Consuming Ourselves

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“What love, in stark opposition to a mere desire of satisfaction, needs however to be compared to, Kilma suggests,

Is the creation of a work of art… That too requires imagination, total concentration, the combining of all aspects of human personality, self-sacrifice on the part of the artist, and absolute freedom. But most of all, as with artistic creation, love requires action, that is, non-routine activity and behavior, as well as constant attention to one’s partner’s intrinsic nature, an effort to comprehend his or her individuality, and respect. And last but not least it needs tolerance, the awareness that one must not impose one’s outlook or ideals on one’s companion or stand in the way of the other’s happiness.”

Zygmunt Bauman in Consuming Life quoting Ivan Klima

This post is about the difficulties musicians face when buying an instrument or bow. I’m not writing about technical considerations, but about the deeper social and economic factors that highlight our dual roles as artists and consumers, and which often lead us astray, causing many to make choices we may come to regret.

PART ONE – Consumer and Consumed

An important consideration here is the reality of the consumerist culture we live in and the effects that the shift from a society of producers to a society of consumers has had on our cognitive ability to conceive of our relationships with ourselves, others and the artistic tools we use to create music.

In a system that has shifted many of our private and personal lives into a public confessional social media culture, where the public exposure of our private world is so highly prized and the healthy boundary between our inner lives and our public lives are increasingly blurred, we are becoming both the consumer and the consumed. The drive for personal betterment through social media self-promotion, where we desperately try to enhance our perceived human value through post likes, has in many ways led us to a place where we have become the marketers of ourselves. This attitude influences many of our life decisions and relationships. Increasingly human interactions, and here think of dating apps like Tinder, have taken on the sense of commercial transactions rather than emotional interactions. In a society of consumers where our very identities are becoming commodified, capitalism as we know it has begun to reduce our every experience into a transaction, or at least that seems to be the ultimate goal. There is always less personal risk and discomfort in the online transaction versus the interpersonal one as actual social interaction is always fraught with potential danger. We have to wonder if as a society we are shifting into a mode of behavior where exposing one’s self to the unknown in the real world is becoming less attractive than simply pointing and clicking through an endless online menu in the cozy confines of our homes.

The speed and intensity of online stimuli can be overwhelming. As consumers there is a sense of a constant seeking of gratification that never comes. There is a short term focus on the process of consumption rather than a wiser longer view involving an actual, desirable goal. We have an obsession with change, of getting rid of the old for the new. We seek to get rid of what we perceive as not working in a highly superficial effort to use the next purchased object to hopefully better meet our needs. Even when change is needed, we have difficulty making choices, many times because of the fear of the unknown. The problem is that seeking something significant like a life partner and /or friend (like a great violin or bow) resists the buying and shopping model. This is a relationship that is not easy, does not provide instant gratification, and requires us to be in touch with the deeper parts of ourselves.

PART TWO – Enslaving Ourselves for What?

In a 2014 blog posting on Elbow Music, Ariane Todes writes about the advice that Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri String Quartet gives on the purchase of new violins. He simply states that when a student is in the market for a new violin or bow, they need to realize that they are putting their parents in debt and that there are bigger considerations than price alone. He states,

“You have to work your way round an instrument and it’s a process. Every instrument is hard to play at the beginning because it’s as if you don’t know Portuguese: it’s hard to know what people are saying until you learn the language. Every instrument is another language that you don’t know at the beginning. Of course not completely – you can pick up a violin and play it, but each violin does have a different language to learn.”

In another piece called “Me and My Violin” Steinhardt writes that the relationship of a musician to her instrument is most comparable to that of a friend or partner. It’s a relationship that demands intimacy, one which involves the highs and lows of any relationship. The musician, he points out, is mute with the instrument and bow and the bow and instrument are mute without the musician. The connection is not a simple one and demands sacrifice, struggle and hard work. Choosing a bow or instrument is not the mere act of finding the next best thing, it requires the musician to be profoundly connected to herself as an artist, as a human being.

I have had many clients express regret at having sold or traded in an instrument that they now realize was something special. I also regularly see musicians desperately shopping for a new music making tool, buying one thing, selling it, then trading it in for a more expensive option, repeating the cycle over and over again. They seek the new magical object that they believe will meet their needs and gain the approval of colleagues and teachers, or help them pass an audition, for example. I want to emphasize here that many times change is good and necessary. The idea here is not to resist changing bows or instruments, but to do it wisely.  Also, if one has the money and the means to purchase a fine vintage bow or instrument, power to them.  Yes, a great violin or bow will help you grow and technical considerations, often unknown to even the most seasoned musicians, are indeed important, but the point I want make here is that the musician makes the music, the musician is the artist and if one is not in touch with herself and her real goals, it will be nearly impossible to find the right partner. This is a decision that demands logic, self-knowledge and instinct.

Lastly let me return to the real world of economics. The fetishization and commodification of the instrument or bow is an unhealthy phenomenon financially in most cases. The concept that older or newer is better, that the more expensive an item is, the better its inherent quality, must be discarded. Players in music competitions are told that they played well but need a more “important“ instrument to succeed, dealers push old Italian violins as great investments, and modern makers publish studies that show their premium priced new instruments are superior to vintage examples – the field is filled with such examples. The questions are more fundamental ones: What are the qualities of a good violin or bow? Who am I as an artist and what do I want?

Being a musician in this world is hard enough, but the drive for artistic self-expression and all the power and connection with the sublime it can bring is too important for us to enslave ourselves financially to these music making tools. Student debt compounded by instrument purchase debt stand in the way of artistic and personal well-being. Often times the thing we seek is not to be found in the next violin shop you are heading to or in the next swipe of the finger: like so much in life it is often already in your hands or right there in front of you, yours for the taking if can only see it.

Links:

https://www.elbowmusic.org/single-post/2014/06/26/Arnold-Steinhardt-Dont-put-your-parents-in-hock-to-buy-a-violin

http://blog.sharmusic.com/blog/bid/103581/Me-and-My-Violin-by-Arnold-Steinhardt

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Vichy Auction Report 2017

The hammer fell and the crowd in the auction house erupted into applause and cheers. A bow by FX Tourte had just broken all world records and sold for €465,000, or €576,600 including auction fees – or 685,995 US dollars. The previous record for another Tourte bow, at an auction at Beares in London in 2015, was 288,960 USD. However a sense of unease came over me and I couldn’t help feeling that the professional dealers from all over the world that day at Vichy Enchères were busy celebrating their own imminent demise, clapping their way to obsolescence.

I had traveled from Chicago to Vichy France to attend three days of auctions in an attempt to buy some bows and violins to sell at my shop. I’d attended many different auctions here in the States and in other countries, but this was my first time to the largest auction of stringed instruments in France. Of course in previous years I had looked at the lots made available online and checked the published results, but one can learn so much more with an in-person visit.

The auction was professionally run and the people who work there were very helpful and friendly. I also have to say that the bows and instruments offered were of incredible quality compared to other auctions I’ve attended. I found the listings, especially for the bows, to be extremely detailed and the descriptions of damage or alterations incredibly accurate. The actual proceeding at the auctions was smooth and efficient.

Over the three days of auctions, the highlight being the sale of the Bernard Millant collection where a gold and tortoiseshell Sartory Exposition violin bow sold for a world record price of $223,000, I was continually taken aback by what could be called the irrational enthusiasm of the buyers. It is unclear how exactly the very high wholesale prices realized at Vichy will affect the market except to say that we will definitely be seeing a surge in the cost of French bows of every level in retail violin shops around the world. Along with greater valuation there will be undoubtedly an increase in price gouging, over attribution as well as outright fraud.

An interesting trend was the pricing on nickel mounted maker branded, shop branded and unbranded French bows. It it important to reemphasize here that auctions are buyer beware environments, where the official auction descriptions are not to be taken as gospel, but simply as potential guides to authenticity. Here dealers seemed to buy with abandon, with an over reliance on the auction descriptions. This is not to say that Raffin and the others he works with at Vichy are not world renown experts on French violin bows, it is simply to point out that there is a profit motive at work and as with anything as valuable and esoteric as bows for stringed instruments, it always pays to err on the side of caution. There was a time when nickel mounted French bows were amazing deals as they were completely overlooked by experts and dealers alike. This is now officially over. Many examples sold at wholesale prices which eclipsed the retail prices of similar bows currently offered at my shop.

After I returned I checked in with an acquaintance who works at the top of her field in the world of fine art insurance and appraisal. Her take was that there is currently so much money and demand in the primary art markets that collectors are now looking at secondary and tertiary markets for investment. With increasingly large pools of money in the possession of decreasing numbers of humans, this excess of capitol seeks outlets for speculation. What this trend of commodification means for pricing and the culture of the violin business is hard to predict with precision, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the overall effect on working musicians, students and ultimately violin shop owners themselves won’t be wonderful.

Beauty, Imagination, and the Sublime

Versão em português segue versão em inglês

Beauty, Imagination, and the Sublime

Clara Takarabe

Presented at the Festival de Musica de Santa Catarina, January 2018

In the first lecture, we looked to the Odyssey for a metaphor about surviving the vicissitudes of the musical vocation. Today, we will again consider our calling, asking questions about the nature of that call, where it can lead us, and what we manifest in response.

To be musicians, we must learn to express ourselves, but we must also understand clearly why we do what we do, and why it is absolutely essential to bring music into this world.

In the previous lecture, Audre Lordes’ sense of the erotic helped us to examine damaging ideas of success and failure, and provided clues for developing an embodied practice situated in the context of human flourishing. Recall Lordes’ definition of the erotic as “a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.”

