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Reality and fantasy regarding violin sound. What's important?

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Okay, not the best title...but I'm on lunch...

There's obviously a huge gulf between reality and fantasy, or perceived reality, in the violin world - and between violin makers, players, fans and the general audience at large. 

So, at the end of day, what exactly is important?  How do we measure it?  Can we measure it?  Do we rank it?  What exactly is "it"?

The following, slightly saccharine, story Illustrates this nicely (I think):

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/dec/16/colum-mccann-broken-violin-refugee-camp-hopeful

Quote

How to be hopeful: Colum McCann on the broken violin that played in a refugee camp

Music can be a form of resistance – but an unstrung violin didn’t hold much promise. Then it was fixed, a plume of dust rose, and the fiddler began to play

Colum McCann

Mon 16 Dec 2019 10.00 GMT
120

Colum McCann: ‘The fiddle player Colm Mac Con Iomaire would open up the eyelids of the day by playing a tune’  Colum McCann: ‘The fiddle player Colm Mac Con Iomaire would open up the eyelids of the day by playing a tune’

Photograph: Jean-Philippe Baltel/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

It wasn’t a long journey, really, from East Jerusalem to Bethlehem in the central West Bank, but it went across ancient borders and boundaries and checkpoints. We were on our way, a group of five from the non-profit global exchange group Narrative 4, to the Aida refugee camp in the shadow of what the Israelis call the “separation barrier” and the Palestinians call the “apartheid wall”. Among our group was Colm Mac Con Iomaire, an Irish fiddle player, one of the finest musicians in the world.

We abandoned the taxi at Checkpoint 300 and left Colm’s fiddle in the car, knowing that we were quicker on foot, but that the taxi would bring the fiddle along later: everywhere we went in Israel and Palestine, Colm would open up the eyelids of the day by playing a tune.

 

Abdelfattah Abusrour, founder of the community arts organisation Alrowwad  ‘We shape a better future despite everything we come up against’ …

Abdelfattah Abusrour, founder of the community arts organisation Alrowwad

We were met by Dr Abdelfattah Abusrour, founder of Alrowwad, a community-based organisation for the arts in the heart of the camp. We were there to talk about a possible collaboration between the young people in his camp and schools all over the world: Limerick, Birmingham, Chicago, Newtown, Port Elizabeth, Tampico.

“We left our music in the taxi,” Colm apologised.

“Oh, you’re a fiddle player,” said Abdelfattah, off-handedly, pointing to a corner where a small pile of rubber bullets, gas cannisters and “sound bomb” shells also sat. “We were just given a fiddle by a lady in England, but it’s broken and nobody knows how to fix it.” And in the cramped office space, Abdelfattah began to talk of his concepts of beautiful resistance, using stories and music and dance and theatre to allow young people and women in the camp to become change makers.  

Colm rose noiselessly from his chair and reached for the modern-looking case. The violin looked like something long ago sound-bombed. The strings were twisted. The bridge was hanging off.

Upon the possibility of hope one always tastes the possibility of sorrow: the violin looked like my cliched concept of a refugee, silent, unstrung.

Colm began to work with the strings. “Art puts us on an equal ground,” said Abdelfattah. Colm turned the bridge around. “We shape a better future despite everything we come up against,” said Abdelfattah. Colm loosened and tightened the pegs, adjusted the chin rest. “We do not want your sympathy,” said Abdelfattah. Colm made the strings taut: the violin began to look half-musical. “Seventy per cent of those who go through the Alrowwad programme don’t go to prison,” said Abdelfattah. Colm positioned the tail-piece. “People think these kids know only how to throw stones,” said Abdelfattah, “but we write, we sing, we dance, too.”  

The violin looked half sober. Colm worked his fingers around the peg box, plucked the strings, tightened and untightened the pegs, tuning from low to high. There were two bows in the case. One was brand new, unrosined. The second was older. Colm took a hold of the second one. The room waited. We had no idea if it would make any sound.

This is the music of what happens: a plume of dust rose from the violin. It seemed to me a moment so theatrical it could only be true. Later, I learned that it was rosin dust rising from the bow hairs, but at the time it seemed that the thing was emerging from another age.

