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Becoming a reputed expert


zefir68
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There are other fields where book and classroom learning are insufficient, and where true expertise is in problematically short supply. Medicine for example prepares students with school study, but then requires internships to complete the education.

Also, I wonder if some of the high tech options might enable 'specialist experts' to provide long distance support to violin shops around the world.

Pictures might not be enough to id fiddles, but what if the local violin dealer and remote expert link up with high definition video and sound?

I would think the local guy and the expert could work together very effectively to make an id, or valuation, or arrive at a repair plan for a difficult job.

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Also, I wonder if some of the high tech options might enable 'specialist experts' to provide long distance support to violin shops around the world.

Pictures might not be enough to id fiddles, but what if the local violin dealer and remote expert link up with high definition video and sound?

I would think the local guy and the expert could work together very effectively to make an id, or valuation, or arrive at a repair plan for a difficult job.

I've already done some of what you mention here but in a negative sense. Photographs and anything else short of a direct, hands on, examination can necessarily only be considered a preliminary examination. However obvious in the photographs, I wouldn't dare write a certificate of authenticity without having examined the instrument in person. Looking at photographs I might be able to say "Don't bother to bring it because it is fairly clear you have a student grade copy with a facsimile label of some famous maker of the past." and the trip to show it wouldn't necessarily be worth the expense or effort.

I've done it on occasion for some repairs where the violinmaker doen't have experience with the particular procedure. This works best when the violinmaker you are helping has worked for you in the past and many of the procedures used in repair are already common between the two that are on opposite ends of the telephone line.

Bruce

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And who told you that snippet about Francesco?

Roger,

As I noted in an earlier post (#96 of this thread), that information was a conclusion, somewhat unjustifiably drawn from one of your earlier posts.

However, the idea that Francesco may be responsible for Strad heads after about 1700 seems to be out there, outside of Desmond Hill's thoughts on the issue.

Toby Faber, in his 2004 book, Stradivari's Genius, raises the issue (p. 46):

"From this time [1698] on, Stradivari's scrolls [...] appear to be the work of another hand. The implication is that with the advent of a younger assistant, Francesco, by now twenty-seven, finally achieved more responsibility."

Faber continues, on the same page, to note that carving scrolls is a separable task, well delegated to an assistant. On that same page, Faber also notes how the post 1698 scrolls differ from the earlier ones: "[...] to a purist, Francesco's scrolls are not as good as his father's. There is a hesitancy and a squareness to them, by comparison with those on earlier Strads."

Now, it's worth pointing out that Faber is not a violin expert, and he does not cite, specifically, where he got the Francesco information. But, at the end of the book, he does cite the people he talked to, and he did talk to a lot of violin experts: Charles Beare, Peter Biddulph, David Rattray, Carlo Chiesa, John Dilworth, to name just a few.

Conspicuously absent from that list is Desmond Hill and Roger Hargrave. So, it looks like Faber did not get his information about Francesco heads from you or Desmond Hill. Apparently, others besides Desmond Hill believe the theory of heads by Francesco after about 1700, and shared that with Faber.

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Now, it's worth pointing out that Faber is not a violin expert, and he does not cite, specifically, where he got the Francesco information. But, at the end of the book, he does cite the people he talked to, and he did talk to a lot of violin experts: Charles Beare, Peter Biddulph, David Rattray, Carlo Chiesa, John Dilworth, to name just a few.

Sounds like about what one might expect from a college trained "expert". Sorry Ski... it was just sitting there in front of me. I had to take a shot. :)

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Sounds like about what one might expect from a college trained "expert". Sorry Ski... it was just sitting there in front of me. I had to take a shot. :)

Jeffrey,

Criticism of Faber's book as a non-scholarly work is absolutely justified. It's a book that's meant for the general public, and the general public is not interested in foot notes and citing sources.

If Faber had followed the standards of publication as taught in universities, he would have clearly cited where his information on Francesco heads came from, and he would have cited that source at the point where he brings up the issue. If Faber had really followed university standards, we wouldn't be scratching our heads, now, wondering where he got the information.

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If Faber had followed the standards of publication as taught in universities, he would have clearly cited where his information on Francesco heads came from, and he would have cited the source at the point where he brings up the issue. If Faber had really followed university standards, we wouldn't be scratching our heads, now, wondering where he got the information.

I know, Ski, I know. My father had a PHD in Gas Dynamics and my mother a masters in Educational Learning Disabilities. Both were "published". I practically grew up in the halls of Universities. Something probably rubbed off.

Anyway, it was a cheap shot, but I had to take it... There's plenty to go round and round about, even when sources are accurately cited, in any field. :)

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I know, Ski, I know. My father had a PHD in Gas Dynamics and my mother a masters in Educational Learning Disabilities. Both were "published". I practically grew up in the halls of Universities. Something probably rubbed off.

