August 2010

Mr. Hill Meets Mr. Nurnberger

August 31, 2010 19:20

I was in love with the Hill bow, but I needed to be sure to think rationally, not emotionally, about things, so I promised myself to visit at least three more shops before I concluded my shopping. The Tulsa Violin Shop had a few, but none interested me. After a small bit of internet research, I decided that Kanasas City was the closest town with the most options. My mom was game for a road trip, so we set out early for a pleasant day in the city. After all, everything's up to date in Kansas City...

Dan Lawrence's shop, the first one we visited, lay in cognito. From all outward appearances, it could have been simply someone's home in a suburban neighborhood. We were almost certain we'd read the house number wrong, when finally we saw the shop's sign next to the back door. But passing through the entrance was like stepping into Narnia! Inside lay a beautiful, spacious shop with rows of instruments in all price ranges. My favorite bow in his extensive collection was a contemporary Brazilian by M. Pereira, which I would highly recommend to anyone shopping for a great bow in the $2000 range. Still, it didn't sing like the Hill. Dan and I talked about his rental program, and I tried several of his student models in case I needed to track down a good instrument for someone in my studio. Alaska is not the place to shop, and ordering on line can be risky, since you can't try your instrument out until you get it in the mail. I'd been hoping to find some trustworthy sources for my students to use, and his instruments were of great quality and fair price.

After about an hour at Dan's shop, we headed to Matt Wyatt's shop over in Independence. Matt's dad greeted me at the door. Both are fiddlers, and Matt currently plays with the group Swing DeVille. With a warm welcome, he led me upstairs to a room with a slew of bows and let me play away, waiting on me hand and foot, talking about the interesting features of each bow. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I found myself as giddy as a girl tasting 40 flavors of ice cream.

Some bows you can tell the moment it touches the string that it won't be what you want. Some have distinct personalities and demand to be played a certain way, so you must take a little time to get to know them before you decide. Then's there are the ones you have to take home with you for a while. Without looking at the names, I gradually whittled it down to the final three: the Hill, a Knopf, and a Nurnberger. A blind test helped me to conclude that the Knopf only made it because of the tortoise shell frog. So now we were down to Mr. Hill and Mr.Nurnberger. My heart wanted the Hill, but the Nurnberger wouldn't let me put him down just yet. I played passages back and forth with them until my head began to spin, and I couldn't make sense of anything anymore. Matt played each of them on my instrument, and I still couldn't decide. It was time for intermission.

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Road Trip

August 29, 2010 03:02

Quiet night, tail lights. Under the anonymity of darkness, I'd plenty of time to think as I threaded each city, east to west.

So I'd been giving it some thought: It's true that years in the frozen north have left me feeling cut off and isolated from the rest of the country, but part of me truly craves the solitude. I go to the mountains, and there I feel quite content and inspired. Lately, though, they've given me the cold shoulder. And if there's one thing I've learned over the past year, it's that I need people--muses--who can form springboards for new ideas. After all, music is a language to be communicated, and I'm not talking to myself, now, am I? Perhaps I could make some new connections while I was out.

My Ebay Subaru took to the highway just fine. We weathered heavy storms in Pennsylvania, coasted the wee hours through Ohio, and met the sunrise in Indiana. Canyons of semi trucks gave way to great plains, cornfield and cattle, and I found myself with my windows rolled down, letting the road wind braid my loose ends, sifting the hot air with my fingers. It was one hundred degrees. It was glorious. The miles ticked down, with one incredibly long state stretching between St. Louis and Joplin; if I didn't stop, I could make it to Tulsa in time to bring fresh avocados for dinner. Fresh avocado right at the doorstep, unannounced.

My mother spies on me through facebook. I'd been dropping hints all along--pictures of a New York bagel, of sun-ripe backyard tomatoes, of oak leaf blue sky and turkey feathers. Now I was calling her on my cell phone from her own driveway. "I've just updated my status," I told her, "and I think you should check it out." She walked over to the computer and read aloud, "Emily Steele Grossman is standing on your front porch... ??? What?" I watched her shadow pause in-comprehensively, then move cautiously to the door.


