Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

The Assymetrical Mastertone---an adventure in listening


Theresa
 Share

Recommended Posts

I mentioned yesterday on another thread that I'd gone to the Virginia Music Educators' Convention and had happened upon the Potters' display along with the other vendors.

I had been walking up the aisles of trombones, metallophones, sheet music, chocolate-covered almonds and pizza samples (band and orchestra booster clubs must make those precious bucks for their various ensembles!), when what should I hear, but a lone teacher playing a mammoth-sized viola.

Yes, I exaggerate. It wasn't mammoth-sized. But this viola was actually big and looked so different from my daughter's student viola--and it sounded like a cello in certain registers. I was charmed. Completely.

Well, I got it for two weeks' trial. And I drove it home through the mountains--four hours--for Loftan (my daughter) to try. I was so excited. Here was a viola sold as a "professional" viola--one that she may be able to use for her upcoming university auditions and one that sounded very beautiful to me.

She tried it last night--well, she played it for a long, long time. She fell in love with it. From her perspective of only about six years performance, she told me, "Mama, I have never heard any instrument like this. I don't want to send it back to Potters."

Tonight she just left for her viola lesson with her teacher, a young man of 25 from Julliard. (His name is Stephen Schmidt, if any of you were peers of his.) In spite of the fact that Loftan has had an immediate rapport with this new teacher after having lost Mr. Wallack, I am so afraid:

I am afraid that Mr. Schmidt will only consider European instruments;

I am afraid he will disdain an American-made instrument;

I am afraid that my eighteen-year-old daughter will be bombarded with arguments about how "new" instruments haven't "proven" themselves;

I am finally afraid that he won't take into consideration that Lof's hand is small and that this particular instrument has been designed to aid players who are not of large stature.

I won't call Mr. Schmidt, by the way. Lof is eighteen and she needs to learn to fight her own fights. And, happy thought, Mr. Schmidt may actually like American instruments, new instruments, instruments that haven't proven themselves, etc! I have never even met Mr. Schmidt!!!!!

Lof' is in love with this instrument--and we'll see what we shall see.

I would love to tell all of you the story behind the back on the viola--it is acer saccharum (I think that's it)--the sugar maple. It is a cross section of a big sugar maple tree that was to be used in the stock of a rifle, but it wasn't quite long enough for the stock. So the rifle stock maker chucked it into a corner. Aged, aged wood--over 30 years sitting in a corner--and Mr. Potter came across this source. The back is very beautiful--full back, tiger-striped, with very distinctive dark black whirls here and there like moths dipped in ink flying above the instrument and leaving their traces.

I'll let you all know tonight what Mr. Schmidt thought. I've prepared myself for the worst--but if my ear is correct, he will find it to be a fine instrument with which Loftan may competitively enter university.

Adios for now,

Theresa

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Theresa:

Don't you dare be intimidated by whatever Herr Schmidt (Wunderkind von Julliard nowithstanding, and all of 25) thinks or says. Remember, he works for you, not the other way around.

Your daughter is an adult, is in love and certainly doesn't deserve to have her heart broken, least of all, by some arbitrary, opinionated hotshot barely out of school himself!

Just MHO (but that's another thread),

Lee

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lee: I probably shouldn't have mentioned Herr Schmidt's name here because I really respect how he's taken Lof' under his wing after Mr. Wallack's passing.

But, he had some grave reservations about the viola, most specifically he believes the lower bout (am I using that correctly?) is too wide--wider than on even his own viola and he is, obviously, a man a much larger than Lof.

Lof is going to go up to Potter's tomorrow and see what else they have, but she is absolutely in love with this viola. She says she knows she can learn to work around the wide lower bout--she's also gracefully coordinated so maybe it won't be crippling. That was her new teacher's sincere reservation--he said he knows of players who have been crippled by playing instruments too large.

I'm at least holding judgement--HKV and I have talked and he believes that the wide lower bout is not to be a concern. The string length is still like that of a 16".

