's genius, he loses interest in reconditioning it, but also will not allow her to play with it. Instead it's put away until she's in her 40's. When she sees it again, what might she notice about the condition? Might the bridge be shrunken up a bit? The wood dry? Anything warped?

One last general question: I have her removing her wedding band before she plays. Is this usual? Or totally unnecessary unless it just bugs her?

Thank you again for being such an open, generous group.

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Quote:

...volunteers teaching violin to children at a community center.


I think that could be a potential pitfall. There are specific things in teaching that you might want to include for 'reality.' If you have sections about her teaching you might want to get some of the teachers' opinions from this board. Or better yet, see if there is a violin teacher in your area you could observe with young kids.

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1/8-sized Mittenwald


You know that Mittenwald is a place not a maker, right? I mean that works as written, but just so you know.... Also, how old was she when she got the 1/8 size. My daughter played a 1/2 size at age 8. 1/8 is pretty tiny.

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Now, how short are we talking? To the quick? What about the right hand?


Pretty darned short. Right and left I keep equally trimmed--for balance, yes. Also if they get too long it's annoying to play. Hard to do vibrato...for me anyway. Might just be me. Sidenote-my teacher is always giving the teenage girls a hard time about their nails (there is a girl before my lesson.) She keeps clippers on her piano. I keep clippers in my case and in my car, because they always disappear when you need them. I have, in fact, gone to a convenience store before my lesson and scrounged in my car for 99 cents to buy some cheapo clippers.

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One last general question: I have her removing her wedding band before she plays. Is this usual? Or totally unnecessary unless it just bugs her?


I keep mine on and it doesn't bug me in anyway. Earrings, however, can be a pain. I have some big gold hoops that, if I forget to take them off (esp. the left one) it clangs against the violin and then of course that sound is amplified. Also, some necklaces are annoying. I have a set of pearls I got for my wedding from my mom that I like to wear for performances...you know black dress and pearls looks nice...anyhoo, the pearls lay across my collar bone and they get squished painfully between my collar bone and shoulder rest (pad.) But I bear the pain for the sake of fashion.

Sorry for the long post, but one last thing...you asked about things in books that have annoyed us. I can't recall the book, but the violinist walked in, opened his case, grabbed out his vioin and bow and started playing, just like that. For some reason this annoyed me because he didn't tighten his bow and you wouldn't put your vioin away with your bow still tight. I mean if he just walked in from the outside somewhere, then he would have had to tighten his bow, maybe put on a shoulder rest (or maybe not...see various threads about shoulder rests ), how about tuning...

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...and here's my added .02 worth...

Quote:

the general idea regarding the violin playing character: she originally took it up to impress her father


Back to her age - and the size of the violin...a 1/8 would be for a smallish 4-6 year old...was she that young when she wanted to impress him by playing an instrument?

Quote:

Now, at 40, she is a mother, plays, lackadaisically, in a trio (cello, violin, flute) twice a month, volunteers teaching violin to children at a community center.


Why is she playing? I'm a 43 year old mother...I take lessons and just started playing again in a local beginner orchestra...I do it for stress relief...LOL...

Quote:

Now, how short are we talking? To the quick? What about the right hand? Obviously she'd need to have them short just to visually balance out the left, but any reason why they'd need to be AS short? How does polish hold up? Wear on one side of the nail in particular?


I'm just an amateur...but I have to keep them short. But if I cut too short, I find my fingertips get sore. I don't 'do' nail polish, outside of clear...but I haven't noticed any wear patterns. She could have the right hand nails longer, but I don't see why she would want to...it would look weird.


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Stephen, VERY interesting, so there are little social hierarchies, I certainly might use something along those lines.


Boy! Even in our small community...the politics!!! Oi! ;

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I didn't want her to be that classical snob ...


I'd be careful...there are snobs of EVERY genre!

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Instead it's put away until she's in her 40's. When she sees it again, what might she notice about the condition? Might the bridge be shrunken up a bit? The wood dry? Anything warped?

One last general question: I have her removing her wedding band before she plays. Is this usual? Or totally unnecessary unless it just bugs her?


Way back when...I bought a 3/4 sized violin that hadn't been used in a kazillion years. It was still all good! All I had to do was tune it and play - would just need new strings. But I've also seen a bunch with the strings totally loose...which causes the bridge to fall down...and then the soundpost falls over...

And I never take my wedding band off (I wear it on my left hand)...but a huge dinner ring might be annoying while fingering...and bowing too, if on the right hand.

And thank you! This is fun!

