Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When is an object not an object? When it's an instrument.

I had some major work done on my fiddle. It now has a new bridge and soundpost, its first "update" in the 17 years I have owned it. It also has new strings, and a freshly-rehaired bow. During its rehabilitation I spent time practicing my daughter's lovely and very-easy-to-play violin, and established a relationship with it: I set its parts into motion, and it sent me back all kinds of sounds that made me very happy. They were not sounds in my usual violin "voice," but they were sounds in my daughter's violin "voice," so the pleasure was rather personal. It was really the first time I had intimate contact with a violin other than my own.

My fiddle sounded horrible when it came back from its "makeover." I couldn't find any familiar sound anywhere, particularly in the upper positions. It kind of felt like an object to me: perhaps a violin-shaped box that used to hold my former instrument. I knew that everything was "right," but it didn't sound right or feel right. My reaction was to do the only thing I could do: subject it to a week of Dounis and Sevcik: shifting up and down the strings, forcing it to play double stops and generate difference tones, until I didn't have to use force anymore.

Now I have my violin voice back. Thank goodness.

This proves that an instrument is a living thing: something that bends to the will of the person playing it, and something with a definite and unique personality.


Sarah said...

I love this essay. It just resonates with my understanding (no pun intended!). Thanks for recognizing what was happening and for finding the words to make it into a story.

I'm primarily a singer, but I have a very personal relationship with my piano. It had been my mother's, and it survived through nine children and forty years of inadequate care (no money). Several years ago, my mother gave it to me and I had it completely rebuilt. It took weeks of playing (Bach! Mozart!) for the piano to find its voice and for me and the piano to find each other. It is a delight to make music together! And it definitely has an affinity for Bach. :-)

David Wolfson said...

Alas, there are numerous pianos which can more truthfully been referred to as "piano-shaped objects." Most of them have been subjected to so much abuse and neglect that you could play Debussy on them for weeks and it would still feel like trying to play a picnic table. This is what happens when a musical instrument is big enough to double as furniture...