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Snobbery RE: violin prices & etc.


techfiddle

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The operative phrase in choosing a violin has to be: "has a nice sound." I do think that's the only way you can tell. I'd see if you can borrow the possible purchase for a week, and see if you like it. It might sound better when in fact it just sounds "new." I don't think anyone can advise you via email.

The whole business of snobbery and prices is mentioned in another thread. I think of two extremes really: think of someone like John-John Kennedy (who died in aeroplane accident). If anyone had a right to be a "snob" it would have been him, given his wealth, connections and lineage. But he wasn't. In fact, he and his friends sort of made fun of people who cowtowed to him and people who were pretentious.

On the other hand, you have someone like one of my professors who in attending a conference, was shocked at the prices of a hotel where he was housed. He thought the prices were ridiculous, but what he didn't seem to understand (and what shocked me about his lack of worldliness) is that people who have money, whether hard earned or inherited or whatever, pay high prices for places like hotels so they can be sure to associate with other people, who also have money. That's the whole point; they want to be where they will be comfortable.

We may not like this, but not liking something is not always a fruitful way of dealing with an issue: a staightforward recognition of the way things are--whether we approve of it or not--is more practical, and more insightful. Lots of people who pay high prices for things also give tons of money to charaties, both private and public, and they also support the arts. Plenty of wealthy people work harder than most of us do, and they don't really have to. (I'm not talking about spoiled people, or people with such a shabby sense of themselves they enjoy feeling superior to others.)

I guess my point is one should be careful in calling people snobs just because they have funds for instruments, art, wine, travel, etc. I'm troubled, in other words, by someone saying that a person is a snob because, say, they can spell and use language well. They may not be snobs at all. It shouldn't be automatic, is my point.

T.F.

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When I take my instruments to soloists to have their opinion, I find them much more humble than the "normal" players of our local orchestras.

We live in a world where you can't be "different", individuality is higly praised by the midia but what the market wants is "standardized" people.

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I think an operative definition of a snob is one who buys things, lives certain places, eats cetain foods, drinks certain wines and owns certain luxury goods, not because of their love of those things, but because of the impression it leaves on others.

Such snobs are also likely to put down an enthusiastic newcomer to his circle because they are competition.

In the violin world I have met people who I expected to be snobs who weren't at all, and others who were so condescending that I immediately lost all respect their reputations had developed.

My experience as a naive violin dealer/collector with a well known Boston violin dealer is a perfect example. He had all the necessary reasons to be a snob. A fancy shop surrounded by the best instruments in the world and the highest level of clientele. Although he is very busy, he has very graciously taken the time to look at instruments I have brought him and taken even more time to let me in on some identification secrets. I have since sold him a couple of items, and he makes a point of waving or saying hello when we meet.

I expected that he would not find the time for a beginner and that I would be made to feel like an unpleasant interuption in his day. I was made to feel quite the opposite. I even wondered whether he had ulterior motives for treating me so well. Perhaps he was grooming me as a birddog, feeling I could possibly bring him worthy violins from time to time.

Jesse

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Well, it's good remembering that top violins, music by Corelli, Tartini, Monteverdi and Bartok were made for an elite. Even ideas like democracy were conceived by elites. Without this elite, we would be living in the midle ages. The last Medici left all his treasures to Florence, generous patrons gave violins to musicians and I know of many violins makers that lend good violins to outstanding violin students.

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The thing is, I've had this webpage for over ten years, Connie's Violin Page, and the mail I get ranges everywhere from 'this is fantastic, thanks for putting this together, we visit this all the time' ..to..'who do you think you are, people like you...<are snobs>...to...'I finally believe there is some culture in the states <from a Frenchwomen>. All sorts of very different comments. But the ones that hurt are the ones who insist that there is snobbery involved, based merely on the subject matter.

I think this is a mistake, and I think it makes the person look bad. Why are they resentful? Resentfulness is usually based on a sense of being threatened. Players of classical music may be serious, they may have a tremendously compelling work ethic, but they are NOT, by definition, snobs. The best ones are pretty down to earth. Mozart was.

T.F.

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Jesse, Thanks for that (I presume you are talking about that Columbus Ave. dealer?) In any case, your check is on the way.

