Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Geoffrey Seitz's Magical Violin Shop

St. Louis is kind of a hotbed for string-instrument activity, but no violin shop is as magical to me as Geoffrey Seitz's shop.

I met Mr. Seitz many years ago when he produced, as if by magic, a beautiful violin for our daughter. It apparently passed for a Chanot for about a century, but was in actuality a Bohemian violin with a false label. The quality of the instrument reflected its "life" as a fine fiddle, but the price reflected its humble (yet artful) Bohemian heritage.

My next encounter was with one of Seitz's own instruments, a beautiful violin with a huge sound that a family friend bought for his daughter. Several years later I met a little five-string violin that my friend Ruth, who has known Geoff for several decades, bought from him. I sent one of my violin students to his shop (where I had not yet visited) and she came back to Illinois with four excellent violins that were all reasonably priced. My student told me that going into his shop was one of the greatest experiences of her life (she was 17 at the time) and fell deeply in love with one of the four violins (as did I).

Earlier this year Ruth showed me a gorgeous small viola she was thinking of buying from Geoff, and asked me if I would go to St. Louis with her to try it "against" other similarly-sized instruments at his shop. I brought along my viola d'amore, which needed some cracks repaired, so off we went.

This violin shop is like no other. Most of the violin shops I have visited have elegant sitting rooms and oriental rugs on the floor. Most violin shops are intentionally intimidating. Not Seitz's shop. It is a storefront shop in what could be described as a strip mall that is packed to the gills with instruments of all kinds. There are paths to many of them, but there are areas that are so packed that the instruments seem to be inaccessible. If there were oriental rugs on the floor, they were covered by larger instruments. There were piles of empty cases everywhere (including one with crocodile skin), big cardboard boxes of bows, and instruments on every surface scattered shoulder to neck in seemingly ramshackle order. Seitz also has an impressive backlog of work (my viola d'amore took half a year to repair, but the repair made it sound fantastic, so it was worth the wait), and seems to do it all with just one helper. And of course Geoff knows the back story for every instrument in the shop.

My friend's viola was the best (for her) of the lot, and the price Geoff gave her was amazing considering the high quality of the instrument.

Ruth and I went back to the shop last week with Judy, a friend who was looking for a new violin. We were pretty sure that Geoff would have something special for her, and we were right. We made our choice very easily and then asked to try a few bows. We were all in agreement about the bow that was best.

Geoff asked us if we would like to look at an instrument made in Charleston (the town where Ruth, Judy, and I live). Ruth wondered if it might have been a violin made by her late brother-in-law Garry Harrison, but it turned out to be a violin made in 1989 by my old friend (the second person I met when I moved to Charleston--his wife Barbara was the first) Burton Hardin. I actually recognized the instrument which he gave me to try once I began my switch from flute to violin. I even seem to remember when Burton was making the instrument.

Ruth, Judy, and I all knew Burton Hardin, but Geoff had never met him.

Geoff cut $200 off the price of the bow, and threw in a brand new lovely (and light) case for the violin for free. Then he refigured the cost of my repair, lowering it by $100 or so. When Ruth and I asked about buying rosin, he threw two nice cakes in for free.

You can hear one of Geoff's instruments here (and see his shop in the background):

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Leap Frog and New Year's Greeting

Here are both pieces in their full glory played by Scott Slapin and Tanya Solomon:

Now THIS is something to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Excerpts from the Slapin-Solomon Duo Concert in South Hadley, MA!

Yesterday the Slapin-Solomon Duo played a concert that included my "Leap Frog" and "New Year's Greeting" for two violas. They put a short "collage" from the concert on YouTube, and I'm sharing it here.

Friday, November 16, 2018

La Lola from "Cante Jondo" played by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

Here's the third piece in "Cante Jondo" (five pieces based on poems of Federico Garcia Lorca) performed by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning.

Lola (La Lola)

Under the orange tree
she washes cotton underthings.
Her eyes green
and her voice violet.

Ah love,
under the blossoming orange tree!

The water in the ditch
filling up with sun,

in the olive grove
a sparrow singing.

Ah love,
under the blossoming orange tree!

Soon, when
the soap’s gone,
the young bullfighters will come.

Ah love,
under the blossoming orange tree!

[English translation by Michael Leddy]

Sunday, November 11, 2018

More Photos from Paul Hindemith's 1947 Class at Yale

George Hunter's daughter (George is #4) sent me two photos from Paul Hindemith's 1947 composition class at Yale. It would be great if we could use them to help identify the rest of the people in this photo:

You can see the original post from 2010 with a larger numbered photo and lots of comments here.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Autumnal Ramble with Luther

I haven't had any original musical ideas lately. Spring and Summer were productive for me, so I'm not terribly bothered by it. I seem to have more room in my head now for appreciating music written by other people. It's fun to have my creative musical parts listen with new ears, and show me how to move from note to note and phrase to phrase with greater purpose.

I'm six months away from the beginning of my sixth decade, and though expression is an absolute necessity, expressing myself is sometimes painful. It is not painful while I am playing, but my muscles are sore after I stop. Still, with the national dialogue gone all topsy-turvy, and with anxiety-producing proclamations coming from the highest offices in the country a few times a day, playing music, particularly music by Bach, is the only way for me to keep sane.

I'm excited about this weekend's musical adventures! The Charleston Consort, our local Medieval/Renaissance band, is playing a concert on Sunday of settings of Martin Luther's best-known melodies by his contemporaries and compatriots.

There will be settings of Ein feste Burg (1529), Nun comm, der Heiden Heiland (1524), Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (1539), Aus tiefer Not (1524), Verleih uns Frieden (1529) by Georg Forster, Bartholomäus Gesius, Hans Leo Hassler, Johann Eccard, Michael Praetorius, Benedictus Ducis, Balthasar Resinarius, Lupus Hellinck, Johann Kugelmann, Kaspar Othmayr, Johann Walther, Johann Hermann Schein, Lukas Osiander, Melchior Franck, Heinrich Schütz, and Michael Altenburg. In addition we will be playing "Non mortar sed vivam," the only know contrapuntal piece by Martin Luther (though I imagine he must have written many more).

The miracle is that all these settings have been fitted, like a mosaic, into logical sequences. The program should last a little over an hour. It took us a good chunk of this "Luther year" to get everything to work.

For readers and music lovers who do not live in the area: The Wesley Methodist Church is on Fourth Street in Charleston, Illinois. If you are coming from the north, just follow Fourth street towards the university. The church will be on your right just after the last of the university's parking lots. The concert begins at 3:00 and admission is free.

Monday, November 05, 2018


[drawn by Ben Leddy]

Sunday, November 04, 2018

"El Grito" Performed by Rebecca Johnson and Cara Chowning

Here is Michael Leddy's translation of the Lorca Poem this piece is based on:

II. The Cry (El Grito)

The ellipse of a cry
goes from mountain
to mountain.

From the olive trees
it will be a black rainbow
over the blue night.


Like a viola bow
the cry has made
the wind’s long strings sound.


(The people in the cellars
light their lamps.)