For philosopher and classicist Jonathan Lear, the erotic is “a basically Platonic conception that, in our finite condition of lack, we reach out to the world in yearning, longing, admiration, and desire for that which (however mistaken) we take to be valuable, beautiful, and good.” Lear says “we are born into this world longingly,” instinctively reaching out for the good before we even know what it is—a form of radical faith.

That yearning for the valuable, the beautiful, and the good governs our lives strongly as musicians. A profound encounter with beauty, like Odysseus’s encounter with the sirens, sets us on a journey that passes through desire, wonder, imagination—and back to beauty again.

What does beauty do to us?

Beauty, embodied in music, flows into us, comes to be within us, and then passes away. For a moment, we possess beauty, and then as quickly as it has come to rest inside our senses, it is gone. It leaves us in a state of vivid awareness—painful or joyful, or both—but, having just shook our very being, its evanescence leaves us in a state of awe and yearning.

I vividly remember listening to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 as a child, each time feeling bewildered by its beauty, feeling pained at its innocence, feeling a sense of eternity, a sense of the cessation of the world, and an incredible yearning to grasp, to embody, and to become one with what I heard. I was filled with questions.

“How is this even possible?” I asked. “What am feeling? What does it mean? Why do these sounds of innocence and lyricism make me feel like my heart is breaking?” This traumatic encounter with beauty brought me face to face with a mystery that demanded exploration. I was filled with questions but also with a desire to create the sounds that embodied such beauty.

By evoking desire, beauty awakens us. Suddenly, we find ourselves present and open, with a willingness to explore the unknown. We sense that there is more to be understood and grasped, and we feel our minds thirsting for expansion. Beauty provokes a state of wonderment, and, as Socrates says in Plato’s Theaetetus, “Wonder is the only beginning of philosophy.”

In wonderment, there is not only bedazzlement, but with it a sense of being plunged into darkness, into a sudden sense of unknowing. Welsh philosopher John Llewelyn says wonder “both opens our eyes wide and plunges us into the dark.” In Greek, the word for “truth” is aletheia. Lethe means concealment and hiddenness, and the prefix a means “without,” so aletheia is something coming to light from concealment, hiddenness, or forgetfulness.

Wonderment is the Socratic “stingray” that jolts us into radical uncertainty. A wide-open sense of wonderment can also be frighteningly vertiginous, but we must understand how fortunate we are to be uncertain. Wonderment is an extraordinary state of mind. Unlike the obstructed mind, the bedazzled mind is open, vivid, and awakened; it has dropped its armor, opened its doors, and has let in the foreign and the enigmatic. It is only in this state that we can start asking questions about what beauty is and why it is important, how is it constructed, and how it can be created.

Our relationship as musicians to beauty is not only about grasping or attaining beauty, even if we passionately wish to. Rather, it is a two-way process where the discovery that transcendent beauty can exist in one area of the world also illuminates other parts of the world, showing us what might be.

Wonder is an experience replete with a sense of contradiction. In wonder, we contemplate the beauty outside of us, and in this state of contemplation, beauty is within us. This mystery of being both apart from and a part of something greater than ourselves is the mystery of union, and opens us up to new possibilities of integration.

But wonder is not merely a sense of awe or finding ourselves facing an enigma and confronting uncertainty. Wonder sets us free to imagine. Wonder is the unbinding of what we know so that we can know more.

Practicing imagination: what is it to practice beauty in imagination?

How many times has imagination allowed us to survive in this world? How many of us are here because the imagined beauty of music allows us to bear our suffering day by day?

Imagination is rebellion. In imagination, one asks, What is inside me? What worlds will I uncover in my search for beauty? What must absolutely be expressed? In what way should I live?  Imagination allows you to hold inside yourself a world that does not yet exist.

By imagining something more beautiful, something better, we reject our present reality. When we imagine ourselves dripping with beauty, we are not fools dreaming of utopia, we are co-creators of the world we want to see, the world as it should be.

Imagination should not be confused with escapism. Rather, in times of tragedy, imagination is, as Hannah Arendt stated, a “reconciliation with reality.” The moral force of imagining another world is fundamental to making judgments on our world, and it is central to resisting evil. Perhaps it is the only reconciliation possible with a reality that is often so violent and debased.

There is an intimate relationship between this process and trauma, which is the embodied experience that this is just really not the way things should be.

In 2001–2002, I took a break from performance and headed the string department at the National Conservatory of Palestine, a period of intense violent conflict between Israel and Palestine. The year was brutal and filled with despair: thousands of people were killed and thousands more injured. The school had lost much of its faculty during the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada. As Israel responded with Operation Defensive Shield, the city I lived in was besieged by hundreds of tanks, and F-16s dropped massive bombs. The siege dragged on for months, with days of continuous shelling followed by periods of eerie silence bereft of the sounds of normal life. My experience ranged from cowering on the floor as my house shook from shelling to enduring weeks of quiet hunger and silence under military curfew. In the midst of this horror, my students radiated a greater and more intense need for beauty, for an alternative to the world they experienced.

One day in December, I had arranged a special day for the hardest-working students to spend five guided hours learning about embodied practice (which I discussed in my previous lecture). Early that morning, while it was still dark, an Apache helicopter gunship firing missiles into the radio station on the hill just above my home shook me abruptly awake.

In the ensuing chaos, no one knew whether the session would be called off or not, and I decided to make my way to the conservatory. Waiting there for me was the small cadre of violin students, exasperated that I was late. Their desire for beauty was not going to be stopped by the morning’s shelling. All day, I marveled at their resolve not to be cowed, not to let the political situation take away their urge to create. Today most of these students are still living the life of music.

When I think of what they went through, I think of poet and critic John Berger’s phrase, “undefeated despair,” by which he meant that, in such times, we learn to despair properly and yet remain undefeated to love and live through beauty.

But my experience in the Palestinian Territories wasn’t my first encounter with war, and with the ability of beauty—summoned into being in this world through an artist’s imagination—to offer solace and a vision of a better world.

Born in the chaos of World War II, my father’s traumatic wartime experiences filled my childhood with turmoil and physical violence. War was present every day in my life, as my father relived his war experiences in a raw, unprocessed form.

But my father loved Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. Listening to it together, my father and I would exit the war, hearing in the music the beauty of nature, its peace, its rolling meadows and streams. Beethoven’s beauty brought emotional integration to the fragmentation of memory and time wrought by war. To war’s chaos, this beauty brought stillness and quietude.

Before the music began, I would feel like my ordinary self. With the first notes, my entire body released the uncertainty and tension that I so often held. Beauty brought wholeness and a sense of safety to me. For my father, beauty unveiled something that was deeply hidden within him: a peaceful, beauty-loving self, a tender self. My father’s communion with beauty helped me see who he truly was.

As Socrates said, “beauty begets beauty.” By sharing his love of Beethoven’s beauty with me, my father showed me the hidden side of himself and allowed me to understand him as the whole human being that he is amidst his brokenness. Without Beethoven’s imagination to create such beauty, I would never have had the opportunity to cherish this part of my father.

As a child, imagination provided me with a safe place of intimacy and nurturance, away from the harrowing intimacy of violence. In this holding place I was nurtured with beauty and tenderness, and from this place I could take a stand against the real world. Painter Paul Klee calls this “Zwischenwelt,” an interworld, “midway between an objective exterior domain and a subjective, internal imaginary realm, a natural world but one that in ordinary experience is not seen—an invisible nature in potentia, a possible world made visible through art.”

I remember listening to the Bach Third Sonata Largo as child. My knees buckling, I sank to the floor, stunned by what I was hearing. The stillness, presence, and utter tenderness of the Largo spoke to my incredible need for closeness and love. This daily reality of delving into music and the musical imagination helped me survive—even to thrive—the years until I was old enough to leave the life of mind-numbing violence.

Loving beauty and living through wonder and imagination gave me an incredibly rich life and a path to envision something much better than the status quo. I believe that this functioned in a similar way for my students in Palestine as they lived in undefeated despair.

Beauty is part of a dynamic, cyclical process. Through the practice of imagination, beauty becomes not just something we wish for, it is something that we do. It is a profound act of creation.

Imagination brings to conceptual life one’s dreams, hopes, and desires, but it is through craft, technique, and learning that it gains reality and substance outside oneself. Little by little, we bring into our minds new ideas, new beauty. Through struggle, desire, nurturance, trial and error, exploration, and much conversation, we make real what was not in existence before.

Then your imagined beauty can be shared and experienced in community with others, which gives you the power to transform not only yourself, but the world.

TRANSITION TO SUBLIME

We’ve talked about how beauty and imagination can transform violent circumstances, and our relationship as musicians with the expression of beauty and truth. There is yet another world that musicians step into on occasion, and, I would say, by accident.

Time and the Sublime

The sublime moment is not merely a beautiful moment, but an experience in which time is altered. Unlike the emerging now, which is already passing away the moment it is born, the sublime has qualities of timelessness. Ordinary time is final and inflexible; it behaves like an arrow which moves relentlessly in one direction, it marches inexorably forward. Time in its linearity has its own force and rhythm, and we are often at odds with it.

This sort of rhythm governs our lives, often for the worse, and at best without doing harm. Sociologist Roberto Cipriani describes the inexorable march of time:

“Time can devour everything, time can overtake what has already been, time can sunder itself from the past for good, without turning back. It grinds event after event, returning each one to the bowels of the earth from which it was born, condemning each to oblivion, to the river Lethe, that is, to forgetfulness. But above all, time is, by its very nature, un-stoppable.”