Colm played Róisín Dubh, an Irish love tune from the 17th century. No singing, no words. The sound of the violin made a brand new lung of the room. He followed it with an improvised fusion piece involving the call to prayer, a dance tune we had learned in Nablus, and rap rhythms heard in Israel. It was some of the most glorious music I have ever heard.

And then Abdelfattah – who had visited Belfast – asked if he knew the song Only Our Rivers Run Free. Again, no singing, but the words were there: “Where are you now when we need you?”

The morning pressed up against us. We had to leave. But our stories never necessarily end. Colm found a tag in the case – from a shop in Bristol, England. He figured the violin was probably late 19th-century, maybe early 20th. An unopened envelope from the donor read: “To the New Owner of this Violin.”

The letter remained unopened. The fiddle would now be passed to a young person in the camp.

We found our taxi. Colm’s original fiddle was sitting on the back seat. It, too, was an ancient piece: it sat there, speaking to us.

 

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I will talk about things the player can notice by himself. So, highly controversial issues as projection is out of my comments. 
 
First, the violin family was created by the Italians to mimic the human voice. So think about the violin as a good Soprano voice, as Maria Callas.
 
When you draw your bow from the end of the fingerboard towards the bridge, increasing the bow weight, a dramatic difference in volume and color is noticed, that happens only in very good instruments. The dynamic range is essential. Without it you can't "shape" the sound, that is essential in music interpretation.  Think about Maria Callas singing fff with the tutti orchestra, and also she singing as whispering to her lover in pianissimo. 

Easy to play.

Balanced in all positions and strings.

You can dig your bow on the string and it will not choke. The voice a a good singer will not crack.
 
Quick response to the bow.  
 
Notes will not mix in quick passages (clarity). Think about a good baritone singing Rossini's largo al factotum, the diction will be perfect. Also Ella Fitzgerald's voice.
 

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5 hours ago, Ernest Martel said:

 

His playing is sublime and beautiful and joyful !  Thanks.  Makes me rethink what my instruments should sound like and who I should chose to try to please.

 

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For the sound of a violin nothing is important as long as the player transforms his music into a message to the audience. 

However, there seem to be violins which seem to make players of classical music addicted to their sound.  And like any 'drug' it has a different effect on different players. 

In technical terms it is how an instrument feels under bow, how fast it reacts. To use the word of a high standard player I know, really good instruments have 'resistance'. 

The strangest thing about 'resistance' is that it has nothing directly to do with all the parameters used in acoustics to describe sound and trying to distinguish good instruments from bad instruments. 

What is important in the end is that the player can relate to the instrument in the environment he/she is working. It is all very relative. 

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1 hour ago, Andreas Preuss said:

For the sound of a violin nothing is important as long as the player transforms his music into a message to the audience. 

However, there seem to be violins which seem to make players of classical music addicted to their sound.  And like any 'drug' it has a different effect on different players. 

In technical terms it is how an instrument feels under bow, how fast it reacts. To use the word of a high standard player I know, really good instruments have 'resistance'. 

The strangest thing about 'resistance' is that it has nothing directly to do with all the parameters used in acoustics to describe sound and trying to distinguish good instruments from bad instruments. 

What is important in the end is that the player can relate to the instrument in the environment he/she is working. It is all very relative. 

Does "have resistance" mean that a lot of bow pressure is needed?

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37 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Does "have resistance" mean that a lot of bow pressure is needed?

I don't think so... rather that it can perform with high pressure without needing a ridiculous amount of bow speed to keep it going.  I think of it as high impedance, but you can have high impedance with efficient output or inefficient output.  Higher impedance with higher efficiency allows more dynamic range with the bow.

More broadly, the playing properties matter a lot to the player, but are (mostly) lost on the listener, at least in a direct sense.  My favorite complement regarding a violin was "It does what I want it to do."  Not that it sounds in any particular way, but that the player can use it to make the sounds that are intended.

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51 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Does "have resistance" mean that a lot of bow pressure is needed?

