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Concert Etiquette for luthiers

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On numerous websites I have noticed that luthiers often claim that famous soloists own their instruments. Not that these instruments are commissions or purchased but that the famous name everyone has heard of owns one. So luthiers are giving away instruments. It's actually a pretty good idea, but I am wondering about the etiquette for doing that. Or even for getting a soloist to try an instrument. I assume it's considered rude to bum rush a soloist with a gift or request as they are signing liner notes. I know some of you have experience with meeting performers and getting them to try your violins. How does this happen?

Thanks for any responses, serious and otherwise.

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There's a category of instrument makers that some of us (and some musicians too) refer to as "stage door" hustlers. I don't know exactly how the game works, but I suppose it's better to be present and visible, than not, unless you piss to many musicians off by overdoing it.

 

And I suppose there are tons of people willing to accept free instruments. The maker can claim that so-and-so owns one, and so-and-so can sell them to students somewhere down the line, so I guess it works out for both, in a kind of perverse way.

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I've rubbed shoulder with some pretty famous people; I try to be humble and not to make a pest of myself, like I see so many others doing.

 

When you see that the feeding frenzy has subsided, try to show some empathy and casually mention that you have an instrument they might like to try, at their convenience. This is more likely to pique their interest, rather than having someone shoving a fiddle under their nose.

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A good time to present an instrument for trial usage would be a few hours before the performance but what do you do afterwards?  Let the player keep it for a while or take back possession soon after?  

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I like going to master classes.  I ask the visiting players (often famous) to critique my violas and they seem just as willing to help me as the players they are coaching.  Often they own very very good instruments and they make useful comments about how mine compares.  I don't offer and nobody has ever asked if they could borrow or buy one of mine which is a good clue.

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Marty! Maybe they are all just busy saving up to buy one of yours!!! :D

U.D. :I don't think any violinist is going to want to tackle a "new to them" instrument hours before a concert.

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Well if Anne Akiko Meyers, Sarah Chang, Julia Fischer, Janine Jansen, Lisa Batiashvili, Nicola Benedetti, Mari Samuelsen, etc, etc would even accept and play one of my violins, I would rather it be there than hanging in my shop  :)  I can always make more.  But I do donate one a year  to an organization for their fundraising.

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As David said, there are probably a number of "stage door" hustlers and those who give away their instruments, but I believe quite a few "name" performers also commission and/or purchase new instruments.  There are makers who also continue to do repairs and adjustments and have plenty of opportunity to show their work casually when a performer comes in for maintenance of their primary instrument.  Marty K's idea of going to a master class is good as long as there's not a line of other makers waiting to do the same thing, but it would probably always be a good idea to shoot them or their management an email rather than showing up unannounced...although I remember as a violin making student going to a concert in Chicago where Menuhin played and then waiting in line with other students (and Carl Becker Jr) to meet him and perhaps see his instrument.  When Carl Becker introduced himself Menuhin actually stood up from where he'd been seated signing autographs, shook his hand in delight, and asked Carl if he had any instruments that might interest him.  

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U.D. :I don't think any violinist is going to want to tackle a "new to them" instrument hours before a concert.

 

You may be right.  I was thinking way back when I would show up at amphetheater venues a few hours early.  Nothing better to do than play someone else's guitar especially if the ol' lady or kids aren't around.  A violin would be a different situation - I'm not that good yet.........

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Maker's websites are what they are, you can believe in them or not.
Generally the best makers I've met don't have a long list of 'top testimonials'.
Others do of course, and some of them are also excellent.  

I don't chase players around gigs or give away freebies.
I enjoy meeting and hearing good players very much, so it's time well spent for me.   


 

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I'm building mandolins and in if that relates even the best mandolin players tend to like to test-drive instruments. Often the players stay at place after concert signing CD's or just talking to fans and if instrument is offered for informal evaluation they gladly play a tune or two and chat about the instruments.

During my time as builder I got to know few good players adn they know me and often thay ask firs whether I have something new with me... I once borrowed instrument to fellow player just to test recording with it and he met with other (pro) player who just fell in love with the instrument and just called me to buy it. Being polite and waiting for the right moment is the key (sometimes the ocassion just won't be right for showing instrument).

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I gave a rather one-sided view, so thanks for filling in the other side, Philip.

 

It has gotten pretty hard to get back stage anyway these days, at least with the major orchestras. Once upon a time, one could just walk back there. Now, security is pretty tight. The last few times I was backstage, it required that an invitation from one of the orchestra members be left at the security desk (which everyone had to pass), and showing ID, then signing in. Or you had to wait at the security desk until the orchestra member who had invited you came and got you.

 

(For those who don't know who Philip Perret is, among other things, he was one of the judges at the 2012 VSA Competition.)

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I think there is a big difference between a soloist owning an instrument by maker X and playing it in important concert or recording. Even if you give an instrument to a musician, if it does not sound, her or he won´t play it.

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I gave a rather one-sided view, so thanks for filling in the other side, Philip.

 

It has gotten pretty hard to get back stage anyway these days, at least with the major orchestras. Once upon a time, one could just walk back there. Now, security is pretty tight. The last few times I was backstage, it required that an invitation from one of the orchestra members be left at the security desk (which everyone had to pass), and showing ID, then signing in. Or you had to wait at the security desk until the orchestra member who had invited you came and got you.

 

(For those who don't know who Philip Perret is, among other things, he was one of the judges at the 2012 VSA Competition.)

I always arrange the trials a week or two in advance with the player or their agent.  The time after a concert is often pretty hectic with lots of distractions.  Before or after their warmup rehearsal is a more relaxed time.