We are plagued by time: having no time spare, having too much time to wait, time that feels too empty or too full, the essential meaninglessness of time. Time often seem to come in vast quantities of soundbites and disconnected fragments, giving us a sense of chaos and anxiety. This fragmented sense of time is a real limitation to creating meaning in our lives. The kind of time we need to find insights for our creativity and self-expression is not the same as the time dictated by the clock or pattern of industriousness.

This fragmentation of time is a result, in part, of the commodification of time, in which time is bought and sold, cut up, divided, packaged—and in some sense, destroyed. Instead of owning time, we have become enslaved to it and trapped within it. Time has ceased to be whole, and so have we. Postmodernity has taken time away from us as human beings, we no longer possess it in an ordinary sense, and this has brought an emptiness and absurdity to the way we live. Jean Francois Lyotard highlights in his thinking on time that so much of nothing happens in ordinary time and this is cause for anxiety. Our sense of broken time robs us of the ability to create a reality that can perceive as making sense or tangible in a meaningful way.

SUBLIME TIME

Time, though, is precisely our domain as musicians. There is a time where time is not a devouring, banal, or destructive experience. Unlike chronological time, in the sublime we enter a different universe of time. It is a time in which, as Edmund Burke writes, there is an experience that points in multiple directions simultaneously, moving forward and backward in time at once. There exists a stillness of the present moment which does not lead to the next moment—an infinite now. We feel an intensification of being and our own presence. We may be haunted by a sublime moment we’ve had, referring back to it repeatedly, the infinite moment having left a permanent mark on the heart.

EFFORT

Countless times, I have struggled to play passages physically, but when the particular moment arrived, such as in Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe, I have found my hands warm, flushed with blood. Suddenly all difficulties have been washed away as if they had never existed. What was heretofore difficult and labored becomes effortless in the sea of sound and emotion.

Again, an enigma. French poet Nicolas Boileaux-Despreaux, who translated Longinus’ work On the Sublime, spoke of this moment as being unteachable and unlearnable. The sublime, thank goodness, is something we cannot learn, even though clearly it comes from years of discipline and learning, as paradoxical as that is. It is an occurrence that is accidental, beautiful, otherworldly. We learn so much from our toiling at our art, we know how much art demands of us, consumes us, steals from us—but it is a relief to know there is something beyond labor and skill that we can take part in. This moment is not created by the perfection of technique or a respect for rules within our art; it is something beyond.

In the sublime, time stops and is filled with a sense of the eternal as well as infinity. It reaches back into the distant past through to the expanse of the far future. Often, people are reminded of birth as well as death in the occasion of the sublime. We may feel a keen sense of our mortality and the fragility of life, evokes a still tenderness and an acceptance of death—and of the many things in life that often seem unacceptable but are unavoidable.

Perhaps one can say that, in the moment of the sublime, we have found a way to consent to having been born, remaining alive, and then dying. After spending so much of our energy  rebelling against these conditions, in the sublime we cease fighting against ourselves. This moment is still, it is vast, it is oceanic.

In my experience of the sublime, I feel a clash of emotions— joy, grief, heartbreak, gratitude–wash over me. My heart feels like it is expanding to a sense of openness and being broken at the same time. To paraphrase Lyotard, it is an experience that shows the liminality of one’s experience in the context of what is.

KENOSIS AND BELONGING

In the spring of 2002, while teaching at the Conservatory of Palestine, I played a concert in Bethlehem with members of the Berlin Staatskapelle, who had organized to bring music to areas of war. The siege was over, and the town had been under curfew for more than 40 days. We chose the repertoire carefully, for its beauty and simplicity, to respond to the needs of children who had been bombarded for weeks.

I felt no sense of anxiety, my mind was silenced, there were no questions. I gazed with quietude on the faces in the audience, feeling complete communion.

In the performance, it ceased to be a performance but the experience of being; I felt the emptying of the self. I was no longer a particular individual, unique in particular ways, the outer bounds of my sense of self had dissolved or enlarged. I felt the expanse of time and being, a sense of completeness and wholeness. I belonged not to myself but to the moment and to the children, and I was humbled to be there.

I experienced the sublime— the feeling of effortlessness, of transcending the physical act of technique, of grasping the whole of being. I felt one with the music, and I felt one with the faces I gazed on. I could see that they were fed from a place of deep need, and that, for now, the children were undefeated in despair.

This concert was for me, a moment of transfiguration, I have never been the same since.

______________________________________________________________________

BELEZA, IMAGINACAO E O SUBLIME

CLARA TAKARABE

Festival de Musica de Santa Catarina 2018

Bem vindos ao segundo seminário. A princípio, a palestra foi intitulada “O sublime e o transcendental”. No entanto, ao continuar pesquisando e refletindo, meu tema de abordagem passou por uma metamorfose e eu me vi escrevendo algo inesperado. Então, acredito que o título revisado seja “Beleza, imaginação e o sublime.”

Beleza, imaginação e o sublime

No primeiro seminário, nós vimos Odisseia como uma metáfora a respeito da sobrevivencia às vicissitudes da vocação musical. Hoje, nós iremos novamente considerar nosso chamado, nos perguntando questões sobre a natureza dessa vocação, para onde nos pode levar e o que manifestamos em resposta.

Para sermos músicos, precisamos aprender a nos expressar, mas também devemos entender claramente porque fazemos o que fazemos, e porque é absolutamente essencial trazer música para este mundo.

No seminário anterior, o senso do erótico de Audre Lorde nos ajudou a examinar ideias prejudiciais de sucesso e fracasso, e ofereceu pistas para o desenvolvimento de uma prática incorporada situada no contexto do florescimento humano. Lembre a definição do erótico de Lorde como “um lugar entre a incipiente consciência de nosso próprio ser e o caos de nossos sentimentos mais fortes”.

Para o filósofo e classicista Jonathan Lear, o erótico é “uma concepção basicamente platônica que, em nossa finita condição de falta, alcançamos no mundo em anseio, cobiça, admiração e desejo por aquilo que (embora equivocados) tomamos por ser valioso, belo e bom”. Lear diz que “nós nascemos neste mundo ansiosamente”, instintivamente procurando alcançar o bom antes mesmo de sequer sabermos o que é — uma forma de fé radical.

Esse anseio pelo valioso, pelo belo e pelo bom governa nossas vidas como músicos. Um encontro profundo com a beleza, como o encontro de Odisseu com as sereias, nos coloca em uma jornada que passa por meio de desejo, admiração, imaginação — e de volta novamente à beleza.

O que a beleza faz conosco?

A beleza, incorporada na música, flui para dentro de nós, chega para estar conosco e então morre. Por um momento, nós possuímos beleza, e então, tão rápido quanto ela vem para descansar dentro de nossos sentidos, ela se vai. Ela nos deixa em um estado de vívida consciência — dolorosa ou contente, ou ambos — mas, tendo acabado de nos chacoalhar nosso próprio ser, sua evanescência nos deixa em um estado de temor e anseio.

Eu me lembro vividamente de ouvir ao Concerto para Piano No. 27 de Mozart quando criança, de cada vez me sentir perplexa por sua beleza, de me sentir dolorida por sua inocência, de sentir um senso de eternidade, um senso de cessação do mundo e um incrível anseio para alcançar, para incorporar e para me tornar uma com aquilo que ouvia. Eu estava repleta de perguntas.

“Como isso sequer é possível?” Eu me perguntava. “O que estou sentindo? O que isso significa? Porque esses sons de inocência e lirismo me fazem sentir como se meu coração estivesse se partindo?” Esse encontro traumático com a beleza me trouxe face a face com um mistério que demandava exploração. Eu estava cheia de perguntas, mas também de um desejo de criar os sons que incorporavam tamanha beleza.

Ao evocar desejo, a beleza nos desperta. De repente, nós nos encontramos presentes e abertos, com uma disposição para explorar o desconhecido. Nós sentimos que há mais para ser compreendido e agarrado, e sentimos nossas mentes sedentas por expansão. A beleza provoca um estado de espanto e, como Sócrates diz no Theaetetus de Platão, “espanto é o único início da filosofia”.

No espanto não há apenas o sombrio, mas um senso de ser mergulhado na escuridão, em um repentino senso de desconhecimento. O filósofo galês John Llewelyn diz que o espanto “tanto abre bem nossos olhos quanto nos mergulha na escuridão”. Em grego, a palavra para “verdade” é aletheia. Lethe significa encobrimento e ocultação, e o prefixo a significa “sem”, então, aletheia é algo que vem à luz de um encobrimento, da ocultação, ou do esquecimento.

O espanto é a “arraia” socrática que nos chacoalha para a incerteza radical. Um senso bem-aberto de espanto pode ser também assustadoramente vertiginoso, mas devemos entender quão afortunados somos por termos incerteza. O espanto é um estado extraordinário da mente. Ao contrário de mente obstruída, a mente deslumbrada é aberta, vívida e desperta; ela largou sua armadura, abriu suas portas e deixou entrar o estrangeiro e o enigmático. É apenas nesse estado que podemos começar a fazer perguntas sobre o que é a beleza e porque ela é importante, como ela é construída e como ela pode ser criada.

Nosso relacionamento como músicos com a beleza não é apenas sobre agarrar e atingir a beleza, mesmo que desejemos isso apaixonadamente. Antes, é um processo de dois sentidos em que a descoberta de que a beleza transcendental que pode existir em uma área do mundo também ilumina outras partes do mundo, nos mostrando o que pode ser.