To me, it means that there is just the right amount of "crunch" or "consonance" at the initiation of a note, or a change in bow direction. Too little, and the fiddle lacks resistance. Too much, and the instrument doesn't respond well.

But it can mean other things as well, because such terms are not standardized among musicians.

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53 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

To me, it means that there is just the right amount of "crunch" or "consonance" at the initiation of a note, or a change in bow direction. Too little, and the fiddle lacks resistance. Too much, and the instrument doesn't respond well.

A lot of that depends on the bow, the tension,  the bow hair, the condition of the hair, the amount of rosin on the hair, etc.

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One of the things I really enjoyed about target shooting was being "in the zone."  Where I could feel the sear break, the striker hit the cartridge, and sense the time from the start of burning until the bullet left the muzzle.  A few magic times I saw the twinkle down range from the bullet.  I thought it was from the rifling imprints, but now I suspect it was from early flight yaw.  

In that state, I came to realize that a very crisp sear break and short lock time (from sear break to the ignition) was crucial to absolute accuracy, and something that gave me great joy.  A worn sear would bother me, until I set up a jig and polished it back to life.  Never could see the difference, but I could feel it.

That zone is where something important happens with violins.  The strings a bit stiff to push down.  The bow bites, there's a tiny stall as tension rises in the string, and BANG, the note sets off with almost no delay, explodes into song, or quietly builds, at the direction of the player.  That seems so important to me.  

In sound, as in Japanese painting, the white space strikes me.  Whatever the musical sound coming out of the beast is, I want that sound.  I don't want noise in between the sounds.  I want to hear the bowed tone, the ring, the wood singing.  I don't want to hear disharmonic noisy junk, clunks and squeeks and groans.  Just the pure musicality of the thing.  A bird sounds so much better in the winter woods than it does on a busy street.  

I've heard players bring beautiful sounds out of crappy instruments, but not overcome a soggy lock time or a noisy fiddle.

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I totally disagree, there is no such gulf. The only gulf is the distance between reality and your perception of it, if you think there's a gulf between fantasy and reality when it comes to music.

I think the easiest way of saying this is that people go to concerts for different reasons. It's too easy to think everyone must be at the concert for the same reason you are, but if you think that, you'll always perceive this gulf, because you don't understand their starting point.

Everyone except the deaf are forced to hear what transpires, but that doesn't mean everyone comes away with the same ideas.

People go for the experience, some go to simply have a chance to wear their new suit, or heels, some go for self-betterment, some go for the thrill of seeing a child prodigy, or an older celebrity, some go because friends are, and on and on...

To the heart of the question, music is about communication, about community, about sharing something. The best musical performances are not just the most in tune, or most dynamic, or the fastest, or the most heartfelt even.... they are the ones where somehow a connection happens, the performer(s) somehow convinces the audience to focus on exactly what is happening, and something truly great is communicated. And even then, not everyone will agree on what the best performance is, because what is great is so relative, but communication is at the heart of music, and the most important part of it. 

I saw someone play all the Bach sonatas/partitas at Carnegie Hall, and it wasn't disappointing because she wasn't prepared, or was out of tune.. It was disappointing because the only thing she attempted to communicate was how great she was. And she fell far short of that, so there was nothing else for anyone not buying into her greatness. People still screamed at the end, jumped out of their seats, but because to them, she was on a pedestal. Didn't matter what she did with the violin, she was already great.

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48 minutes ago, Porteroso said:

I totally disagree, there is no such gulf. The only gulf is the distance between reality and your perception of it, if you think there's a gulf between fantasy and reality when it comes to music.

I think the easiest way of saying this is that people go to concerts for different reasons. It's too easy to think everyone must be at the concert for the same reason you are, but if you think that, you'll always perceive this gulf, because you don't understand their starting point.

Everyone except the deaf are forced to hear what transpires, but that doesn't mean everyone comes away with the same ideas.

People go for the experience, some go to simply have a chance to wear their new suit, or heels, some go for self-betterment, some go for the thrill of seeing a child prodigy, or an older celebrity, some go because friends are, and on and on...