My idea that being pleasant, open and fair with people is not only the better way to live, but it happens to be good for business as well. I hope that I am the guy you think of when you stumble across an Amati someday. I was treated well when I approached "the big shops" and I owe what I learned to their generosity. I am sure, on the other hand, that I often fail to be welcoming and generous due to stress or being too busy. But you should take credit as well: people will respond to someone who is open and warm and pleasant generally with the same spirit.

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Yes Chris, I am refering to that Columbus Ave dealer. I had no idea what to expect when I first walked into that shop. Just the quality and volume of printed material on the front desk impressed me. The calendar itself was a major undertaking. (I am a commercial printer.) Looking around, the display cases filled with museum quality violin stuff, the memorabilia on the walls, and the wonderful instruments being auditioned was all somewhat overwhelming.

I had never been in the shop before, or any violin shop for that matter, had nothing of any interest with me, and was clearly not a potential buyer, so when I asked to see what a good fiddle looked like, to be calmly handed a famous Strad was really beyond any reasonable expectation. To have been given the opportunity, so early in my violin obsession, to look at and actually hold one, was quite an experience.

I must admit I was rather stunned at the time to be told that most labels inside a fiddle are not those of the actual maker. Having been in the car business for years, I knew that if the label on the car said Mercedes it was always a Mercedes and never a Yugo.

Elitism and snobbery are different things. Elitism is the effort to surround oneself with, or be lead by the best. Snobbery is the disdain for those whose tastes or accomplishments the snob considers inferior, and exagerated respect for social position. The snob despises those with socially inferior connections.

To some extent we are all a bit snobby and attach importance to ourselves through our possessions, circle of friends, occupations and social standing. Real snobs are insecure and need external reassurance of their worth. Those who are comfortable with themselves and happy with their lot, don't need affirmation of their worth and status at the expense of others. Not only is it good business, but a pleasant way to exist.

Jesse

PS I have an Amati for you, by the way. If you like it, I also can give you a good deal on a well known bridge in New York.

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Fortunately I don't get to see much snobbery. Shows up sometimes if I go to the university music department, but only in the grad students. I have noticed that the better the players tend to be less snobbish.

I'll also distinguish intentional snobbery from unconcious snobbery. A player I know, who is really quite good, is delightfully snobbish in a completely unaware manner. "These fiddle players really aren't very good, I think I'll enter a contest next week." Same about violins and so on. But she is extremely knowledgable! Very open about her snobbery. Her ethics are also quite entertaining and equally as unconscious. This type of snobbery I can handle easily.

On the other hand, I'm aware of an online personality whose snobbishness was intentional and unbounded. Cutting down others on any excuse, throwing folks out of webrings, sending rude messages to anyone treading on her precious domain. Thank goodness she finally died. Much more peaceful since then. This type of snobbishness is tiresome, especially because every little hint of this or that tends to get taken as some slap or as an excuse for grandstanding.

One thing I notice is that violin shops and violinmakers seem rather unsnobbish in general. I've been quite snubbed in guitar shops and some other places (when I was actually concertizing on guitar - idiots!), but not in the violin world. If I mention I make violins, I'm usually grabbed and taken back to see all the toys.

Steve

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Quote:

I'm aware of an online personality whose snobbishness was intentional and unbounded. Cutting down others on any excuse, throwing folks out of webrings, sending rude messages to anyone treading on her precious domain. Thank goodness she finally died. Much more peaceful since then. This type of snobbishness is tiresome, especially because every little hint of this or that tends to get taken as some slap or as an excuse for grandstanding.


Thank goodness someone died, Steve? Isn't that a little unkind? Actually you are referring to my 17-year-old daughter who (as I believe you know) suffers from manic depression and had a recent serious breakdown, got into fights with everyone, and told everyone I died. This is the second such incident; the first time she took down all of the webpages, the webrings and the listservs, destroying everything. I beleive there are a number of people who remember when this happened a couple of years ago.

I have apologized to everyone for her behavior, and invited everyone back to the webrings. You are certainly invited to come back, Steve, and I believe everyone else has returned.

This is a source of enormous sorrow to me, and I would appreciate it if you would be so kind as to drop this discussion in these public forums. If you really have any further concerns you can call me, and talk to me or Robert about it. You have children; try to have a little compassion.

T.F.

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Good heavens, I must have missed something here. Connie Sunday is still alive?! I was totally convinced you had died, Connie, in fact when people on certain other forums started saying that you weren't dead and it was all an act i was quite disgusted.

