November 2009

On Buying a Bow...

November 29, 2009 14:35

In a March, 2009 interview with Laurie Niles of, soloist James Ehnes recalls many of the facets of his career, including the search for a fine instrument and his studies. During this interview Mr. Ehnes shares a story in which someone complimented him on his bow grip and asked the questions "Who taught you? What happened?"

The answer was quite simple - Mr. Ehnes was playing on a much better bow than he had been ten years ago when the person questioning had originally heard him in concert.

While a student at the Shepherd School of Music many of us were in the process of acquiring better equipment, and I very fondly remember one student saying "It's amazing, you spend so much time practicing, doing what your teacher says and learning the technique, and then BOOM! You get a better bow, and it all makes sense, there's no more struggle, just application." I have found this to be true on many occasions during my search for a good stick, and the past weeks events have not only confirmed both Mr. Ehnes' and my former colleague's thoughts.

Last week I took an audition - as I have been coming to Knoxville, Tennessee often since March 2008 due to my work with Carpetbag Theatre, I thought it wise to take the audition being held for section positions with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. The week before this audition I had the good fortune to spend a week with a dear friend, also a Shepherd School alum, during which she graciously let me play with her violin and bow. Playing on a fine instrument like hers did indeed make a difference in how I approached sound production for the remainder of my practice period: with an instrument like that, there is no need to force. What one does is simply "find the sound". Her bow, a fine modern French bow, was made by a maker whose work I have tried before, and it was much the same - less "effort" and more attention to the quality of the strokes and the sound being produced.

The audition results - well, those aren't important. What IS important is that immediately after this audition I went to a violin shop and asked to see some of their inventory. Seven bows and about one hour (that FLEW by) later, I found one that is truly making a difference, a bow made by German bowmaker Sebastian Dirr.

Of course, the next questions are being asked: "How do I afford this? Will I spend this much time practicing, away from family and friends, and am I willing to spend the amount of time it may take to work and earn the funds necessary to purchase this? Is the violin playing the most important thing?"

There are so many stories about violinists and instruments, and the question of cost: In his Violin Dreams, Arnold Steinhardt speaks of acquiring an instrument after being hired by the Cleveland Orchestra and being somewhat shocked at the price. Nigel Kennedy also speaks of the soaring cost of instruments in his autobiography, also suggesting many ideas for bridging investors and musicians together so that these costs can be borne.

The question, though, should not be of the cost, but rather on the worth, the value of making such an investment. As I ponder - and enjoy practicing - this bow I find myself incredibly grateful for all who have spoken of the cost/value/worth conundurm and truly thankful to Mr. Ehnes for his candor.

In the meantime, does anyone have any ideas on how to go about making this purchase?

The metronome ticks,

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