It may not be the best-sounding viola in the world--but it is the best by far that Lof has ever played. And I must believe that one should be led partially by the sound of an instrument--unless one is really looking at an investment. In college, she'll be a student looking for a professional career. I sure don't want her crippled--by either playing an instrument that just doesn't sound good enough or by one that will cause awkward bowing as feared by her new teacher.

Reserving judgement--and thanks for replying,

Theresa

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Theresa,

Do you know an orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist, or an ergonomic specialist?

You might find that they'd be extremely helpful in assessing the physiological impact.

You want to be very, very careful about anything that causes injury, especially as you go past childhood. Even minor damage can lead to scarring, which can lead to loss of flexibility, which forces you to compensate, which leads to more damage... Better safe than sorry. Worth consulting someone knowledgeable, not just musicians.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Have you smelled the viola? I know that I've mentioned in in other posts, but I thought I'd mention it again. The viola you're viola has a certain agent in the varnish (I forget what it is... I've been told before) that makes it smell really really good. Try sniffing your viola (I promise it's not illegal).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Theresa:

Contrary to a number of posts I have read here vis-a-vis the value of instruments (i.e.,maker, country of origin, age, pedigree, antique value, aesthetics and, often last, sound), let's get to basics:

The ultimate RAISON D'ETRE of ANY instrument is its ability to make music.

My only point here is that, if your daughter truly loves this instrument, she will develop her talent with enthusiasm.

To force her to relinquish it in favor of what someone else likes or approves of will, I fear, be counterproductive and retard her progress.

Please let us know how this "plays" out.

Lee

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lydia: I went to an orthopedic surgeon when I developed trigger thumb for practicing four hours a day---ah! what sweet days they were--but all I got was cortisone. I wasn't impressed with the care.

However, this viola is advertised as being "ergonomically" designed to prevent tunnel carpel syndrome and tendonitis. Mr. Potter says that it is being played by some smaller Asian violists in professional orchestras who want a larger sound. I didn't ask for references--but I guess I could. It also is being advertised as a crossover instrument for violinists who also want to play a professional quality viola.

Lymond, I haven't smelled it yet--but will make a point to when I see Lof tonight.

I also want to mention that Herr Schmidt didn't absolutely turn it down. He said he had serious reservations--and that he wanted us to look around--but Lof doesn't want this viola to get away from her.

I guess I'll check through the Richmond Yellow Pages--but I wonder whether ergonomics have even hit our neck of the woods.

Best regards,

Theresa

PS to Lee: Just saw your second post. I'll keep you posted. We'll probably make a decision fairly quickly since I want Lof to be able to have at least a couple of months on the instrument she auditions with in Feb.

[This message has been edited by Theresa (edited 11-21-2000).]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To Lee:

Ok. This is how I can best unprofessionally describe this viola:

It's body length is longer than Loftan's 16" Doetsch viola--maybe by a half inch;

It spreads out like a very large-hipped woman at the bottom--that's where the bottom bout is, I suppose;

When you look at it, you immediately think, "Monster viola!" if you're a novice like me;

The string length measures the same as a 16", and curiously, there are fine tuners on each string--something I find very curious on a professional quality instrument, as advertised--but Mr. Potter was pretty adamant that these fine tuners were necessary;

It is slightly cantered downward on the right side to accommodate a small hand going into the higher positions--but not greatly so--and I have no idea exactly by how many degrees;

The right side is smaller than the left;

But it's that bottom that is really huge--and there lies the rub. Mr. Schmidt says that one has to "avoid" hitting the bottom because it is so unusually wide. I don't know whether he was referring to the width between the belly and back or the width across. I should have asked--but I'm ignorant here.

I expect it's the slightly downward slope of the right upper bout that accommodates performers of smaller stature--and the management of retaining the shorter string length (16") on a viola with a body comparable to a 16 1/2" one.

Hope this makes sense,

T.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Theresa:

I've posted this before but it bears repeating.

Many, many years ago, I contentedly played second violin in my high school symphony orchestra, when, one year, the viola section graduated. The music teacher (a highly autocratic type) glared at me and announced, "You! You're a viola!" I protested that, being small, (5'-6") my arm was too short and my fingers too little. All he did was repeat, "You're a viola!"