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Well, whatever you do, don't throw it up on the stage from the back row during the cadenza, particularly if it has an arrow tip scroll. It seemed like such a good idea at the time :rolleyes:

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U.D. :I don't think any violinist is going to want to tackle a "new to them" instrument hours before a concert.

 

Sometimes half an hour will be ok! At least for viola players!

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My approach would not be to accost somebody in public, especially before or after a concert. I would try to contact the person by email, phone, web page, stop by their office (many great players have a university position and an office), or try to find somebody to introduce you.

 

You might be surprised at how accessible classical musicians can be, even famous ones. Some may not respond to email but a lot will.

 

I just went to Kim Kashkasian's web page from the NEC, her email is right there.  I'll bet she would respond to you, maybe not. But any viola maker would be proud to have an instrument in her hands. 

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Phil Perret was my student dorm assistant at IAA in '74-'75.  I used to cover the front desk so he could let this cute bassoon player into his room :-)  He was a lovely guy and always so kind to an idiot fat kid with glasses from the back of the second violins.

 

 

DLB

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I would think professors at big schools would be a fertile place.  The TMEA convention in San Antonio in February every year would be a great place too.  If you could get a group of makers together to share the expense.  The weather is usually nice enough to eat outside, San Antonio is wonderful.  You stay right downtown, hotels are cheap and very nice compared to most other big cities.  The kids in the All State orchestras are really good players, all violinists have to perform a Rode' Etude.  The last kid in the second violins in the third orchestra can really play.  I venture that more money is spent on music education in the state of Texas than anywhere else.  The display halls are HUGE!  Acres!  The college students show up as do their teachers.  Lots of doctor's kids able to afford nice instruments.  Robertson's shows up with everything, including million dollar+ instruments.

 

DLB

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Some luthiers like to make copies of famous instruments, You might want to ask the current owner if you could study the instrument for this purpose.  When you've made the copy it would be natural for the owner of the famous instrument to ask how the copy turned out.  You offer the copy for a trial and, if the musician likes it, make a gift of it.  Voila!

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That's pretty much why those who've worked alongside the top instruments in restoration and have then gone 
on to make fiddles full time seem to have a better following. They've seen a lot, might have played a lot too. 

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Music festivals are fantastic. If it is a performance heavy festival where the festival brings in players and there are multiple concerts a day for the duration of the festival the performers will have a busy schedule, but they will also have some downtime. If it is an educational festival where they have a bunch of students coming to study with them for a week, two, a month, etc. again, there is busy time and there is less so. Getting in contact with the performers/faculty ahead of time is a good idea, but if you explain who you are and that you would like to approach some of the musicians while being respectful of their schedules, you can likely get a festival schedule/itinerary from the board/organizing committee, director, etc. If it is a festival that is local to you or one you are particularly interested in, you might want to consider volunteering or becoming involved in some capacity, as it gives the festival a chance to get to know you. Quite often there are performers/faculty who return to the same festivals, so it gives you an opportunity to get some face time with them as well.

 

We have a local chamber music festival that has a luthiers' showcase component. Luthiers are invited to show their work in one of the large rehearsal spaces for a few hours during the afternoon. The luthiers are encouraged to bring finished instruments, but also some tools and work in progress to give both the professional musicians and festival goers (that are often amateur players) a chance to see some of the "behind the scenes" work that is involved, get to know the makers, ask questions, and try some of their work. There have been different formats over the years. A few times a piece or entire concert has been played on these instruments, and other years they have had a less formal session where the professionals will play a movement of Bach or some other short work to the people who came to the showcase and offer feedback on the instruments. Often the performers will come in before or after the session is open to the public to have a closer look when things are less chaotic. A few of the performers themselves have purchased instruments from the luthiers present either at the showcase or because of it, and some of the festival goers have as well. 

 

It might be a little late for this summer, but it's worth a shot suggesting it festival organizers. It doesn't cost them anything besides opening the space, (which they typically have rented for the entire festival anyway) setting out a few tables and chairs, and getting a few volunteers to show up to make sure nothing walks out the door. It has been really popular with the public at the festival we have, it sold a few instruments, got luthiers' names and faces out in some daylight, and adds something a little bit different from the typical masterclass, pre-concert talk, concert, reception, rinse and repeat tomorrow that happens at a number of festivals. 

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Thanks all for the responses. The master class opportunity sounds like a good one. It's more relaxed and informal in general, and they haven't just been playing their hearts out for three hours... great idea. The "stage door hustler" sounds like a smarmy thing to be, and not so great an idea to be that. I can imagine, sunglasses on at 10 pm after the concert, hunkering down outside the stage door with a cigarette (knowing that it's all a terrible idea), then upon seeing the soloist exiting, I open up a floor length trench coat to reveal a few violins and violas. You can bet it would be me doing that if we went that route, as sadly, my husband is even worse at selling things than I am, even if he were giving something away. I can only imagine that they shrug and resell the instrument when they're just accosted, and then, what's the point. You want them to keep the instrument, which is (maybe?) much more likely but not guaranteed by making a gift of a copy of their main instrument. That, also, is a good idea, as is the revolutionary idea to just contact their pr people. This is almost too obvious to think of doing--I really didn't think of that. Sad I know. Can't make it to any festivals or conventions unless something changes drastically. Obviously that also is a problem, as that is maybe the most direct, sensible route to get people to play instruments.

It's not like it would be hard to get a famous person to say something good. Usually, that's all they say even if it's a compliment of the varnish or saying something like, "that's a solid violin!". Still, it would be nice to have a quote for the website...can't help but want to. "Everyone else" has quotes, and as I always say, if you can't beat em join em. Actually, I never say that. But I'm saying that now.

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