Occasional Musings

Suzuki Shines In My Heart

 

   Back in 1966 when the Suzuki Method was being introduced in the US my parents were interested in having their kids have a musical foundation so they enrolled me and my brother in one of the first programs available, at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.  For the next several years we were there once or twice a week for private and group lessons with a handful of other students and we learned our Twinkle Twinkles and marched around the room clapping rhythms and sat in on each other’s lessons.  We memorized all of our music by ear and could sing and feel all the songs deeply inside of ourselves.  To this day I do that and lose many hours of sleep at night hearing and learning music in my head, heart and fingers.  I am thankful (and often sleepy) for this ability.

   One time in the late 1960’s Dr. Suzuki came to Rochester.  My parents offered to have a gathering at our house for him, and it was also his birthday.  So right then and there at age 7 or 8 I had met him, probably had a class with him that day but I don’t remember that, and loads of Japanese adults and children were in my home.  Ten years later when I was a JYA student in Japan for a year I learned of a Suzuki concert happening so I somehow found a way to contact Dr. Suzuki.  In my low-level Japanese I composed a letter to him about having met him as a child and being interested in attending the concert and he responded with a couple of tickets to the concert.  I went and the seats were right next to him and three rows behind then Prime Minister Ohira!  I was thrilled of course, and I soaked up the music and the sight of hundreds of Japanese children lined up in rows playing all the songs I knew so well. 

Dr. Suzuki's Bday 1966, me with my arms

Violin Repair Time

 

   I'm not one to brag about my instruments.  I truly feel that a good player can make an instrument sound "good"; not necessarily any instrument, but many.  So it's not all in the instrument, it's in the familiarity of the player to the needs of the instrument.  Why do I start with this?  Because I own instruments by an "unknown" maker, and although they may not be worthy of Carnegie Hall, they sound great to me, and fortunately, most people that hear me play.  I recently decided my no-name instruments needed much overdue attention for open seams and potentially other problems, and my bows needed rehairing and maybe new grips.  I trucked on down to Syracuse, NY to my now-favorite violin place, Hosmer Violins.  Tom Hosmer, who's been in the business a long time, is a solid bluegrass fiddler and mandolinist and whoa, and excellent repairman.  I've been in enough violin shops throughout my lifetime to know quality here.  And Tom's shop is a mess.  A wonderful mess, though it is admittedly a bit hard to navigate into the entrance crowded with instrument cases, tables, a countertop with one square foot of open space, delivery boxes of cello cases and violin shoulder rests, and various decorative items perched on any surface available.  Making my way into the interior of the shop is like stepping into a workshop cabinet drawer.  Hundreds of items in all directions:  wood pieces, instrument parts, old strings wound into circles, new strings in packages, bottles of tints, glues, hand tools, electric tools, drawers overflowing with ingredients for repairs, postcards, instruments hanging on walls, instruments on the work table in the midst of repair.  I could go on and on and on.  It's almost comic. Yet it is serious and it is fascinating.  Tom knows where most everything is even if that seems an impossiblity at first.  Or he'll turn to a machine I thought was ancient, turn it on and run a bridge over the surface, or another saw-dusty machine that cuts a hole into a peg.

For the Love of Food and Yoga

   I don't recall how or why I started playing my violin at yoga sessions but I discovered it to be not only a musical opportunity but also a different way to enjoy a yoga setting.  Sometimes I'll play a few songs at the beginning or end of a session or other times I will play through a full session with a prepared set list.  People seem to absolutely love hearing and moving to violin at these sessions.  How wonderful is that?!  This is one of my unexpected musical pleasures that my playing and song choices would be appropriate and welcome in such an environment. 

   I mostly play at River Yoga, located on the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, NY.  The river is the Canadian border of northern New York State and it is a truly majestic river, extending from the Atlantic ocean to the Great Lakes.  Photo opportunities are everywhere in every season.  Like this one here of me in the now-popular Warrior Pose at a pavilion on the St. Lawrence River just before a summer morning yoga class.  I wasn't really warmed up for the morning pose but the class was soon to begin and we wanted to get the picture-taking done.  Yet it turned out to be a pretty strong-looking picture.  I am humbled and honored that this picture is featured on "Page 103" in a cookbook called For The Love of Food and Yoga, and on top of that, the authors had even asked me to create a music trailer prior to the book publishing!  The gals who wrote the book (Liz Price-Kellogg and Kristen Taylor) support my musical prowess (often called a "gift", for me it's just what I do) and that I can move in and out of yoga poses while playing my violin (it's not that hard but people believe it is.)  The book, which is loaded with beautiful pictures and commentary of yoga thought and poses, was published in 2015.  It features vegetarian/vegan recipes, and really, they are delicious.  Some combinations are surprising at first but sure enough, the flavors and textures are winners. 

   So maybe you'll consider checking out River Yoga.net, or the book itself, or, while I'm at it, if you would like me to play at a your yoga studio just invite me.

My Alan Esty Violins

 

Back in the late 1980’s I decided to buy a violin on my own, the first time I had ever been in the position to do so.  I met an elderly couple near my home, Alan and Anne Esty, and discovered that Alan made violins and was interested in having me try them.  I went to their home and was taken through many rooms to the back violin shop, which immediately took me back to my childhood of visiting violin shops.  There, Alan had a cozy shop that overlooks a field and small, winding river in the mountains of New Hampshire, and with the smell of wood, glue, and his smoking pipe, I would stay for hours and try all his violins, just for fun.  Alan desperately wanted me to own one, and I finally chose one that was within my price range, being a 30-year old living in the hills of New Hampshire.  I chose #29, made in 1989, and my playing changed the day I took it home.  It has deep low strings and even, smooth high strings.  The sound was miles better than the violin I’d owned for 20 years, even though I cherished that violin too (that one was a 1907 American-made also.)   For the next ten years my playing improved (it was the practice, really), and I became closer and closer to the Estys, visiting their home frequently, trying out violins for Alan to give him my opinion, and always tuning them because they would hang in the wall case unplayed for months.  One year he wanted me to upgrade again, but it took a few years to convince me to spend more money on a second violin.  I eventually gave in when I fell in love with #47, made in 1996, with a sound as sweet as honey in my opinion.  I still own both #29 and 47, and love them both.  I call them my “Esty” violins.  Alan (the maker) is not on the web, so if you’re interested in checking out his violins, you need to contact me.)

 

I have always been just a violin player, not a violin connoisseur, and have not tried to enter the market of judging instrument quality by its age or maker.  More so, I haven’t really cared if I own old or new, but now having owned two new ones for over a decade, I think I lean towards the new.  I like freshness.  

 

I have two bows, one I chose back in 1977, a French bow (Geneve) that now has indentations in the stick from my fingers, and a new one, made in Saskatchewan by bow maker Brian Johnson.  I love them both, especially the nimble action of the bow by Johnson.  My electric violin is a 5-string Vector Prodigy.  I had no idea what to choose for electric violins, so on a trip to Florida one Christmas I stopped off at The Electric Violin Shop in Greensboro, NC (I’m really doing some advertising now).  There “Blaise” let me play any instrument he had on the wall.  I wanted something different from my acoustic, so a 5-string was in order.  In the end I chose the Vector for it’s sound, and I’ve been working ever since to make a pleasing sound.  I’ve had to put in lots of slow, slow playing time to teach my fingers to play in tune on a wider neck, and my bow arm to learn the shallower angles of the bridge arc. Naturally, I also had to buy an effects box and a new amp to complement this instrument, so all has been a learning process for me, who has been steeped and content with the acoustic sound my entire life.  

Violin on wood