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Stephen, VERY interesting, so there are little social hierarchies, I certainly might use something along those lines. Regarding practice, I've tried to keep references to pieces brief, mostly using just the composer's name if they're only doing one piece by that composer, the way I imagine it might be spoken of when discussing it among themselves. Here is a sentence spoken by Alexander, the cellist and leader of the trio:
"I'm comfortable with the Haydn, God knows we've done it enough, and the Strauss is in good shape. Can you guys please practice the Handel during those two weeks, though?" he pleaded.
Does this ring true?


Are these characters meant to sound English?

Strauss (Richard or otherwise) is generally a lot harder than Handel.

You might also consider whether a trio would really be playing Strauss in the first place. Richard Strauss didn't write much chamber music, and if he did write music for this combination I am not aware of it. Anything by Johann Strauss or his waltzing relations would be played by a trio only in arrangement, and wouldn't comfortably fit on a program with Handel and Haydn. Come to think of it, not much of anything by major composers has been written for the instruments you mention. Putting together a program would require a lot of sleuthing or skill at arrangement. Anyone joining this sort of a group would need a compelling reason, such as that they were the only three musicians for miles around.

If you care to, there might be something to be made of her not-quite-semi-professional status. She is likely good enough to have some respect among amateurs or non-musicians, but will likely be ignored by full-time pros. After you've decided what sort of community she lives in, approach an amateur and a professional in this setting to see what their attitudes toward her might be. Ask the pro if he would ever play with an amateur for fun. Consider also the relationship between music educators (i.e., people with education degrees) and performers (conservatory graduates, for the most part).

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Quote:

One last general question: I have her removing her wedding band before she plays. Is this usual? Or totally unnecessary unless it just bugs her?


Professionals will often (not always) wear the ring on their right hand full-time. Very few musicians can afford the risk of losing jewelry, and so wouldn't remove a ring right before a concert.

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You want a pet peeve?

Why do I dislike the term "luthier" when applied to a violin maker or violin repairer?

Because:

1. It doesn't distinguish between making and repairing.

2. Very few violin makers make lutes any more or even guitars.

3. It sounds like some kind of academic or technical degree conferred in some exotic corner of old Europe, when, usually, it's no such thing.

4. I've never met a good violin maker who called themselves any such thing.

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Quote:

Professionals will often (not always) wear the ring on their right hand full-time. Very few musicians can afford the risk of losing jewelry, and so wouldn't remove a ring right before a concert.


AMEN! Although the consensus is that there is no consensus! I know people who wear the ring(s) on left hand, right hand, or don't wear rings at all. As for necklaces -- far fewer violin/violists wear them because of the potential of damage to the back of the instrument.

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The wedding ring thing is a pet study of mine. I've noticed that men, for the most part, either wear the ring on the right hand or not at all. (Although I have a cellist friend who always wears his on the left; he says he likes the additional weight on that finger.) My husband wears his on his right hand but will choose leave it off on occasion. Women seem to be more varied... some leave it on, others wear it on the right hand, others don't wear it at all. I presume it's because women are more accustomed to rings in general and thus less likely to be bothered by it.

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I've worn my wedding ring on my right hand continuously (except during surgery) for the past 69 years. If I thought it was going to interfere with playing violin or cello at first - I can't remember.

On the other hand (literally) a gold-mounted tiger's eye ring that my wife gave me probably did interfere with my bowing when II wore it on my right hand. I actually had the miisconceeption that the feel of the ring that weighted 5 grams was helping my bowing and I wore it for a number of years. But after getting some new bows of high quality I realized that the effect of the ring was the same as adding 5 grams to the total weight of a bow in terms of increasing the effective inertia of the bow.

A player would likely remove an engagement ring - although I sat next to a violinist this week who was wearinng her platinum (or white gold) ensemble - with a sizeable diamond in it. I can't remeber which hand it is on - I'll check again next Monday.

Andy

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"Now, at 40, she is a mother, plays, lackadaisically, in a trio (cello, violin, flute) twice a month, volunteers teaching violin to children at a community center."

There isn't much music for this particular combination of instruments. There are apparently some Haydn divertimenti, but little else by major composers and not really enough to sustain a trio that plays on a regular basis. A somewhat more plausible ensemble would be a string trio (violin, viola, cello), for which there are works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Dohnanyi, Schoenberg, Krenek, and some other composers and some JS Bach arrangements. Most plausible (if you don't want to go to four instruments) would be a piano trio, which has a rich literature, including major works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, and the list goes on and on. A good source for who wrote what for what can be found here.

Frank Music Company Catalogue

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Good point, although both piano and normal string trio music puts far greater demands on the violinist than does the flute, violin, cello combination. For myself, it's hard to imagine playing violin lackadaisically in either a normal string trio or a piano trio. I suppose it would be possible if the player has no technical problems and little love for the music...