To the heart of the question, music is about communication, about community, about sharing something. The best musical performances are not just the most in tune, or most dynamic, or the fastest, or the most heartfelt even.... they are the ones where somehow a connection happens, the performer(s) somehow convinces the audience to focus on exactly what is happening, and something truly great is communicated. And even then, not everyone will agree on what the best performance is, because what is great is so relative, but communication is at the heart of music, and the most important part of it. 

I saw someone play all the Bach sonatas/partitas at Carnegie Hall, and it wasn't disappointing because she wasn't prepared, or was out of tune.. It was disappointing because the only thing she attempted to communicate was how great she was. And she fell far short of that, so there was nothing else for anyone not buying into her greatness. People still screamed at the end, jumped out of their seats, but because to them, she was on a pedestal. Didn't matter what she did with the violin, she was already great.

Now, this was an excellent post.

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2 hours ago, Porteroso said:

I totally disagree, there is no such gulf. The only gulf is the distance between reality and your perception of it, if you think there's a gulf between fantasy and reality when it comes to music.

I think the easiest way of saying this is that people go to concerts for different reasons. It's too easy to think everyone must be at the concert for the same reason you are, but if you think that, you'll always perceive this gulf, because you don't understand their starting point.

Everyone except the deaf are forced to hear what transpires, but that doesn't mean everyone comes away with the same ideas.

People go for the experience, some go to simply have a chance to wear their new suit, or heels, some go for self-betterment, some go for the thrill of seeing a child prodigy, or an older celebrity, some go because friends are, and on and on...

To the heart of the question, music is about communication, about community, about sharing something. The best musical performances are not just the most in tune, or most dynamic, or the fastest, or the most heartfelt even.... they are the ones where somehow a connection happens, the performer(s) somehow convinces the audience to focus on exactly what is happening, and something truly great is communicated. And even then, not everyone will agree on what the best performance is, because what is great is so relative, but communication is at the heart of music, and the most important part of it. 

I saw someone play all the Bach sonatas/partitas at Carnegie Hall, and it wasn't disappointing because she wasn't prepared, or was out of tune.. It was disappointing because the only thing she attempted to communicate was how great she was. And she fell far short of that, so there was nothing else for anyone not buying into her greatness. People still screamed at the end, jumped out of their seats, but because to them, she was on a pedestal. Didn't matter what she did with the violin, she was already great.

Figured as much.  Then just tell the audience that I'm playing a Strad, the rest falls into place, they have an enjoyable experience, and I save millions of dollars.  :ph34r:  :lol:

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Perception is reality. One could perceive that there is a lot of fantasy/romanticism in the violin world.  There is probably a lot more fantasy about unquantifiable intangibles that many would care to admit.

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13 hours ago, Violadamore said:

Figured as much.  Then just tell the audience that I'm playing a Strad, the rest falls into place, they have an enjoyable experience, and I save millions of dollars.  :ph34r:  :lol:

Oh  just shut up about stuff like that. A few highly ensconced in the "fiddle-dealing swamp-world" will be very much offended, and may try to deliver you a whippin'. :rolleyes:

Fortunately, I've never needed to be concerned much about such "power games," and suspect that you have not either.

For a few others,  I've heard that there can be a danger of burning ones lips on the tailpipe. :lol:

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42 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

they have an enjoyable experience, and I save millions of dollars.  :ph34r:  :lol:

And then think how much you could sell it for at the end of your career! 

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7 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Does "have resistance" mean that a lot of bow pressure is needed?

Mr Noon's observation is correct, in that many players want to feel the instrument react to their ( the ) input. I actually give my students a hard time about this. So many things occur outside the sensitivity of most players. It is difficult to get my female students to play with more types of energy including pressure, speed and arc of bow. I want the male students to urinate within the functional confines od a toilet or urinal and stay focused, develop their range of force, bow more accurately.   

On some instruments the contact with the string can feel vague. It can be a combination of many things including the tensions of the bow or a tight right hand. But that feedback, here with another vehicle metaphor, is like that of feeling the road when one steers at high speeds. Without it, one is more likely to mishandle the "curve." The more the one feels the tire make contact with the road, or the contact point with the bow, the brain is more likely to push further driving closer to the edge of the instrument limits, its capability.