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August 27, 2010 23:33

Philadelphia seemed like the place to find a decent bow. After scanning the internet for likely shops and mapping out my directions, I wound up at the doorstep of Fred Oster Fine Violins, only to find a note taped to he door reading, "On vacation until August 23rd." The sight of it was crushing, but since I was with my in-laws at the time, I tried not to let it show. All was not lost; we spent the day sampling various cheeses, meats, and breads at the Italian market before returning home. Still, I knew if ever I would have an opportunity to shop for bows on the East coast, now was the time. I contacted Karen Rile, a violinist connection who lives in Philly, and asked her for some other recommendations. She mentioned Mount Airy Violins and Bows and agreed to meet me there the next day, along with her daughter Caeli Smith, to help me sample them.

Samuel Payton was in the shop, ready to assist. He lined up a handful of bows on the table, and I set about sampling each one. First, I listened to the tone quality, pulling notes from the lower register and then singing a bit in the upper register. Next, I followed with some various spiccato passages, some sautille, and quick detache. One bow in particular stood out immediately, and I continued to gravitate to it throughout the trial. I even chose it blind when Caeli played through each of them for me. When I asked about it, and one other bow that I was curious about, Sam informed me that the first bow was a Hill, and the second was one he made himself. Astonished by the quality of his bow compared to the reasonable price, I asked him how long he'd been making bows. "Three years," he replied. I made a mental note to keep my eye on the future of Payton bows, and pondered keeping it simply for its investment value. Two bows left on trial with me that day: the Hill, and the Payton. Karen invited me over to her house to visit her family, and I followed her through the shaded, winding roads that make up the neighborhoods of Philadelphia.

Although I'm seldom over to people's houses for a visit, I immediately felt like I belonged at the Rile-Smith household. Light-hearted and fascinating conversations bounced along late into the evening, well past the time I'd intended to leave. I would have stayed the night and enjoyed a coffee cake brunch with fresh coffee, but I had many miles in front of me and a very important objective to fulfill before the next day's end. Karen stuck some cakes in a bag and filled my thermos while her husband meticulously checked my tire pressure, double checking the manual for the proper range.

20 hours and 1500 miles. I could make it.

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'It Caught Fire and Burned'

August 25, 2010 22:44

Before I can relate the next segment of my journey, I must first go back to Alaska, to the Peninsula Summer Music Festival.  This festival is one I usually skip, simply because it has always been scheduled right in the middle of the busiest week of cooking all summer: hockey camp.  (Whoever can stomach a 9+ hour shift on concrete, slamming out multiple baked goods for 250+ hungry hockey players, and then manage to drive 1 1/2 hours each evening to attend a three hour rehearsal is beyond me.)  But even if I was in fact superwoman, I would not wile away the precious daylight hours in a plastic chair, staring at the back of someone else's head.  As much as I love Brahms, Beethoven, and the like, I refuse to devote my love and my summertime to anything but the outdoors.

This year, however, hockey camp was rescheduled, and several rental groups split last second, leaving most of August vacant.  Not only that, but the nonstop rain had executed all my outdoor events.  I had nothing else but the summer music festival to attend. 

Here's how this ties into the story:  I had this bow, you see.  It needed rehairing, so I gave it to XXXX, who was a XXXX XXXX from XXXX.  (I happen to respect and admire XXXX, and think he's a great guy, so I will keep this part as anonymous as possible.)  On Friday the 13th,  I took my seat just before our performance, and the man who was going to return my freshly rehaired bow rushed up to me, squatted down, and in hushed tones informed me,

"There was an accident involving your bow, and it caught fire and burned." 

It was not salvageable.  Yes, I was full of as much disbelief as you are--probably more.  The reaction I gave, though, was not likely what was expected.  I couldn't help but think it was one of the funnier things I'd heard, so I burst out laughing.  Looking back, I can see that this may have been inappropriate, since the man had nearly caught flames and burned as well, and still has nightmares about it to this day.  But who knew bow rehairs could end so unfortunately?  (Note: the fumes of denatured alcohol will catch fire if a flame is introduced to a room lacking proper ventilation.) 