Anyway, I'm glad you are not dead, if that doesn't seem a terribly odd thing to say ....

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Quote:

Anyway, I'm glad you are not dead, if that doesn't seem a terribly odd thing to say ....


Thank you, me too. My poor angry, ill daughter. I felt like dying when I saw what a condition she was in. No one should have to endure that kind of misery, especially someone that brilliant. Cello has to be set aside for a while until she gets better. I would appreciate everyone's prayers, if you're so inclined.

T.F.

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I don't really have an opinion on the explanation for the appearance and disapperance of the online personality I referred to, and I certainly wouldn't point to anyone currently online or any specific series of past events. Just an example that some might remember and have experienced as snobbery. I distinguish personality from a real person. That personality remains gone to the best of my personal knowledge. I have no direct knowledge of the reason for the rise or disappeance of that personality. I remain rather baffled by the whole thing, and merely point to it as an example of what we were discussing.

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Life is too short to be a snob. I was at MusikMesse in 2003 where I met John Huber of Musikmuseet (Stockholm). After shaking hands, we had a very nice conversation. Later, he told me he was very pleased to meet me. He said he got sick of the brown-nosing most people do with him. He felt it "refreshing" (his own words) to speak with someone who obviously cared about him, not who he was.

I'll never forget that. I am always "real" with my customers and never talk down to them. I expect to be treated the same way.

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It is my personal experience that only the "wanna bes" are snobby in life. People that I know of real wealth are actually quite nice and not at all like the folks that live way beyond their means in the burbs.

Also I am always treated well by musicians and luthiers in the guitar industry. Some of them are known and respected and listed in the great list of the best in the WORLD in what they do. Some of the luthiers I know (in fact) have 15 plus year waiting lists. And yet they will seek me out in a crowded hall to say, "Hi" or take time to answer a question for me if I call. I had the distinct pleasure of sitting in on a recording for a well known guitarist last weekend (featured this month on a national magazine in fact) and was treated like a friend. I have come to expect nothing less of folks who are the genuine article.

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I tend to agree that most of the violinmakers and violinshop people are not snobs. But hey, exceptions are unavoidable. For example, there is this guy who used to be a big cheese at a certain very prestigious Philadelphia shop [wink, wink] - on my first and only visit to the shop this snooty jerk behaved like he was the teacher to Tony and Joe himself. When I humbly showed him a violin from my maker friend from Eastern Europe for some constructive feedback, this xxxhole took one look at the instrument still inside the case, pushed it away and proclaimed that at their shop they are only interested or specialize in "old Italians". Needless to say, I never came back. I've since been to most of the other pro-level Philly shops and practically everyone found time to talk to me, explain things to me, etc. They all where quite enthusiastic and fair in providing feedback to take back to my violinmaking friend. Heck, Steve Keller of Helmuth Keller & Sons, once reached into his vault, pulled out a couple of Scarampellas, laid them on the table next to my friend's violin and proceeded to give me a 45 minute lesson on things to look for in workmanship (Thanks, Steve!!!). I later found out from other makers/luthiers in the area that the snob I described was singlehandedly responsible for pushing out of the door most of that shops luthiers in the process almost bringing a very prestigious shop down. He's been dismissed finally or so I've heard from there a couple of years ago. So it was somewhat unpleasant to find him writing articles for the Strad.

Those of you in the Philly area will undoubtely recognize what I am talking about.

ATB, Gary

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Hi,

I don't understand completely what the discussion of this post about but I have a snobbish problem related to trying violins.

I always think that a violin shop welcomes people to try

their violins. From their reaction, it does not seem that way. I am a little confused. In my situation I don't need a violin for practice but I want to know how good are their violins compared to three of mine. They are in business of selling and I am interested in knowing. Buying has to be a surprise consequence of this kind of non-urgent search. I usually tell them honestly at very beginning of conversation, I am not desperately in need an instrument.

Do you think the violin shop like this kind of people

frequent? I have no idea what they think? Please help

with advice.

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Quote:

My experience as a naive violin dealer/collector with a well known Boston violin dealer is a perfect example.