Jeffrey,

Give in to your destiny. Help academia in offering worthwhile courses on violin connoisseurship. Academia needs the help.

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1343508382[/url]' post='551709']

Jeffrey,

Give in to your destiny. Help academia in offering worthwhile courses on violin connoisseurship. Academia needs the help.

I spect he's already found his destiny. If what I have seen is any evidence. Jesse

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he does cite the people he talked to, and he did talk to a lot of violin experts: Charles Beare,

Charles Beare once told me personaly that there is no such thing as “Charles Beare said” only “Charles Beare wrote”. I realise that that is strictly an oxymoron, but if scholars of youre stature cite Faber having “talked to Charles Beare”, I feel obliged to pass on the anecdote.

BTW it doesn`t really matter who physically carved the scrolls anyway.

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Charles Beare once told me personaly that there is no such thing as “Charles Beare said” only “Charles Beare wrote”. I realise that that is strictly an oxymoron, but if scholars of youre stature cite Faber having “talked to Charles Beare”, I feel obliged to pass on the anecdote.

A point well taken. That is, indeed, another weakness of the Faber book. Ideas worth citing from an expert are the ideas which are in print, so that another reader can agree or disagree with what someone is claiming some expert believes.

Jacob,

I admire your stance against going to secondary sources as meaningful research. It is not meaningful research, as you pointed out in other threads. If a researcher can't offer information based on primary sources (in the violin world, that would be the violins, themselves, and not photos, and the original documents about them or their social settings), that researcher has nothing new to offer.

That position of yours is the same one that any good university would train its graduates to adopt. You learned the importance of primary sources without training in a university setting; most people need the help of a university training to arrive at the same realization.

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I spect he's already found his destiny. If what I have seen is any evidence. Jesse

Ann Arbor has a world class university with an excellent music school. Ann Arbor also has world class violin makers, repairers, appraisers, with all of those people interested in further research, judging from their attitudes and output. Ann Arbor is a natural place for an institute to spring up for furthering knowledge in the building, history, recognition, preservation, and evaluation (tonally and historically) of violins. All the pieces are there; there's plenty of expertise there. It's a matter of all those different people and institutions (or parts of institutions) being brought together in some kind of coordinated way.

That is no small task, and probably beyond any one person to do alone, but would be a very worthwhile task if a core of people got together to try.

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Ann Arbor has a world class university with an excellent music school. Ann Arbor also has world class violin makers, repairers, appraisers, with all of those people interested in further research, judging from their attitudes and output. Ann Arbor is a natural place for an institute to spring up for furthering knowledge in the building, history, recognition, preservation, and evaluation (tonally and historically) of violins. All the pieces are there; there's plenty of expertise there. It's a matter of all those different people and institutions (or parts of institutions) being brought together in some kind of coordinated way.

Many of us go to Oberlin to do our educational bit in the summers... (David Burgess, David Orlin, Joe Curtin, Gregg Alf, Sharon Que, myself...) I enjoy the heck out of it. I'm also involved with the Chicago School of Violin Making (on the board and attempting to start a restoration program there)... that's enough for me. BTW: Examination of some fine old fiddles and bows is pretty much a part of all the various Oberlin programs.

A possible problem here, if you want to get into semantics, is that we're talking about "institutionalizing" tradition... in the case of many violin businesses involved in expertise, it's often a family tradition. You can "teach" some of it, but I think you'll only get so far.

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You can "teach" some of it, but I think you'll only get so far.

This may indeed be the point that is being argued from both sides. I am absolutely sure that you can "teach" some of it. Among others including our justifiably skeptical Jacob S, I have been trying to do this for many years. But I think we have a problem here of understanding the degree of learning that is required.

And now it's confession time. For about twenty years I have been working on a book about the art of expertise. As I have said on many occassions I have never considered myself an expert. I feel more like a observer who occassionally comments upon this enigmatic art. In my professional life I have always shied away from giving opinions. I have never either charged for an opinion or writen a certificate other than for my own violins. In spite of this stance, I have been working on this book, looking for a structured way of entering and navigating this dangerous labarinth. And I do not use the word dangerous lightly. In attempting this work I quickly realized that in the vast majority of cases the dangers of expertise largly affect the customer not the “experts” themselves. And in this discussion this should always be the major concern.

Whatever these arguments about the future of expertise might bring. In my opinion, for the forseeable future, access to significant numbers of instruments is the key. And because access to a sufficient number of instruments has always been the province of dealers, it has always been dealers that have controlled and regulated expertise. Theoretically, those dealers who became recognized connoisseurs, (recognised by their peers) were/are granted the moral authority to assess, evaluate and certify instruments. Unfortunately, then as now, practice and theory do not always concur. Of those dealers actively engaged in buying and selling violins, many, probably most, are not recognised connoisseurs. However, this does not prevent some of them from writing certificates and guarantees. And some, as we have recently seen, are well known and apparently highly successful dealers. The problem for the potential customer is how to identify the genuine connoisseur. In this respect, anyone wishing to purchace a violin should probably choose their connoisseur with considerably more care than they choose their instrument.