O espanto é uma experiência repleta de um senso de contradição. Deslumbrados, nós contemplamos a beleza fora de nós mesmos e, nesse estado de contemplação, a beleza dentro de nós. Esse mistério de se estar além de e sendo uma parte de algo maior que nós mesmos é o mistério da união e nos abre para novas possibilidades de integração.

Mas o espanto não é meramente uma sensação de admiração ou de nos encontrar enfrentando um enigma e confrontando a incerteza. O espanto nos deixa livre para imaginar. O espanto é o desligamento daquilo que sabemos para que possamos saber mais.

Praticando imaginação: o que é praticar beleza na imaginação?

Quantas vezes a imaginação nos permitiu sobreviver neste mundo? Quantos de nós estamos aqui porque a beleza imaginada da música nos permite suportar nosso sofrimento a cada dia?

Imaginação é rebelião. Na imaginação, uma pessoa se pergunta: o que está dentro de mim? Que mundos irei descobrir em minha busca por beleza? O que precisa ser absolutamente expressado? De que forma devo viver? A imaginação lhe permite segurar, dentro de si, um mundo que ainda não existe.

Ao imaginar algo mais belo, algo melhor, nós rejeitamos nossa realidade presente. Quando nos imaginamos exalando beleza, nós não somos bobos sonhando uma utopia, nós somos co-criadores do mundo que queremos ver, o mundo como deveria ser.

A imaginação não deve ser confundida com escapismo. Antes, em tempos de tragédia, a imaginação é, como Hannah Arendt relatou, uma “reconciliação com a realidade”. A força moral de imaginar outro mundo é fundamental para se fazer julgamentos sobre nosso próprio mundo, e é central para se resistir ao mal. Talvez essa seja a única reconciliação possível com a realidade que é frequentemente tão violenta e degradada.

Há uma relação íntima entre esse processo e o trauma, que é a experiência incorporada de que essa simplesmente não é a maneira como as coisas deveriam ser.

Em 2001-2002, fiz uma pausa na performance e comandei o departamento de cordas no Conservatório Nacional da Palestina, um período de intenso conflito violento entre israelenses e palestinos. O ano foi brutal e repleto de desespero: milhares de pessoas foram morta e outras milhares foram feridas. A escola perdeu grande parte de seus profissionais durante a rebelião palestina conhecida como Segunda Intifada. Quando Israel respondeu com a Operação Escudo de Defesa, a cidade em que eu vivia foi sitiada por centenas de tanques e F-16s lançaram bombas maciças. O cerco se estendeu por meses, com dias de bombardeio contínuo seguidos por períodos de estranho silêncio desprovidos dos sons da vida normal. Minha experiência variou desde me encolher no chão enquanto minha casa tremia por conta dos bombardeios a suportar semanas de fome quieta e silêncio sob o toque de recolha militar. Em meio a esse horror, meus alunos irradiavam uma maior e mais intensa necessidade por beleza, por uma alternativa ao mundo que experienciavam.

Um dia, em dezembro, eu organizei um dia especial para os alunos mais aplicados para que passassem cinco horas guiadas aprendendo sobre prática incorporada (a qual discuti em meu seminário anterior). Cedo, naquela manhã, enquanto ainda estava escuro, um helicóptero Apache de artilharia disparando mísseis na estação de rádio na colina logo acima da minha casa fez com que ela tremesse, acordando-me abruptamente.

No caos que se seguiu, ninguém sabia se a sessão seria cancelada ou não, e eu decidi seguir meu caminho até o conservatório. Esperando por mim estava o pequeno quadro de estudantes de violino, exasperados porque eu estava atrasada. Seu desejo por beleza não seria interrompido pelo bombardeio da manhã. O dia todo, fiquei maravilhada por sua resolução de não serem intimidados, por não deixarem a situação política tirar seu fervor por criar. Hoje, a maioria desses alunos ainda vive a vida da música.

Quando eu penso naquilo pelo que passaram, eu penso na frase do poeta e crítico John Berger, “desespero invicto”, pela qual ele queria dizer que, em determinados momentos, nós aprendemos a nos desesperar apropriadamente e ainda permanecermos invictos para amar e viver através da beleza.

Mas minha experiência nos Territórios Palestinos não foi o meu primeiro encontro com a guerra e com a habilidade da beleza — convocada a estar neste mundo por meio da imaginação de um artista — de oferecer conforto e uma visão de um mundo melhor.

Nascido no caos da Segunda Guerra Mundial, as experiências traumáticas dos tempos de guerra de meu pai encheram minha infância com tumulto e violência física. A guerra estava presente todos os dias da minha vida, conforme meu pai revivia suas experiências de guerra de uma forma bruta, não processada.

Mas meu pai amava a 6ª [sexta] Sinfonia de Beethoven. Ouvindo juntos, meu pai e eu saíamos da guerra, escutando na música a beleza da natureza, sua paz, seus prados móveis e suas correntezas. A beleza de Beethoven trouxe integração emocional à fragmentação da memória e do tempo forjada pela guerra. Para o caos da guerra, essa beleza trouxe estabilidade e quietude.

Antes de a música começar, eu me sentia como o meu eu ordinário. Com as primeiras notas, meu corpo inteiro liberava a incerteza e a tensão que eu tantas vezes guardava. A beleza trouxe totalidade e um senso de segurança para mim. Para meu pai, a beleza revelou algo que estava profundamente escondido dentro dele: um eu pacífico, amante da beleza, um eu afetuoso. A comunhão de meu pai com a beleza me ajudou a ver quem ele realmente era.

Como Sócrates disse, “a beleza gera beleza”. Ao compartilhar seu amor pela beleza de Beethoven comigo, meu pai me mostrou seu lado escondido e me permitiu compreendê-lo como o ser humano inteiro que ele é em meio à sua fragmentação. Sem a imaginação de Beethoven para criar tamanha beleza, eu jamais teria tido a oportunidade de estimar essa parte de meu pai.

Quando criança, a imaginação me proporcionou um espaço seguro de intimidade e estímulo, longe da angustiante intimidade da violência. Nesse local de espera eu era nutrida com beleza e ternura, e desse lugar eu podia tomar uma posição contra o mundo real. O pintor Paul Klee o chama de “Zwischenwelt”, um intermundo, “um ponto intermediário entre um domínio exterior objetivo e um subjetivo, reino imaginário interno, um mundo natural, mas que não é visto na experiência ordinária — uma natureza invisível in potentia, um mundo possível tornado visível pela arte”.

Eu me lembro de ouvir à 3ª [Terceira] Sonata Largo de Bach quando criança. Meus joelhos encurvados, eu afundei no chão, atordoada com o que estava ouvindo. A quietude, a presença e a ternura absoluta do Largo falou diretamente com minha incrível necessidade por proximidade e amor. Essa realidade diária de escavar a música e a imaginação musical me ajudaram a sobreviver — até a crescer — os anos até ter idade suficiente para sair da vida de violência que adormecia a mente.

Amar a beleza e viver através da admiração e da imaginação me deram uma vida incrivelmente rica e um caminho para vislumbrar algo muito melhor que o status quo. Eu acredito que isso funcionou de maneira similar para meus alunos na Palestina enquanto viviam em um desespero invicto.

A beleza é parte de um processo dinâmico, cíclico. Através da prática da imaginação, a beleza se torna não apenas algo que desejamos, mas algo que nós fazemos. É um ato profundo de criação.

A imaginação traz para a vida conceitual os sonhos, as esperanças e os desejos de um indivíduo, mas é por meio da construção, da técnica e da aprendizagem que adquire realidade e substância fora do indivíduo. Aos poucos, nós trazemos às nossas mentes novas ideias, nova beleza. Através da luta, do desejo, da nutrição, da tentativa e do erro, da exploração e de muita conversa, tornamos real aquilo que não estava em existência antes.

Assim, sua beleza imaginada pode ser compartilhada e experienciada em comunhão com outros, o que lhe dá o poder de transformar não apenas você mesmo, mas o mundo.

TRANSIÇÃO PARA O SUBLIME

Nós falamos sobre como a beleza e a imaginação podem transformar circunstâncias hostis, e sobre nosso relacionamento como músicos com a expressão da beleza e da verdade. Há ainda outro mundo com o qual músicos se deparam ocasionalmente, e, eu diria, por acidente.

Tempo e o sublime

O momento sublime não é meramente um momento belo, mas uma experiência em que o tempo é alterado. Ao contrário do agora emergente, que já está partindo no momento em que nasce, o sublime tem a qualidade de atemporalidade. O tempo ordinário é final e inflexível; ele se comporta como um arco que se move implacavelmente em uma direção, marcha inexoravelmente para a frente. O tempo em sua linearidade tem sua própria força e ritmo, e nós estamos frequentemente em desacordo com ele.

Esse tipo de ritmo governa nossas vidas, frequentemente para o pior e, na melhor das hipóteses, sem causar danos. O sociólogo Roberto Cipriani descreve a marcha inexorável do tempo:

“O tempo pode devorar tudo, o tempo pode ultrapassar o que já foi, o tempo pode separar a si mesmo do passado permanentemente, sem se voltar para trás. Ele esmerila evento atrás de evento, retornando cada um para as entranhas da terra da qual nasceram, condenando cada um ao oblívio, ao rio Lete, ou seja, ao esquecimento. Mas acima de tudo, o tempo é, por sua própria natureza, im-parável.”