You know, despite my diminutive stature, except for a lot of uncomfortable stretching, I had absolutely no problem adjusting to that monster and played it, I believe, rather well. Nor did I experience any physiologic consequences in the aftermath.

I guess my question boils down to, is your daughter comfortable playing this instrument?

You haven't mentioned that she has complained.

And, from what you've said, it sounds like we're not giving the maker sufficient credit for having compensated for what is perceived to be an anomoly but which may, in fact, be a purposeful enhancement.

Again, best of luck.

Lee

[This message has been edited by Lee Essayan (edited 11-21-2000).]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is, in my opinion, one of the worst things about playing the viola. The last two times I've gone in search of a new instrument I've always chosen one which my teacher and mom have determined to be too big! It's heartbreaking, but I've always gotten over it. They keep promising to get me a bigger viola 'next year' when my hands are bigger, or my arm is longer. I don't think I'm going to grow that much more!! (I'm 16)....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A.Brown: It doesn't appear to be much heavier--slightly. I would get on the scales and compare the two, but that would be too depressing personally! (One too many cupcakes from kindergartners with birthdays this past year, I'm afraid!)

Violagirl8: From what I gather, if you'll shop around, there are some really fine 15 1/2" violas if you have the time to do so. Loftan's hand is not all that large and she manages a 16" with no problem. But everyone I know who knows viola has said she absolutely should not move up to a 16 1/2". This Mastertone is kind of cool because it has the string length of a 16". I don't know whether you can handle a 16"--but, if you can, you might like to try one of these.

Lof' came home last night and simply said, "I don't want to look at violas. I'm going to keep this one." And that's fine with me. We'll go up to Potter's--see whether shaving the neck a bit might be beneficial. Mr. Wallack's lovely viola had a neck about the size of a violin neck and he swore by that adjustment.

Loftan names all her violas Studley after the stud stallion at a barn where she rode when she was little. She's already calling this one Studley. Funny.

And, Lydia, I'll ask Mr. Potter more a bit about the ergo-concerns when we go up to DC. One good thing: he's on the money for trade-ins if this instrument just doesn't work after a while. So, I guess that's a factor, too.

Thanks to all for comments, and wish you luck finding that good match, Violagirl8.

Best regards,

Theresa

[This message has been edited by Theresa (edited 11-22-2000).]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Theresa,

Congrats to you and Loftan for finding what appears to be the right viola for her. Perhaps this will inspire many more hours of practice time for her coming auditions.

I am anxious to move Nathaniel up to a bigger viola but he is only 13 and will continue to grow for awhile. He is currently playing a 15 1/2 and has been able to play it without a problem since he was 10. I am as anxious for him to get that bigger sound as you are for Loftan.

Great news about your find!

Renee

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From the physical point of view:

You should ask your daughter to play for you.

Look carefully at her composure and manner of play after 15 minutes or so.

Pay special attention to see if she is tense, fighting, or moving against the instrument

If it still looks good then I would put it to the acid test by practicing on it for a very long period, like 4-8 hours straight if possible, that will manifest any tension/problems.

Congratulations on finding a great instrument.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Theresa,

Regardless of what ANYBODY else says, if L is fixed on the viola, GFI. So what if it turns out not to be exactly right at some future point. So what if it makes the teacher have a fit. (We have been there.) Ignore the grinches and don't become one. Here is your chance to be unconditionally supportive, win friends, and influence people--particularly that person who is most important in your life. Respect her.

No viola is going to be perfect for everyone. If L becomes a violist, there are still ALL those violas out there tomorrow that are there today. You are short on time, she found something she likes, she doesn't want to look further, she's motivated, she's NAMED it, FOR GAWDZAKE!!!!!! It will be OK!!!!! (And you will be OK too!!!) Express your confidence in your daughter. You don't have to play it, the teacher doesn't have to play it, it's pretty, it sets L apart. You have the backup of the shop's reputation. Violas come very varied, and there is room in the world for a lot of different kinds.