Unlike other branches of the arts, the violin world has never had the controlling influence of an independent body of scholarship. Those who sell violins also certify them. There are no fully independent experts in the violin trade, customers are entirely dependent upon the honesty and integrity of the connoisseur-dealer they have engaged. In spite of these observations, the violin business still retains some formidable expertise and, if one knows where to look, a fair portion of honesty and integrity. However, there are changes taking place, that may alter both the stucture and quality of expertise forever. And my guess is that this is where this debate is trying to go.

Recently, the concentrations of instruments to which connoisseurs were formally exposed, have gradually begun to disappear as have several of the larger dealerships. There are many reasons for this development, but perhaps the most obvious has been a major shift in the way in which instruments are marketed. Recent decades have seen a rapid growth in western music, especially in the Far East. In addition there has been an increase in demand for classical violins from former East-bloc states. This latest demand has led to a proliferation of violinmaking schools across the world. These schools have produced countless new violin makers and inevitably many of these makers have become violin dealers. As a result, fine violins have become more thinly dispersed across the world, and unfortunately all too often they are dispersed among an increacing number of inexperienced dealers. And with little or no access to large concentrations of instruments they have little or no chance of gaining genuine expertise. And this is also the very problem that any accademic institution would face.

This new set of circumstances has made it essential for the violin trade to find different ways of gaining expertise. And perhaps in this this remarkable electronic age, there are some genuine alternatives. Some of these possible alternatives have been aired on these virtual pages. The question is can these alternatives close the gap? And my answer is that I don’t yet know, but for the imediate future I seriously doubt it.

Perhaps a course or a book might help players and collectors to discover something about how the process of expertise works. In the short term it may not turn them into connoisseurs, but it may help them identify one. And perhaps in the longer term, by removing some of the mystique surrounding the craft of expertise, and replacing it with some accurate genealogy and a solid foundation of structural and stylistic analysis, the student’s perception might be improved. From which point, theoretically they will be able to expand and develop their proficiency. This being (if I may be so presumptuous) the argument of those in favor. But they will not (in spite of what has been said here) be able to do this alone. I noticed that Bob Bein is supposed to have learned his expertise alone. Well I am sorry, but no one learns in a vacuum.

In the end, just how many possibilities will present themselves for students to develop is the million dollar question. And it is this question that most of those arguing against are seeing. We already have a surfeit of violin makers and musicians. The opportunities for potential experts can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And I am very much afraid that the remainder, having received such training will be either frustrated or will set themselves up with their new certificate and bring the violin world into even more disrepute.

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I noticed that Bob Bein is supposed to have learned his expertise alone. Well I am sorry, but no one learns in a vacuum.

Hi Roger;

Great post.

The comment above is probably due in part to my comment earlier in the thread, in response to Lyndon's question. I am in agreement with you, and probably should have expanded the comment further. I wrote:

"Lyndon, I guess it would depend on what you mean by "self taught". Robert Bein could be referred to as "self taught", but that doesn't mean he relied on only his immediate surroundings to learn his trade."

Bob consulted very regularly with other experts in the trade and researched constantly, was a sponsor of research, and started out with a nice set of records from a firm that closed earlier in the 20th century.

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varnish making

and Blacksmithing....

Thinking of this thread a lot,

Ever notice how are own REs readily deny the title?Going out of their way to make disclaimers on almost everything,making statements like "IMHO"...and..."I'm not sure but"...and my personal favorite ..."I'm not an expert"?

In my own field of artist blacksmith,we have a similar set of criteria for "reputed expert",I have met quite a few of them. One thing that I have observed over the years, is that AS A GOAL, to become a REPUTED EXPERT is not entirely possible, as we have no direct control over other peoples thoughts,only influence. There is no direct path that will guarantee the outcome. Becoming a brain surgeon or rocket scientist would be easier.Becoming a reputed expert is another story entirely.

I'm fully convinced that the only way at this point in history to become a reputed expert in any field,is for one to steer clear of any goal orientation in favor of simply following the fascination of the medium,and never to think "I've arrived". In fact the mere thought of becoming a reputed expert could in reality destroy any chance an individual might have of achieving this status. The title of RE can only be conferred from the outside,by peers,and the quickest way to turn anyone off is to self proclaim expertise.Part of the problem with any institutional approach is that the notion of having "arrived" when in fact the graduate is only starting out.

So the up shot?Put your head down and do the work.If you have the right stuff, a little luck and... 3-7 years of school or apprenticeship, to become a journeyman,another 3-6 years of journymanship,to become master, then a lifetime of followup,get Published in relevant journals and get vetted by peers.....a fellow might have a shot.

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