Nós somos empesteados pelo tempo: não tendo tempo livre, tendo muito tempo a esperar, tempos que parecem muito vazios ou muito cheios, a essencial falta de significado do tempo. O tempo frequentemente parece vir em grandes quantidades de bites de som e fragmentos desconexos, nos dando uma sensação de caos e ansiedade. Essa sensação fragmentada de tempo é uma limitação real para criação de significados em nossas vidas. O tipo de tempo que precisamos para encontrar insights para nossa criatividade e auto-expressão não é o mesmo que o tempo ditado pelo relógio ou pelo padrão da indústria.

Essa fragmentação do tempo é um resultado, em parte, da mercantilização do tempo, em que o tempo é comprado e vendido, recortado, dividido, empacotado — e, em certo sentido, destruído. Em vez de possuir o tempo, nós nos tornamos escravos dele e presos dentro dele. O tempo cessou de ser inteiro, assim como nós. A pós-modernidade tirou o tempo de nós como seres humanos, nós não o possuímos mais em um senso ordinário, e isso trouxe um vazio e uma insensatez para a maneira como vivemos. O filosofo frances Jean François Lyotard destaca em seu pensamento sobre o tempo que tanto de nada acontece no tempo ordinário e isso é uma causa de ansiedade. Nosso senso de tempo fragmentado nos furta da habilidade de criar uma realidade que pode ser percebida como fazendo sentido ou como tangível de uma forma significativa.

TEMPO SUBLIME

O tempo, no entanto, é precisamente nosso domínio como músicos. Há um tempo em que o tempo não é uma experiência devoradora, banal ou destrutiva. Ao contrário do tempo cronológico, no sublime nós entramos em um universo de tempo diferente. É um tempo em que, como escreve o filosofo escoces Edmund Burke, há uma experiência que aponta para múltiplas direções simultaneamente, movendo-se para frente e para trás no tempo de uma só vez. Ali existe uma fixação do momento presente que não leva ao momento seguinte — um agora infinito. Nós sentimos uma intensificação do ser e nossa própria presença. Nós podemos ser assombrados por um momento sublime que tivemos, referindo-nos a ele repetidamente, o momento infinito tendo deixado uma marca permanente no coração.

ESFORÇO

Inúmeras vezes eu lutei para tocar passagens fisicamente, mas quando o momento em particular chegava, como em Daphnis et Chloe, de Ravel, eu encontrava minhas mãos aquecidas, coradas de sangue. De repente todas as dificuldades haviam sumido, como se nunca tivessem existido. O que havia sido outrora difícil e trabalhoso se tornara sem esforço no mar do som e da emoção.

Novamente, um enigma. O poeta francês Nicolas Boileaux-Despreaus, que traduziu o trabalho de Longinus sobre o sublime, falou desse momento como incapaz de ser ensinado e de ser aprendido. O sublime, felizmente, é algo que não podemos aprender, muito embora claramente venha de anos de disciplina e aprendizagem, por mais que seja paradoxal. É um acontecimento que é acidental, belo, de outro mundo. Nós aprendemos tanto de nossa labuta em nossa arte, nós sabemos o quanto a arte demanda de nós, consome a nós, rouba de nós — mas é um alívio saber que há algo para além do trabalho e da habilidade de que nós podemos fazer parte. Esse momento não é criado pela perfeição da técnica ou por um respeito às regras conquanto a nossa arte; é algo além.

No sublime, o tempo para e é preenchido por um senso do eterno, bem como da infinidade. Alcança, atrás, no passado distante, através da expansão para o futuro longínquo. Amiúde, as pessoas são lembradas do nascimento bem como da morte na ocasião do sublime. Nós podemos sentir um senso agudo de nossa mortalidade e da fragilidade da vida, evoca uma ternura imóvel e uma aceitação da morte — e das muitas coisas na vida que frequentemente parecem inaceitáveis, mas que não podem ser evitadas.

Talvez alguém possa dizer que, no momento do sublime, nós encontramos uma forma de consentir termos nascido, permanecermos vivos e, então, morrermos. Depois de gastar tanto de nossa energia nos rebelando contra essas condições, no sublime nós cessamos de lutar contra nós mesmos. Esse momento é tranquilo, é vasto, é oceânico.

Em minha experiência do sublime, eu sinto um choque de emoções — alegria, pesar, desgosto, gratidão — caírem sobre mim. Meu coração sente como se expandisse para uma sensação de abertura e de estar fragmentado ao mesmo tempo.

KENOSIS E PERTENCIMENTO

Na primavera de 2002, enquanto lecionava no Conservatório da Palestina, eu toquei um concerto em Belem com membros da Berlin Staatskapelle, que organizava levar música a áreas de guerra. O cerco tinha acabado e a cidade havia estado sob toque de recolher por mais de 40 dias. Nós escolhemos o repertório cuidadosamente, por sua beleza e simplicidade, para responder às necessidades de crianças que haviam sido bombardeadas por semanas.

Nesta performance, eu não sentia ansiedade, minha mente estava silenciada, não havia perguntas. Eu olhava fixamente com quietude para os rostos na audiência, sentindo total comunhão.

Eu senti o esvaziamento do ser. Eu não era mais um indivíduo particular, único em formas particulares, os limites externos do meu senso de mim mesma havia se dissolvido ou ampliado. Eu sentia a extensão do tempo e do ser, um senso de completude e de totalidade. Eu pertencia não a mim mesmo, mas ao momento e às crianças, e me sentia humilde por estar lá.

Eu experienciei o sublime — o sentimento de falta de esforço, de transcendência do ato físico da técnica, de agarrar a totalidade do ser. Eu me sentia uma com a musica, e me sentia uma com as faces que eu fitava. Eu podia ver que estavam sendo alimentadas de um lugar de necessidade profunda e que, por agora, as crianças estavam invictas em desespero.

Esse concerto foi, para mim, um momento de transfiguração, eu nunca fui a mesma desde então.

Dangerous Times

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Illustration by Otto Erdesz

PART ONE

I’m interested in the current culture of the violin craft, in the market as well as the plight of the individual craftsperson.  I’m curious to explore how larger social and economic systems interact with and effect the way we think about ourselves and our field.  If we are to accept that we are living in a kind of end stage of Neoliberal capitalism then we have to imagine that many of our structural, financial and cultural institutions as well as accepted realities are becoming obsolete as well.  So many fundamental societal systems, such as policing, justice, business, politics and education, rely too heavily on unexamined principles and often times ineffective or corrupt practices. These state, private and cultural institutions continue to persist despite the fact that the concepts and practices behind them are clearly often unfair, failing, and destructive. As citizens fighting an increasingly losing battle to live the American dream, it is all too easy to get lost in the daily details of survival. Underlying issues and concepts often go unexamined in the rush of daily life and in the world of truncated digital discourse. There is a feeling that the world is changing around us, exactly how is unclear, and the sense of uneasiness and fear is palpable.

If the very underpinnings of our economic system are betraying us, if they are truly creating a system where the benefits accrue to a terrifyingly small elite at the expense of the rest of us, if we are following all the rules yet still slipping backwards, where we work and work but cannot afford the cost of living, then surely it is time to look at the foundational meta issues rather than only focusing on fixing the end results.  We must see the changes for what they are: the consequences of a failing system and think rather than re-entrench – for we face real dangers.

There is a concept in American capitalism that this is a culture of competition of new ideas, but that rings false.  American institutions are more interested in business as usual.  Cultural and economic power, here meaning mainly fame and wealth, trump any ideas of true, equal competition. Capitalism, at least is how it’s practiced now, seeks mainly to narrow and control people’s choices. So the true purpose of the free market is to prevent people from making choices except for those that are presented to them. This kind of consumer conditioning, where there is the illusion of choice without much consideration of why and what we feel driven to consume, creates an environment of unconscious, often times self-destructive, behavior.  Noam Chomsky has said, “Markets are supposed to be based on informed consumers making rational choices…The point is to create uniformed consumers who will make irrational choices. That’s what advertising is all about.”

“You don’t only have explicit rules. You always, in order to become part of a community, you need some implicit unwritten rules which are never publicly recognized but are absolutely crucial as the point of the identification of the group,” states Slavov Zizek.  The real problem is when members become overly identified with the implicit rituals of a group because that’s when they begin to lose a healthy distance.  It is when this unquestioning immersion takes place that actions can become hurtful and self-destructive.  These two sets of rules, implicit and explicit, can work alongside one another in a complementary way, each legitimizing and making space for the other, the net result being the perpetuation of potentially corrupt and hurtful systems.   Here many participants are able to articulate the seeming hypocrisy of such systems, but whether they are capable of truly challenging or questioning is not guaranteed.  It is easier to find simple justifications and rationalized explanations than to face uncomfortable realities.

Hannah Arendt wrote that in the absence of healthy beliefs and communities, where we find people feeling vulnerable, lonely and constantly put-upon by the society around them, totalitarian systems can arise.  Without positive outlets for organizing the meaning of our existence, the very real suffering of life becomes increasingly inexplicable and intolerable.  Arendt believed that where there is a loss of “the meaning of life” through family, traditions, and community, people are more likely to be attracted to movements which provide life purpose.  If we are so starved for meaning that we seek our identity through movements, we are more likely to find ways of ignoring or even seeking to destroy, evidence that may be contrary to our ingrained beliefs.  Her idea was that people prefer a world that may be filled with readymade lies which feed our deep need for belonging and give us readily comprehensible explanations for the very real problems and complex crises of life.  Because we need to feel safe, secure, and not alone in a dangerous world, systems of explanation can become deeply entwined with our identities, so much so that anything that threatens false narratives so neatly provided by power structures must, at the very least, be marginalized, or at the very worst, crushed absolutely.