Too many venture too quickly into higher speeds without taking their necessary practice laps. Boys practice less.

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9 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

For the sound of a violin nothing is important as long as the player transforms his music into a message to the audience. 

However, there seem to be violins which seem to make players of classical music addicted to their sound.  And like any 'drug' it has a different effect on different players. 

In technical terms it is how an instrument feels under bow, how fast it reacts. To use the word of a high standard player I know, really good instruments have 'resistance'. 

The strangest thing about 'resistance' is that it has nothing directly to do with all the parameters used in acoustics to describe sound and trying to distinguish good instruments from bad instruments. 

What is important in the end is that the player can relate to the instrument in the environment he/she is working. It is all very relative. 

Maestro Preuss, I have been wanting to ask this due to your proximity and possible familiarity. Would you know who is playing what on the the NHK ( nippon - hoso- kyoku? - japanese broadcasting company? ) programs? I saw an NHK documentary and the violin in question was close-miked and so very much beautiful sounding.

This "resistance" i want to believe the experience is bow dependent, which if we slip further a bit is a feel related to rosins. When playing Opera, sensitivity in string playing helps the soloists on stage. That resistance in the softer range of an instruments dynamics is a priority for me. I have to describe this as a type of texture to students.

Which brings me back to the question... I can not remember what the show was, but the string playing/ instrument was so high - fidelity that the immediacy made me focus on the sound rather than the images on screen. Would it have been about the "Silkroad" through China?

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21 hours ago, Violadamore said:

Figured as much.  Then just tell the audience that I'm playing a Strad, the rest falls into place, they have an enjoyable experience, and I save millions of dollars.  :ph34r:  :lol:

Sure! Plenty will come and cheer you. I played with a really great soloist a few weeks back, it was incredible. Afterwards I ran into several audience members, they either gave compliments on the whole thing, or asked about the violin... "Was that really a strad? Must be worth millions, right?" You can master the language of music, and communicate something truly special, but if you're talking to someone speaking at a toddler level, they won't get it. They might understand some, and just a little greatness is probably worth the price of admission, but for sure they'll see the shiny object you're holding, right?

I've read several arguments for and against trumping up the Strads/del Gesus for audiences, but why even bother with the argument? You will have many musical toddlers in each audience, why deny them the shiny object? Does that help anyone at all? Go ahead and give the toddler the shiny object, hopefully they come back for more. The more they hear, the more they'll understand. 

All that said, not everyone in every audience is a musical toddler. Some know exactly what is happening.

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On 12/17/2019 at 4:45 PM, GeorgeH said:

And then think how much you could sell it for at the end of your career! 

More than I paid for it, of that I can assure you.  :lol:

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7 hours ago, Porteroso said:

 

Sure! Plenty will come and cheer you. I played with a really great soloist a few weeks back, it was incredible. Afterwards I ran into several audience members, they either gave compliments on the whole thing, or asked about the violin... "Was that really a strad? Must be worth millions, right?" You can master the language of music, and communicate something truly special, but if you're talking to someone speaking at a toddler level, they won't get it. They might understand some, and just a little greatness is probably worth the price of admission, but for sure they'll see the shiny object you're holding, right?

I've read several arguments for and against trumping up the Strads/del Gesus for audiences, but why even bother with the argument? You will have many musical toddlers in each audience, why deny them the shiny object? Does that help anyone at all? Go ahead and give the toddler the shiny object, hopefully they come back for more. The more they hear, the more they'll understand. 

All that said, not everyone in every audience is a musical toddler. Some know exactly what is happening.

The suspense is killing me--was it really a Strad?

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I just picked up my fiddle after a 5 year hiatus.  That, in itself, is rather amazing, but it does tell a tale.  We get so used to something or wanting something, we lose reality!  We get tuned out. Anyhow, the A and E strings sound glorious. The G and D, rather aweful. Reason could be almost anthing, maybe it is just a great tenor, lol.  But, i could connect with the A and E whereas the G and D were untouchable. So, i picked up my daughter’s violin .. just the opposite! Hmmm.

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