Jesse, I had a similar experience when I went to visit Jay Ifshin's shop in San Francisco a few months ago. One of his staff was showing me several violins including two of Michael's (the reason I'd gone in) and Jay Ifshin walked in. I introduced myself and let him know right away that I wasn't a potential buyer, out of courtesy so he wouldn't waste much time on me. Well just the opposite, he seemed even more enthusiastic about pulling violins out and letting me look at stuff once he found out I was just there to see the violins, especially after he saw my own pathetic homemade violin. I guess he thought it was neat that I wanted to see and learn, and he enjoyed showing me stuff. It fascinated me. It was a great experience.

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I haven't been to too many shops, but it would seem that they would never know who will actually buy from them and who wouldn't. After all, if you're trying violins, you are potentially a buyer, whether you say you are or not. Who knows that some violin might not just jump up and grab you?

I think the customers they get tired of are the ones who always go and try and never buy, not even a set of strings, a rosin, or a cloth or something from them. Also, the ones who keep bringing in violins from competitors and trying to use it to bargain with them or get free evaluation of the violin, maybe are not so welcome.

But I'm not a shop owner, so I can't say for sure.

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When I was in the car business (the labels are always real!) every customer coming into the dealership with few exceptions said, "I'm just looking." If every time a salesman heard that, he walked away, then he would never sell anything.

"I am just looking" is what almost every buyer says to every salesman.

I think there are some great people in the violin business. They are almost always folks with a passion for their products and are happy to share their time and knowledge with other people who share their passion.

Jesse

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I greatly enjoy having people visit to talk and look at violins. Great to hear the things all played side by side when I'm not playing them. I learn how accurate my observations on them are. Generally the lookers don't buy a violin, but surprisingly often they get a bow. Often one of the nice Arcos Brasil bows. Or they leave to get money, then come back to get one!

Fortunately we're off the beaten track and don't get bored tourists wandering in.

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One thing I will mention, as a fiddler and former classical pro (22 years!), I receive different treatment in shops according to how I present myself, especially shops that do not know me. If I show up somewhere in jeans and a t-shirt and start playing "Drowsy Maggie" or "Ragtime Annie" on the trial instruments, I get treated completely different than if I show up in a suit and play the Bach Partitas.

I think some violin shops do not know how to deal with professionals who play outside their sphere of musicality. There is one shop in New York, for example (I'm not naming names) where this happened recently to a very good friend and quite famous professional fiddler. She was treated rudely and made to stand and wait while the owner "took a very important phone call". The staff ignored her and waited on several people who came in the door after she did. This same fiddler (a Grammy award winner), soon left after about 30 minutes of waiting for service.

My point is that here is an opportunity for "violin shops" to improve their service and increase sales. You can't judge a book by its cover should be applied to violin sales as well as anything else in life.

In my opinion.

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celtic agent, I've had similar reports of the large New York shops. They appear to be locked in a time warp from the days when persons of substance invariably looked the part. I'm sure Mark O'Connor could walk into one of these places and be ignored, even if he had $200,000 in his pocket. (Though he's been known to play trade violins without a second thought, and get sound out of them, too.)

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I've seen a few different types of shops:

1) the classical/expensive-violin snob -- only old and expensive violins are worthy of respect. Ditto classical players.

2) the "not the worlds greatest communicator" shop. Often times people take in cheap crappy violins for evaluation and get offended when the shop owner quickly evaluates the violin as a cheap crappy violin. Sometimes the person is being snobbish. Usually though, they have good and sound reasons for the evaluation, really can make the evaluation that fast but aren't good at educating the newbie (which admittedly can be a hard thing to do) so they come off as snobbish or don't take the proper care to phrase things in a gentle manner so they come off as snobbish. They're not really snobbish. Just people skill challenged.

3) the all comers are welcome shop. Most shops I've found are actually like this (although I haven't tried shops in some New York or Chicago). If you're respectful and honest about your purposes/goals, these folks are usually happy to spend as much time with you as they can spare. And they're usually happy to listen to someone playing fiddle tunes on an expensive Italian instead of Bach Partitas .

But it's the second type and especially the first type that give high end violin shops a bad name.

- Ray

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Richard Hart (now dead) told me he had a shop in San Francisco many years ago called The Folk and Baroque Shop. He found that the classical snob players only wanted to patronize a classy establishment whose prices would be too high for the folk fiddlers and guitar pickers. He attempted to keep both of these disparate clienteles happy by segregating the shop into two distinct sections - one for the folk players and the other for the Baroque players. His motto for the folk players, who were always complaining about his prices, was "If you're baroque, folk you."

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