Antonio Gramsci wrote in his Prison Diaries, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”  There is a real sense now that the times are somehow changing, that a new order is coming into being. The signs are everywhere but they still defy coherent analysis and there is no consensus on where we are going.  If we truly are in the process of systemic change in our politics, economy and society, then we must imagine that the way we do everything, including how we run our businesses or practice our craft must evolve as well.  The quandary is, how do we change?

University of California, Berkley anthropology professor Alexei Yurchak published a book in 2006 about the final twenty years of the Soviet Union called, Everything was Forever, Until it was No More: The Last Soviet Generation in which he describes the psychological results of a political and economic system that was obviously failing, but where the majority of the citizens of the USSR held fast to the belief that everything was working as normal because they could not imagine an alternative.  He dismisses binary narratives of the end of the Soviet Union, such as East versus West, Good against Evil, or even Truth versus Propaganda.  Instead, he points to the post Stalinist USSR as a society increasingly interested in what he refers to as “performative” authoritarian social activities and forces as opposed to “constative” concepts of meaning.  Here, in the absence of a powerful leader like Stalin who stands above and apart from the official canon, as it were, editing and shaping the deeper meanings of the State’s actions and deeply held beliefs from an elevated, enlightened perspective, the USSR was transformed into a society where signs and symbols as exemplified by propaganda posters and art, official media, and public activities such as parades and participation in the Komsomol, became more important than the original ideals of Soviet socialism.  The result was a society not simply of explicit and implicit rules, where people kept their true opinions to their private selves while knowingly participating in what they consciously considered a totalitarian system out of fear, but one where the vacuum of real meaning provided a space for new ideas and ways of thinking for citizens, even while willingly participating in the official actions of the state.  Thus, when Soviet Union did finally collapse, many found themselves both taken by surprise and completely unsurprised at the same time.

Filmmaker Adam Curtis uses Yurchak’s term as the title of his 2016 BBC documentary.  In “Hypernormalization”, he outlines a world that in the last half century has transitioned from a complex network of planning, policy and realpolitik to a system based almost entirely on pretense and profit. In this new “post political” world, financiers and corporations hold the reins and politicians are reduced to simple managers.  Speaking about the finals years of the Soviet system Curtis states, “The Soviet Union became a society where everyone knew that what their leaders said was not real because they could see with their own eyes that the economy was falling apart. But everyone had to play along and pretend that it was real because no one could imagine any alternative…you were so much a part of the system that it was impossible to see beyond it.  The fakeness was hyper normal.”  As the society became more and more dedicated to maintaining the pretense of normalcy in the absence of corrective policies, the more the system unraveled, and the more the pretend “fake society” became reality.

The parallels to the current situation in the US are clear.  As the old ways of doing things fail or become increasingly dysfunctional, when real change is needed, this is precisely many decide to either just soldier on as if everything were normal, or rededicate themselves to tradition.  Even protest against the status quo is mired in outdated traditions and practices.  However, if we use Yurchak’s more sophisticated analysis of human behavior, we perhaps see that there is a growing conflict and distance between how Americans actually participate in society in their everyday activities, and the actual values and meanings behind them.  There is a sense that as we go through our performative duties, where we fully embrace the current way of being culturally (including economic norms), we are at the same time unsure of what we really stand for as a people and as a nation.  In this situation, some people do in fact retreat into simple, more traditionally approved explanations, while others fill this confusing, undefined space with new and progressive discourses, and still more simply struggle to live their everyday lives within the outdated confines of a crumbling system. Both major political parties have failed their constituencies. The liberals have sold themselves out while the conservative movement in America, having won most of its battles, and finding itself without any real enemies to rally against, has begun to show more clearly its true exploitative roots.  Both red state and blue state supporters are having trouble understanding that they have been taken advantage of and that white privilege is not enough protection as the capitalist system finally begins to consume them as well.

PART TWO

The way the violin business is managed is the result not of academic education and study, but of long and slowly evolving tradition. Students at vocational violin schools are taught only the rudiments of violin making, and almost nothing about how to market their instruments, survive in a competitive workplace, or run a violin shop. Because there is a lack of published economic theory or academic tradition, those new to the business learn informally from colleagues or employers. In many ways they are like police recruits who after graduating from the police academy learn the way policing really works on the streets, in fact being initiated into it like a gang, with its own set of rules and traditions, secrets and taboos. Much of our system may be corrupt, but not always by definition or by mere existence – it’s just that our current system tends towards corruption. In this gray space we call the violin business it’s more common that new members are corrupted or are taught to put up with certain irregularities, because, “That’s how it’s done”.  As I’ve written in previous essays, certain belief systems within the Violin Business become permanent, with members of the trade feeling the need to tow the party line as it were, rather than examine principles they take for granted.  So many in the field depend on unexplored myths and traditions for their very identity that they are incapable of critique or reform, much less revolution.  The same could be said of music students, teachers and professional players.  Those who are in fact aware of problems and have real critiques, mainly players and academics, often feel hesitant to voice their views publically or too forcefully for fear of retaliation that would threaten their professional standing and economic situation.  So we have a system of self-censorship precisely when we need more open questioning.

In our field one example of this is in the creation of certificates of authenticity.  As the supply of golden period Italian instruments and 19th century French bows dries up and disappears from the market, a new surge of enthusiasm for over-certification rises, feeding a market traditionally hungry for items that dealers have spent several generations glorifying and representing to musicians as the ne-plus-ultra of violin and bow making.  This is exactly the time when skepticism of identification and provenance should be on the rise, alongside newer more scientific methods of dating and identification.   However, the truth is that no amount of tests can replace true connoisseurship – science can never replace deep study and experience of the individual, it can only act as an assisting force – the true problem is human nature, commercialism and the manipulation of the market by its participants in an environment almost completely devoid of considered public critique.  In this volatile, desperate environment, the skeptical expert is increasingly under threat.

The view of the luthier from the outside as reflected in the numerous boring, repetitive, and overly reverential news articles and broadcasts show, is that makers are participating in a wondrous antique world of craft and tradition, carefully bringing to life beauteous culturally superior art tools for the creation of haute-culture through the medium of the most important of all styles of music: Western classical compositions.  Many new makers deeply feel this fantasy as well, picturing themselves in the sanctum sanctorum of their meticulously organized ateliers, filled with exotic tools and wood, channeling the ghosts of the Italian masters of the 17th and 18th centuries, as solitary craftsmen and women in the solemn, sacred act of creation though the grounding of working with one’s hands.   The world of advertising within the violin business reflects these fantasied projections as well – just page through any issue of Strings or Strad Magazines to see the fancy fonts and symbols, stylized depictions of violins and their constituent parts (f-holes, scrolls etc.), and the photos of well-dressed men contemplating magnificent Stradivari violins in rooms made to look like the well-appointed interiors of 18th century European mansions.

The reality, of course is more mundane and more difficult.  New makers have very little idea of how to sell their instruments. They find themselves confronted with a system dependent on dealers who most often take their instruments on consignment, at up to a 50% commission, maybe rarely purchasing them wholesale, not to mention a field filled with fraud and outright thievery. Nobody knows who they are, they have no reputation yet, and they quickly realize that it’s almost impossible to sell instruments directly to musicians. Instead of questioning the status quo or banding together to demand a better deal, they depend mainly on their personality and individual fortitude to somehow make their way forward. They also often find ways to shorten the time it takes to make their violins and bows in an effort to increase production.  Those who succeed do so not because their instruments are necessarily superior to others, but because they push harder, are better salesman, or just get a lucky break. This is not the kind of market where the cream rises to the top, not a cooperative meritocracy, but an expression of a kind of voracious individualism. Just because a maker makes a lot of noise online and/or creates a “big splash” with the musical community by putting immense effort into marketing doesn’t mean their instruments are the best.  Fame does not always mean merit, because it is manly created through marketing, and those who become the best known makers are not necessarily the most worthy. It’s important to point out that just because certain makers have a big name, industry defined “success” doesn’t mean they are doing well financially.

This culture definitely affects attitudes within the business and how its internal hierarchies are created and maintained within the trade organizations such as The Violin Society of America and the Federation of Violin and Bow Makers here in the US as well as at independent, workshop based programs such as those held at Oberlin College every summer for the past twenty years.  While there is a lot of cooperation and assistance and mentoring available, especially on technical craftsmanship issues, the truth is that it’s really up to you and your own devices whether you make a living or not.  The culture of the business provides a clear, well-travelled path to what is widely considered success for modern makers: massive self-promotion and seeking to sell one’s instrument for as much as possible, for the culture believes that higher the price a maker commands, the better their instruments or bows.  Maker’s prices have risen over the years, not usually due to demand as very few makers have anything like a waiting list, but due to increasing costs of living, the need to make some money after dealers take their large commissions, and the overall low rate of sales.  As more and more makers appear and the more and more shops & dealers enter the crowded marketplace, competition becomes the medium through which makers succeed or fail.  Instead of prices falling due to greater numbers of new instruments and bows on the market, prices have risen because many makers are struggling financially and need all the money they can get in the increasingly rare event of a sale.