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There's a good juv. fiction book (I'm a teacher) about a girl who is in a concerto competition. It's called The Mozart Season. I thought the playing/practicing and emotions about competing were handled well in this book. I remember it talks about her playing a scale--like Ab maybe? And then her main piece for the competition is a Mozart cto. Is there a Mozart violin cto in A flat? I don't know....haven't studied any of them yet.

Here is the amazon.com link to the book.

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WOW! What wonderful responses! You've all given me quite a lot to think about, even some things I didn't expect, like Noxx, she's basically been guilted into the trio to help her cellist friend, which becomes obvious later in the book, but I realize now that I need her motivation more upfront.

ConcertA: A couple of clarifications (and please, feel free to steer me right on these if they don't do it for you): the 1/8 violin was picked up on a whim by her wealthy dilettante father (who's a bit of an idiot), when she is 5, practically more of a toy/prop than anything else, but it does inspire the thought in her that she might regain his attention if she takes lessons. The 1/8 is never played, not at 5 or any older, but becomes representative of the loss of that attention. Does it make more sense in this context?

And the Mittenwald I got from auction records (I was trying to make sure I had a maker who actually made that size!)and this was how they had it listed, but I did not understand that it was only a place name, and I think I'd prefer a maker, so it looks like back to research for this one *sigh*. Thanks for that catch.

The teaching is far in the background, so I think I'm okay there.

Clippers in the case! Great detail And loved the pic, thank you! The earring and necklace details are exactly the sort of thing I never even considered, cool. And no fear, I definitely have the tightening and loosening of the bow going in and out of the case. In fact, I even gave the strings a little bow action a couple of weeks ago for the first time. Scary! But I tightened and rosined the bow, got a feel for how all should be held, and even made some pretty (totally subjective!) noise, no screeching, but such an alien, and difficult, feeling to pulling that bow down all the way, my wrist doth protest.

Noxx: as I said above, thanks for making me think about her motivation, I appreciate that. AND, forgive my seemingly flippant comment about "classical" snobs. In fact, what I meant was "classic" snob, as in stereotypical. One of my pet peeves (actually, it's more than that, it really ticks me off) is the genre snobbery inherent in the writing world. And it's all over the map, too, so as a writer with just as much Stephen King and Dean Koontz on her shelves as literary and classic fiction, I am very sensitive to that. "Classical" must have come out simply because we are discussing music, my apologies. And thank you for saying this is fun! See, you guys need an idiot around every once in a while

Stephen: English?! Yikes, what have I done?! Here is where I got that, I did quite a bit of research on music for that particular trio, and found all three of these, plus Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Boccherini, Copland, Corelli, Gershwin, Ginastera, Haydn, Levanon, Mascagni, Mendelssohn, Mouret, Pachelbel, Purcell, Schubert, Tartini, Telemann, Vivaldi, and Wagner. Would three others be more fitting than the ones I mentioned?

We have a trio of these three instruments in town, and I've seen them, and my imagination was caught by the flutist, so my flutist is prone to paranoia that the cellist and violinist are going to dump her for a pianist. See, I was sort of amused by that idea, but if it doesn't work, well *big sigh* perhaps I might need to change up the trio. Any thoughts on it now that you know where it's going?

And I like the idea of the right hand for the rings, hmmm... Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments!

skiingfiddler: thank you for your luthier peeve. I don't believe that my character will have need of a violin maker, but toward the end of the book she might consider taking her tiny violin to be repaired. Will "luthier" fit in this context?

D A: thank you! I had a feeling this might be a whatever-works-for-you thing. I can't type with my wedding rings on, silly, but there it is, which was what made me think it might irritate some players. And lackadaisic doesn't show up anywhere in the manuscript, I promise! She's torn,she doesn't want to love it again, but wants to keep her hand in, especially to help her friend, the cellist. I'm going to put more thought into this though, you're all right, there needs to be more obvious motivation for why she'd do it at all.

Erika: how funny that you've made this something you notice regularly Glad I thought to ask, thank you!

Andy: 69 years?! Holy moly! Congratulations, that's amazing Very interesting about the ring bothering your right hand, I'm going to take that into account, I know I can use it. Thank you very much!

BillW: Great link, thank you. I'm definitely going to have to take this into consideration, though I HATE to change my trio (I do come to love these characters, how can my flutist be a pianist, HOW?! ), grrr.

ConcertA: Excellent, thank you for the book suggestion! I'm still a poor writer, so I'll hit the library for it.

And, another huge thank you for such wonderful responses. I'm so excited to have "found" you all! I'm a bit of a stickler for details being right, no matter how large a part of the boook they are, so this is excellent. I wish there were something I could do for all of you in return. Maybe one day...

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