Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What is music?

I have been an on-and-off subscriber to Strad magazine since 1996. Great photos, good stories, expensive.

Bundled in with the September 2009 issue is a special edition "Violin Heroes," which has stories on various violin players and their heroes. For example, someone playing now refers to Jascha Heifetz, and then the next story might be a reprint of a Heifetz profile from an earlier Strad issue. I should also mention that Strad magazine comes from England.

One that stood out in my mind came from the March 1923 issue, and started with this:

“The violinist (Jascha Heifetz) had risen to fame in America, and by April, 1921, seventy or eighty thousand records of his playing had been sold in England. Assuming that each record was put on ten times, and that each reproduction was listened to by an average of three individuals, Heifetz had been heard more that two millions of times in England before he sounded a note here in public. The brain goes dizzy at the thought…”

All of us now hear far more recorded music than live music. We get to know musicians first, and often only, through recordings. Interesting to think that less than 100 years ago this was reversed, as it was since the beginning of time.

A few years ago, the early-music expert Christopher Hogwood gave a talk at nearby Boise State University. Many interesting points, but I was most surprised when he pointed out that we are the first people in history to be able to hear what music sounded like 100 years ago. And I shouldn't have been surprised, because just a year or so earlier, I had gotten the CD recording of James Scott Skinner, Scottish violinist (1843-1927), which was originally recorded in the early twentieth century. Here is a list which includes those recordings, as well as others.

There are times when I think that having too much information is paralyzing. And I feel sinful stating so.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Estimates sight unseen...

... are almost always a bad idea.

Naturally people would like to know what sort of expense they're about to incur, so they want a dollar figure without having to drive all over town. When I am forced into it, I almost always aim high, just in case. If it comes out less, people are happy. But going high is a good way to lose work, too. It's a tough balance, and usually I will say that I'm happy to give an estimate if I can see the instrument, but not over the phone.

Case in point -- I do repair work for some of the local music stores. One day I received a call from one, asking what the charge was to install fine-tuners on a violin. I mentioned two options (i) installing 4 fine tuners on the old tailpiece, and (ii) installing a new tailpiece with built in tuners. The second option is almost always better -- the assembly is lighter, it allows for proper adjustment of the afterlength, and for both those reasons usually gives better tone. It is slightly more expensive.

The customer went with the first route, the less expensive route. When I arrive at the music store, I see the violin, a cheap 60 year-old instrument with a tailpiece made out of some hardwood died black to look like ebony. The tailpiece is overly fat, nearly too thick to allow the fine-tuners to be installed, and too long to let the arms swing free. A real pain in the butt. Since I'm away from the shop, I have a limited selection of hand-tools. So, I'm modifying the tailpiece to allow me to install the fine-tuners, taking far longer than I had allowed for, with tools that I wouldn't use in the shop. Not a good way to make money. I did stick with my estimate, and the tuners are installed in working order, but it did further my commitment to not make estimates sight unseen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

YouTube videos

An amazing array of videos are out there on sites such as YouTube. While the sound quality is not the greatest, being able to watch the bowing and fingering more than makes up for it.

I have started a list of what I think are interesting, fun videos on my web page, which can be found here.

More will be added, and if you know of a good video, let me know.

When I'm learning a tune, I want to listen to it about a billion times, just to pound it into my thick skull. Usually I don't want to keep hitting the YouTube replay button; I'd like to have it on a CD on repeat or on my computer, in iTunes on repeat. With the Zamzar you can convert a YouTube video into an mp3, or mp4 video, or a wide selection of other options I don't understand. This can then live on your computer or be burned onto a CD.

Certainly I'm not advocating this for copyrighted material, or if the version of the tune is available commercially -- we need to support the artists -- but many of the YouTube videos I see are just regular folks playing traditional tunes. It is a good way to learn.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First post

This is my first post on a new blog. Just trying to understand the mechanics here.

Eventually to be linked to my web-page, which I have recently revised and am also in the process of learning how to update & modify. Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop

The photo in this post is of work I did at the Southern California Violin Makers Workshop this past June. This photo, others of the workshop, as well as even more photos of violins and violin-making live on my Flickr page, here .