Maker’s organizations, like the VSA and the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers in the US, have done very little historically to address these deeper issues.  In fact all-volunteer groups like these are responsible in many ways for the official culture of the violin business and all its constituent beliefs and practices.  It is amongst the mainly male leaders, officials, speakers and elite members of these organizations that the culture of the trade is interpreted, institutionalized, passed down to the members and further perpetuated.  While it may be acceptable to argue over proper rehairing techniques, a public debate over ethical issues of the violin market and member behavior is nearly nonexistent.  It’s also interesting to think of these organizations as primarily fame producing institutions, which exist in many ways to validate and codify artificially created homosocial hierarchies of industry approved success.  While there is certainly an educational component to these associations, mainly focused on technical issues, they manly serve as platforms for ambitious individuals dedicated to the status quo.  The irony of this generation of reverential self-importance by the leading organizations of the violin business is that the very people the field theoretically exists to serve, namely musicians, remain in large measure completely unaware of their very existence.

With regard to sales, the culture is completely unregulated and prone to corruption.  Most collectible items of value have resources available to help judge value.  If you like vintage watches for example, there is a blue book where you can identify the model and year of your old Rolex and then determine its price range depending on condition.  The closest thing the violin business has to blue books are auction results which are challenging to analyze for the inexperienced.  With an increase in more retail style auctions like Tarisio and Beare, which are designed to appeal to musicians rather than dealers, auction results are less likely to be an expression of current wholesale values.  If uninformed salesmen simply take a Tarsio auction result and double it, the result is obscenely high retail pricing.  The problem with pricing is that the price of something like a violin is whatever a dealer convinces a musician to buy it for.  Legally, issues of false identity are more important than price gouging but even misattribution is difficult and expensive to prove in a court of law.  There is also not enough connection between use value and exchange value.  If you were to ask a dealer how a rare, perfectly preserved early 19th century French bow played, they are very likely to say, “Who cares?”  The overemphasis on the antique and historical nature of instruments and bows skews and distorts questions of actual function.  Some will say that the work of certain makers is better regarded and therefor more expensive because the majority of musicians who have played these bows and violins prefer them to all others.  There are certainly examples of this, and musician’s preferences definitely have an effect on the market, but it is important to accept that valuation in the violin business is mainly a top down affair, where dealers have an outsized role.  I have known many, many players who have been taken advantage of by violin shops, often times with devastating financial and emotional results.   How long are willing to put up with such a pernicious culture?

CONCLUSION

As we move forward into uncharted waters, as citizens, business owners and crafts workers, there is an urgent need to reconsider past practices and beliefs.  Are we really comfortable with a business that mirrors some of capitalism’s worst excesses?  Do we want to continue to operate in a climate of greed, competition and self-importance?  As we and our customers struggle with an increasing sense of precarity on so many levels, it is more important than ever to find different and creative ways of running our businesses and meeting the needs of our clients.  It is necessary to resist the increasing emphasis on dealing and all the potential ethical and legal problems it entails, and refocus on our craftsmanship, expertise and the level of service we offer.  New forms of education and cooperation must be considered, with an emphasis on fair pricing, ethical practices and openness.  It is necessary to resist the selfishness of our current system and break down internal hierarchies and barriers, all of which make us increasingly limited and obsolete.  We require a more courageous critical view and far less soft-focus flummery.  There is also a need to find ways to resist the total commodification of stringed musical instruments, for these are indispensable cultural tools designed for the creation of artistic expression, rather than financial products of investment.   The project of fabricating consumerism, manipulating markets, and maximizing profit despite the consequences for others is a dead end game.   Profit almost always wins over social responsibility in Capitalist systems.  There is a real sense that things have gotten out of control, that our economy and politics no longer serve the human race, and that survival is becoming more important than living with dignity.  Now is the time for unconventional thinking, even subversive thought, because without the imagination of resistance it will be impossible to create new ways of being, to try and thrive rather than simply survive.

Explicit rules, Implicit Rules

“Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention which all events and facts arouse by virtue of their existence.”

Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgement

In many professional systems there are always those who are so dependent on what they perceive to be the status quo that any questioning or criticism is seen as a threat to their livelihood and very survival. These true believers are often the fiercest guardians and perpetuators of the entrenched dominant culture. The institutions they are a part of validate certain interpretations of what is right and what is wrong. When faced with a potentially negative analysis, the reaction is not one of the deep reflection or reconsideration, but rather an instant circling of the wagons, of coming up with and promulgating what at its best could be called knee-jerk defensive bromides. “They hate us for our freedom”, would be a prime example. This unexamined slogan has all the cultural power and seeming validity of an incessantly pervasive advertising campaign. Both speaker and listener immediately understand the context of the dismissal message. The status quo is protected, not through any kind of tortured detailed defense, but through the simplest of statements. The persuasive power of these catchy deflections is in fact almost always greater than the strength of actual, often times hard won truth. It is always expedient to believe the easy thing, while it is much more arduous to do the hard work of actual study and contemplation to come to ones own conclusions, even if, and especially because, they can call into question long held beliefs. This is why public relations and advertising has such a tremendous hold over most populations. Lies and innuendo are easier than detailed fact. Simpler and more obvious ideas are more likely to take hold in the cultural commons. If one tends to feel a certain way or believe he or she has a certain allegiance, a counterpoint or differing narrative can be threatening, or at least be perceived as threatening, especially to one’s usually fragile sense of self or economic situation. Yes, gossip and griping behind closed doors are tolerated and even encouraged as a way to blow off steam, but a public statement would be regarded a betrayal – thus the all too common code of silence and the visceral hatred of whistleblowers. While it is always important to question the motivations of the critic, it is also equally essential to consider their ideas. However, even this concept is too complex for most believers, because why should they take time to actually defend against a critique point by point if it isn’t necessary? A lazy reference to the most base, prurient possible motivation is usually more than sufficient. If one is so enmeshed in a system, one tends to idolize those they perceive as their superiors, and in such a situation it would be only natural to seek to one day attain such highly admired positions. If one is so invested in such a hierarchy, it is considered not beneficial to question it, if such a thing is even possible. In this way, great ideas and critiques are casually brushed aside with basic phrases, and systems continue, even in the face of imminent failure and disaster, especially for the true believers themselves.

MUSICIANS: Think about the system you currently find yourself in. Be it an educational institution, a professional symphony, or some kind of freelance gig, what are the underlying presumptions and systems that are simply taken for granted? Does it make sense that university string professors be required to recruit their own studios? What are the possible effects of such a system, positive or negative? What role does hierarchy play in professional symphonies? What are the official, explicit rules, and what are the implicit, unwritten rules? What are the consequences?

LUTHIERS: What are the public rules, if any, of the violin business? Why is critique or criticism oftentimes quickly dismissed with crude gossip or inaccurate comparisons to infamous, discredited predecessors? What are the other rules, never publicly recognized, which are so crucial to the identity of our trade? What the things that we quietly accept which should be questioned and challenged?

The Evolution of the Bow

 

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In Fall of 2015 I flew to London to learn more about the evolution of the bow by attending a week-long series of lectures, performances and masterclasses sponsored by Tarisio called, “L’Archet Revolutionnaire”.  Following the series an exhibition of baroque and transitional bows of all kinds by some of the world’s most famous makers was hosted at the Tarisio offices.  At the time I did post some videos on my shop’s Facebook page, but I never did get around to writing anything coherent on the matter.  The fact is that is was a unique event because it combined issues of playability and function with historical information as well as concepts of construction.  This union of form and function, informed by political, artistic, as well as economic history is sorely lacking in our field, especially in the US.  So this is my optimistic take on the program.  My cynical take?  A way to boost the value of baroque and transitional bows, which currently are underappreciated and underpriced, timed to coincide with the Fall violin auction season in London…

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An exhibition highlight catalog was published and a two-volume book set was sold including pictures of all the bows as well as some very interesting essays.  Some of these essays were later published on the Tarisio site.  I will include links to these at the end of this post.

I took some videos as I mentioned, but I also jotted down a series of very interesting notes over the week that I just re-discovered, which I will post below.  They are raw, but worth reading!  I hope you enjoy them:

Lully – regimented bowing. Heavily drilled and uniform

Corelli – looser bowing technique, less focus on actual bowing, but on sound. Long sustained sounds, difficult on bows of the time.

Bach – bowing is speech. Making words, not bowings.

Tourte family bows hug the string. Stay on the string and wrap around it. This era of bow is less articulate than preceding styles, but louder and broader musical vocabulary.

Idea that one could recognize text purely from the bowing(!). The text, then, creates the feeling of the music. The music duplicates speech.

Early symphonies – a more driving sound but with parts of baroque-like articulation. (Richter, Stamitz)

More strokes for the top third of the bow

Cramer bow would have been played with the stick totally straight. Lots of tension.

Larger sound – Salomon & Haydn – the bow more as a sound producing machine. More
volume. The drama is more inside the sound.

Beethoven – emphasizes rather “violent” strokes/accents on the bow. Invention of the ferrule, without which the hair near the frog is much more unstable and doesn’t speak as quickly.

Music developing from imitating the spoken word to more of a singing voice.

Leopold Mozart refers to the art of rhetoric when he writes about learning to play violin. He doesn’t explain this, but refers to the world of academia at the time. The rules of giving a speech (apparently quite specific and regimented), were clearly set down and he expected that these were widely known.

Cramer style bows, circa 1760s

Leonard Tourte Cramer style bow, Paris ca. 1775

Mannheim Orchestra would have used these types of bows. Mozart knew this orchestra and composed for them.

Need for heavier, higher tip. Italian style had these qualities. More power, semi quavers. Cramer was first evolution from earlier style baroque bows with small, low heads.

Cramer became obsolete in France, but continued to be popular for decades in Germany, with variations.

When bows got longer, teachers began to speak more about the fingers. Leopold Mozart, with shorter bows, writes only about the wrist.

