Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Terror of the Violin Master Class

Seventeen years and many thousands of hours of practice and the bow hold can still be improved upon.
So, you want to be a professional violinist?  You have many years of learning ahead and perhaps you will never actually be done.  Welcome to the terror that is the violin master class!

Our oldest daughter is a violinist in her high school chamber orchestra and in the Olathe Youth Symphony.  Her private instructor plays with the Kansas City Symphony in the new and fabulous Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.  Your sincerely non-musical blogger has happily been immersed in a world of music.  As a matter of fact, Hannah is practicing in the living room as I write this.

The Kansas City Symphony is working hard to engage the public.  The master class is a unique way for a large audience to watch accomplished, rising musicians be critiqued by even more accomplished professionals.  Our professional for the day is none other than Vadim Gluzman.

Vadim Gluzman telling Michael Stern and the audience about the history of his bow.  It was used for the debut of one of the pieces played in class, conducted in the mid-1800s.
The story of how Vadim Gluzman came to spend extra time in Kansas City goes back to an early supporter and mentor, Issac Stern. The Kansas City Symphony is blessed to have his son, Michael Stern, as its conductor.  In addition to watching the master at work, we enjoyed hearing a lively discussion between Mr. Gluzman and Mr. Stern about how their musical lives have evolved.

As for the master class, I might have exaggerated slightly about the terror.  Mr. Gluzman was gracious and professional.  Hannah said that the session looked like one of her lessons.  Except for the part about being on a stage... in front of an audience... with one of the best violinists in the world.

No pressure, right?

It works like this:  the young violinist plays and the master follows with a critique on everything from rhythm to technique to presentation.  Many of his tips were related to making the violin sing smoothly as would a vocal artist.

One of the pleasures for the audience was getting to hear the master play an instrument with pedigree:  the 1690 'ex-Leopold' Stradavari.  Words cannot adequately describe the sound this partnership has achieved.

Note the chin rest mark of the violinist or violist.  In theory, this is partially dead tissue from extended blood flow impairment.
 As mentioned in the first caption, the bow hold is something that can always be improved upon.  I think this made Hannah feel better about her bow trials and tribulations.  It is kind of funny that he is tapping an elbow with a bow that is worth as much as a house.

At any level, teaching is about the relationship formed between the teacher and the student.  This particular student has been playing for 17 years.  At this level, four-plus hours of practice a day would not be unusual.  It takes a very strong ego to accept coaching in front of a crowd. 

The master class was followed by a question and answer period.  Hannah has been been playing since fifth grade and started to develop the permanent violinists' "hickey" where the chin rest hits back in seventh grade.  One of the dads in the audience had a daughter that was just starting out and inquired about the spot so prominent among the performers onstage.  He left with a better idea of how much commitment and hours of practice are ahead.

Also during the question and answer period, a member of the audience presented a piece of music retrieved from the National Archives.  The piece was by the composer of one of the student performances.  It was in the composer's hand and otherwise unknown.  Mr. Gulzman and Mr. Stern studied it; the latter commented "This isn't music!  It's torture!".  The former promised to give it a chance.

For an interview from a local TV station, visit

As always, thanks for reading!  In case you are curious, these photos were taken with a Sony NEX-3 outfitted with an adapted Olympus PEN-F 100mm f3.5 lens (circa early 1960s).  Shots are handheld, manual focus, shutter priority with manual exposure adjustment by the brightness histogram.  My Canon 60D is too conspicuous and the shutter is too loud for this kind of session.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mysteries of Resonance and Balance

Violins at KC Strings.  The ones in the foreground didn't make the cut.  Shhh... not too loud.  We don't want to hurt their feelings.
Typed on an Olympia SM3 on Patapar Onionskin

We have had the privilege of spending time with passionate people during the dating process.   One of the co-owners of KC Strings turns out to be a friend of a friend.  He spent time with us last weekend.  Passion is an understatement.  Apprenticed at age 12, he has been building violins for over 30 years and obviously loves what he does.  The violin "speed-dating" process was constructive with input from one of his staff members a couple weeks back and him more recently.

The KC Strings violin on top may be the lucky winner.
I had a chance to chat with the owner of Beckmann's while Hannah was trying out instruments and bows.  It is a smaller shop with a very intimate connection to the work space where old instruments are restored and new instruments are built with loving care.  One thing he told me is that violin makers don't really retire.  They just build slower until they can no more.  He absolutely loves his job.
Or perhaps one of the violins from Beckmann's will be the chosen one.  This is Hannah playing in the shop.  It is an intimate space.
Wand... I mean bow tuning area at Beckmann's.

All of these instruments start their lives as blocks of wood.  It takes a skilled hand to build something meaningful.
 This blog isn't always about vintage technology.  But at some point I will do an entry about Hannah's current violin.  It is nothing special  being a catalog violin from a known maker.  However, the maker, Daniel Moinet, and the location and period, Paris, 1944, lend it an interesting back story.  We're thankful to a good friend of the family, Adela, who gave this to her in fifth grade.

By the way, Hannah is the product of public schools with additional instruction.  Unlike some kids that started Suzuki in Kindergarten, she first started orchestra in fifth grade.  We're fortunate that the Olathe school system is committed to its music programs even after almost a decade of cuts to overall school funding.  Got to shout out to them an Olathe Youth Symphony.
Secondary work bench at Beckmann's.
 Most of the violins Hannah tried out were made in the last ten years.  While that isn't vintage technology, modern violins are built upon design principles perfected around 300 years ago.  Other than a few power tools, most of the shaping is done by hand, one wood shaving at a time.  I very much enjoyed talking with the makers.

Finish collection.

The inner sanctum of violin and viola building at Beckmann's.
Hannah finally kicked off her blog with a post towards the beginning of the Great Violin Hunt at

Addition:  I decided to include some links for both shops.  The information about design principles on the KC Strings site is very enlightening.  Disclaimer:  We are working with these builders on selecting violins from store inventories.  They both create concert grade instruments that cost over $10,000.  Our 8th grader is a long way from there - thank goodness!

Anton Krutz on geometry:
Anton Krutz Bio:
Ken Beckmann Bio:
NPR Story on CAT Scanning a Stradivarius:  NPR Stradivarius Story