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:  http://www.kcstrings.com/anton-Krutz-geometry
Anton Krutz Bio:  http://www.kcstrings.com/anton-Krutz-introduction
Ken Beckmann Bio:   http://www.beckmannviolins.com/maker/
NPR Story on CAT Scanning a Stradivarius:  NPR Stradivarius Story


  1. Very nice post. I do not know much about violins even though one of my friends builds them. I bid you and your daughter all the best & good luck in finding the right violin and hope she has many years successfully playing it and bringing enjoyment to those who hear her.

    1. Thanks. I will pass that along to her. She is struggling in deciding between two instruments from different shops.

  2. Oooh, so cool! I am definitely going to forward the link to this one to my brother who is currently in a a violin-making school. He'll enjoy seeing your friend's shop as well as hearing Hannah's story.

  3. p.s. Just heard from my brother . . . Mr. Beckman is the uncle of one of his luthier school classmates! Small world, he says. ;-)

    1. The music world is surprisingly small, or more accurately, well connected. Ken Beckmann was a music major in college before switching to building. His son does concert hall design.

      I am constantly amazed at the little connections in the world. That is a nice coincidence :-)

      I'll need to add links at the end. Both shops are online and Anton Kurtz has some interesting bio and design information on the KC Strings site.

  4. I've always been impressed by the KC area's dedication to music, in all forms.

    Fascinating post! I particularly like the comparison of a violin bow to a wand. May your daughter make magic with her music for many years!

    1. Kansas City is an interesting place. We have extreme weather that drives some people away. But many area residents leave and then come back. The music and arts scene is really catching fire between the new performing arts center and innovative programs and exhibits at the Nelson.

      Really, I am not sure how violinists do what they do. The years of training are necessary to master all of the various techniques. The right player coupled with the right instrument really does create magic.

  5. How very beautiful those scenes are ...

    1. There are many far less pleasant places to spend time with a kid. These people take pride in their craft and their shops.

  6. I couldn't have said it better myself! As always, great photos. I especially like the work spaces.

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  8. Just lovely.
    Looking at these pics is a bit bittersweet for me, I enrolled in a Suzuki-method viola class a few years ago but gave up after six months. It was more demanding than I thought and it didn't help that I was just starting at age 39. Oh well.

    Your daughter will do great!

    1. A good violin or viola will reward a dedicated learner who puts in many, many hours. I don't think it would be impossible for an adult, but most of us have that pesky thing called life that gets in the way. Kids have an intrinsic advantage in that their primary job is learning.

      Between school, youth symphony, quartet, private lessons and home practice, Hannah plays roughly 11-13 hours per week. That number will go up as she enters high school.


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