Luckily, the bow was covered under his business' insurance.  Luckily, I had a backup bow.  And luckily, I was never that attached to the charred victim in the first place.  Not to sound heartless, but to me it had always seemed a bit like a mail-order spouse--tidy, diligent, and agreeable, and possessing little personality whatsoever.  It was of the finest quality, but nevertheless, our relationship had been strictly professional.  What's more is, in the time that I'd had the bow, its value had appreciated by 40%.  (Note: for solid investment purposes, choose a modern French bow.)

At the moment the bow was leaving its carbon footprint, I had been hovering over the computer keyboard, bidding on my Subaru in Connecticut on Ebay.  So this is how I won a car, lost a bow, and set off on a road trip to pick up a new car...  and, a new bow, all in one fell swoop.

Next stop, Philadelphia.

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August 24, 2010 16:59

It's been a long, dry spell in violin land.  It's been a long, dry spell in general.  The muses that be have control of me, and when they depart, I lie barren.  It's hard to say what exactly brought this about in my life.  It could be a number of things.  Yes, yes, it was a number of things.

The symphony didn't need me last season.  They informed me in September that they had enough local musicians and wouldn't be needing substitutes from out of town.  I suspected budget issues, but couldn't help but feel personally slighted when I read the news.  It's just a job, but the hole it made in my life may as well have been caused by a death.  After that point, I spent my evenings watching TV and zoning out in front of the computer instead of practicing, pretending I'd never tasted the magic of the symphony, trying to forget the taste.

Our local coffee shop quit hosting their evenings of live music.  On top of this, our community musical didn't need strings this year.  Our chamber orchestra didn't have a spring concert.  So, valiantly, I set about planning my own spring recital, featuring  Brahms' G major Sonata and Beethoven's Spring Sonata, maybe some Sarasate if I was brave enough.  But that fell through when Maria's husband had a bad fall and almost died.  We cancelled the spring recital while she tended to her recovering spouse and I tended to my late night sulking. 

Right about the time the rough winter would have put an end to us all, spring came.  We had almost an entire week of sunny weather before the Rain moved in.  Then, from Memorial Weekend through mid August, we had maybe five sunny days.  The rest filled up with Rain, day after day, until it became clear that we were going to bypass summer altogether once again and head back into winter. 

The past four out of five years have been this way. 

We'd smashed the old record for consecutive days of rainfall: 35 and counting.  I couldn't take it anymore; something had to give.  I was standing at the coffee shop, fixing to smash a chair across the room when it occured to me: I don't have to settle for this. 

What could I do?  Hmm...  It looked about time to trade the truck in for something with a little better gas mileage.  Why not look on Ebay?  Not many people think about this fact, but you can buy a car in the lower 48 for $5K and sell it for $8K in Alaska.   Four years ago, when I bought my car on Ebay from a dealer in Colorado Springs, a trip up the Al-Can highway was just the medicine I needed.  Where would I end up this time?  I searched and bid for about a week before I finally won a Suburu Outback--in Connecticut, of all places.  We sealed the deal via Paypal on Saturday, he Fed-Exed the title last Monday, and I tucked the registration and plates in my carry-on Tuesday evening.  Fellow violinist Nate Robinson met me at the La Guardia airport Wednesday morning, and I spent the day taking in the sights and sunshine.  I dined on bagel and cream cheese from H & H.  I toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I saw more Strads in one room than I will probably see the rest of my life.  I saw the place where Milstein used to live.  I got harrassed by a pan handler as I ate a gyro from a street vendor.  Then, we drove to Connecticut, I picked up my new car, and headed over to Amishland, PA, to visit George's folks.

I sigh as I think about the weather there, the chirping crickets and the whine of cicadas.  As I walked by cornfields and blackeyed susans, I realised I hadn't seen a real summer in twelve years.  The last of the golden sunshine trickled into the mountainside behind Amos'  farm as I attempted to capture it on camera.  Then my family and I gathered around the campfire late into the evening, toasting smores and casting our thoughts on the coals to burn. 

It was time for planning something exciting. 

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