A ranting mother,

Ann Brown

Link to comment
Share on other sites

....being careful not to be a dash of icy cold water....part of the permanent damage to my shoulder occurred because I loved to play a viola that was too big. It never hurt when I played it, I think because I was full of adrenalin because I was making such wonderful sounds, but having now taken the tour with accupuncture, physical therapy and prayer to be able to continue to play, I opt for the conservative. The viola which is being made for me is quite small, but the maker has won prizes for the quality of sound, which is described to me as "not quite as large" as a large (16" or bigger) viola, but just as sweet and dark and resonant and yummy. For myself, I have no choice. There is no chance that I would ever be able to play a "large" instrument again. But just be a bit wary of the comfort factor, because, as I have painfully found, love can indeed be blind.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To Everybody (A Brown, ViolaMom, whom I "know" better by email correspondence) and especially to Ann, because you're a Kodaly person, and you guys have the highest expectations and realizations...and everybody else:

I'm going with Lof. The 16" string length is a comfort; it's what she's been playing on for two years with no problem--of course, she doesn't practice!!! smile.gif (There's a smiley for you, Lydia!! smile.gif -- and that smiley is sent in sincerest good will!!! Although I am not basicallya smiley person.)

If this dadburn viola turns out to be a problem, we'll go back up to Potters and try something else with an equal exchange. But to see one's daughter's face "beatified" over sound is an extremely moving experience. And my good friend, HKV, encourages me to listen to my daughter's heart.

Now, Ann (and I hope you know that I have consistently more than listened to your opinion here because I know the truth about the discipline and good results of Kodaly), please say a little prayer that this particular viola will not destroy Lof. I'm going by my gut on this one------and if the tale turns tragic, you will be one of the first to know. I'm gonna gamble.

Very best regards to all of you--you are a great gang.

Theresa

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Perfectly said, Ann! I can think of nothing to add except that yet another mother and daughter viola combo support your decision wholeheartedly.

My daughter has maintained that she knows the instruments and bows that she wants--she can "just tell". Lof does too.

Hey--come up north and play it for us!! It's not too cold here-HA!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Theresa, when you go up to Potter's are you dealing just with Dalton, or are you also talking to David Baasch? David is a violist and was so helpful to us when we were purchasing a viola last summer for my son as a second instrument. He plays viola professionally and is also an instrument consultant--I have seen him a couple of times recently assisting NSO members and well-known teachers in the D.C. area find instruments or bows for themselves and their students, and I know he is well respected. Please make sure you see him as well as Dalton since he may approach things from a little different angle since he is a performer. I have had a number of dealings with him over the last year and have been very pleased with his assistance. If Lof's teacher thinks the viola is too big ask him what he thinks he can find for her within a given time-frame. If she needs the viola right now and she loves the one she is trying, Potter's has an excellent trade-up policy, so you could talk to them about buying that one, but have David keep looking for you for one that is more suitable. Just make sure that he is available when you go back up. They are closed, I think for the whole weekend this weekend. Good luck with your project! I was up at Potter's last week -- what a coincidence - when Crystal was trying out her new Doetsch and it was a lot of fun giving her my feedback. Again, David was very helpful to her.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi, Bubba's Mom! We're up early and obviously not cooking!

David is the one who helped Loftan find her bow, which she is happy with. It's a....hmmmm....I've forgotten. Some kind of silver-wrapped one with "tz" at the end. Too lazy to get up and figure it out.

Anyway, just because auditions are so close and she is in love with this viola, we'll stay put. I talked to Dalton yesterday and he said we can trade this one in anytime if she needs to, so I don't feel any hesitation about this purchase. David was very good to work with for the bow--Lof ended up getting a bow that cost more than her Doetsch, but it sure as heck gave her capability to do more with the Doetsch.

It would be nice to run into some Fingerboarders somewhere! At the VMEA convention in one of the strings workshops, I was tempted to stand up at the end and ask the group, "Anybody here post on Maestronet?"--but I am very shy.

Anyway, lucky you and Crystal!

Best regards,

Theresa

[This message has been edited by Theresa (edited 11-23-2000).]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...