The longer stick speaks more to the “authority of the individual”, especially in post revolution France.

In discussing the four main types of bow holds in use during the 18th century, there is a concept of trying to develop a more universal set of rules in this era, where the different styles of playing and holding the bow come together into some kind of more modern “school” which takes from the best attributes of its predecessors but creates something new. The desire was to improve performance more so than creating uniformity. Leopold Mozart complains about the quality of violins in his era and encourages mathematicians or other experts to find better principles with which to construct superior instruments.

There is no real focus on the art of public speech in the modern era. Things are heard in short clips etc., but very few modern examples of “rhetorical moments”. The idea of listening to classic speeches as way of improving ones playing. In order to move an audience, you must move yourself.

Metallic strings require more hair in order to play

Idea that Tourte bows were not meant to be used with springing strokes and have been recambered later accommodate modern playing styles. The stick was meant to be straight. Springing strokes were associated with outdated Cramer bows and that style was out of fashion by the time of FX Tourte.

Idea: since violin and bow makers seek to always test musicians or use them for testing, musicians should test bow makers & experts. Have a table of bows that have been rated by a group of professional musicians and see if the “experts” can choose the best bows, using any method other than playing.

 

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List of interesting articles associated with the Exhibition:

https://tarisio.com/archet-revolutionnaire/historical-introduction/

https://tarisio.com/archet-revolutionnaire/kai-koepp-french-or-german-bows-for-beethoven/

https://tarisio.com/archet-revolutionnaire/parisian-bow-makers-bernard-gaudfroy/

The shop’s Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Workshop-of-Eric-Swanson-695438740547547/

A Critical Voice: Laurie Niles of Violinist.com on Testing of Old v. New Violins

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Ye Olde Fiddles

The latest study by Joeseph Curtin, Fan Tao, Claudia Fritz, et al, tests older Italian violins against modern examples from the prospective of the listeners.  Which fiddles project better?  Which sound best?  Of course the study concludes that modern instruments are superior.  Those who read my postings know that I have many issues with this series of studies and I will soon respond in detail to this latest installment.  In the meantime, I have run across another critial voice, almost lost in a sea of uncritical media frenzy – namely the artcles on the subject written by Laurie Niles of Violinist.com.  In series of three postings going back a few years, she confronts the realities of what these studies mean from the prospective of musicians like herself.   Please take a look:

 

-Study Looks at Modern Violins vs. Strads and Media Goes Crazy

http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20175/21158/

 

-Violinists can’t tell a Strad from a new violin — in a 30-second guessing game

http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20144/15712/

 

-What Really Happened in that Double-Blind Violin Sound Test

http://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20121/13039/

 

 

Sour Grapes

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“The moral to this story, in my opinion, is that when you leave things unregulated, you allow the wolves to come in and game the system…”

Brad Goldstein, Investigator as quoted from the documentary Sour Grapes

Currently available on Netflix, the documentary film Sour Grapes by Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas, tells the tale of the rise and fall of wine collector and convicted wine-faker Rudy Kurniawan and exposes a market beset by speculation, rapid price growth and inevitable fraud.

See a trailer for the film here:

http://www.sourgrapesfilm.com/about/

So, why do I recommend a film on the wine auction market and fake wine on a violin business/craft blog?  Because it mirrors some of the worst excesses in the violin business.  The only difference is that in Sour Grapes, it is mainly a handful of incredibly rich wine-lovers who get screwed, while in the world of violin dealing it is string students and their families along with working musicians who are victimized by overpricing and misattributions.

This is a cautionary tale of what can happen to unregulated markets when an object such as a bottle of wine or an antique cello becomes more that just a delicious beverage or a beautiful music-making tool, but an investment to be objectified, traded, and speculated on.  In the violin world the rapid rise at the top of the market has an inflationary effect on higher priced instruments and bows, pulling them up and out of the hands of most musicians, while inexpensive Chinese made instruments of varying quaility, subject to oftentimes ridiculous profit margins by shop owners, flood the lower end of the market, pushing up prices on old trade instruments from below.  Where there is a strong profit incentive on an item that requires years of experience to understand and properly appraise, where value is judged mainly by answering complicated questions of who, when and where, there will always be bad actors whose questionable actions will infect the entire system.

Please watch this interesting film and be careful out there!

Wikipedia page on Rudy Kurniawan:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudy_Kurniawan

Good Article on the movie from The New Yorker:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-true-crime-documentary-about-the-con-that-shook-the-world-of-wine

 

 

Business Mentoring in Crafts

 

it-page-001I came across this report from the BBC on the difficulties that crafts workers have when it comes to actually running their businesses and selling their work.  Some larger luxury industry companies have been participating in a mentoring/apprenticeship scheme where crafts workers get advice on how to make a living while practicing the craft they love.

This is an issue little addressed in our own field.  Young entrants into the craft are basically on their own to find mentorships or learn about the business side by working in shops.  The lack of any real education on the financial/marketing side of our craft has serious consequences on the culture of the business.  Bad habits are created and bad practices go unexamined.  New makers and new shop workers can become discouraged and drop out of the craft altogether.

Here I must say that I have noticed an increase in lectures, specifically at the last few VSA conferences, on certain practical business issues such as the writing of insurance appraisals and on legal challenges for violin shops.  This is an encouraging trend that must continue.  I will also note that a few years ago the VSA announced a mentorship program, but as far as I know it has not actually come into being yet.

I also have noticed that other crafts related organizations here in the States do have better resources available to crafts workers than we seem to have in the violin making world.  A simple google search shows a wide variety of programs for everything from metal and brick work, to furniture making and woodturning.  The American Crafts Council, for example, has an amazing list of national and regional crafts organizations on it website.  It’s a big world out there – maybe we should reach out to our fellow crafts workers in different fields more often?

Watch the video from the BBC here:

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38931698/embed

Read the article from the BBC:

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38928869

The Walpole Crafted Initiative is the name of the program featured in the BBC report.   You can read about them here:

http://www.thewalpole.co.uk/crafted-mentees-2015

American Crafts Council List:

https://craftcouncil.org/resources/National-and-Regional-Craft-Organizations

 

 

The Great Ferrule Debate

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Note: This is an older article that exists only on my website.

As a self-employed bowmaker with years of experience, having rehaired untold thousands of bows and dealt with scores of demanding string musicians, I certainly could be referred to as a seasoned pro who has seen it all, but there is one topic which, when it rears its ugly head, still manages to make me grit my teeth in angst – the “Poofed Ferrule Controversy”. I’ve been confronted on numerous occasions by players and even dealers who insist that any freshly rehaired bow with the flat side of the ferrule anything less than perfectly flat has somehow been damaged and/or is the result of the efforts of a woefully inept craftsman. While I would be a fool to say that I haven’t seen horribly executed rehairs, where ferrules are entirely overstuffed with tangled masses of crossed hairs as well as an entire host of other atrocities, I must take a stand for my fellow dedicated craftsmen when I declare the concept of “puffed-up” ferrules to be mainly the result of the combination of a paucity of decent rehairs with an almost complete lack of knowledge on the part of musicians of how a bow is constructed and rehaired.

The ferrule is the metal piece, shaped as a half circle, that sits at the tip of the frog and serves to both strengthen the somewhat fragile wood in the tongue and keep the hair spread evenly in a fine ribbon. The baroque bow and many transitional bows had neither ferrule nor pearl slide – the hair emerged from the frog unprotected and ran down an open channel in a narrow bundle before emerging from the frog’s tongue on its journey to the tip of the bow. The hair was held in a rather narrow ribbon only by the walls of the channel in the frog. Modern music and the techniques needed to play it demanded a new bow with a concave camber and a frog with a ferrule and pearl slide behind it to better keep the hair in place when performing the new bow strokes.

The ferrule is made by soldering a half round sheet of silver to a flat sheet of silver, so that there are two invisible seams on either side. In a new bow, after the ferrule has been trimmed and cleaned up, the tongue of the frog, which is made of ebony, is then shaped to fit the ferrule. With a replacement frog for an older bow, the difficulty is increased because the ferrule must be made to fit the existing tongue. Silver comes in several different purities as well as many different thicknesses. Due to different factors, such as metal content and heating, the silver may be softer or harder. When making a modern bow, I can make sure to pick a stronger, thicker piece of silver for the flat portion of the ferrule because that part will not be backed up by the ebony of the tongue and is therefore more prone to bending when subjected to pressure. Older bows are a mixed bag and we can’t control how thin or thick or soft or hard their ferrules may be. Dominique Peccatte violin bows have ferrules seemingly as thin as paper.

How is that ribbon of hair actually held in place inside the ferrule? It stays in place thanks to a fitted a wooden wedge, so that the hair is spread wide into a ribbon which sits between the flat portion of the silver ferrule and the wedge. This wooden wedge is in turn held in place by the ebony of the tongue above it as well as the curved silver of the ferrule on top. This wedge is usually made of a slightly softer wood like willow so that the hair can press into it and stay in place as the musician uses the bow. This wedge must fit into the ferrule very precisely, because if it is too loose the ribbon of hair will bunch up in the center and the bow will not function correctly. Because of this concern, most bow makers use a single drop of glue to hold the wedge in place. However even this can fail if the wedge is subjected to very dry humidity and it shrinks.

We have the following factors: metal of various thickness and strength, a narrow slot for the hair to be held in an even ribbon necessitating a well-fit wooden wedge and finally the mass of hair itself. What happens when the hair is sandwiched between the wedge and the silver in such a manner that the hair remains in its proper position and doesn’t bunch up or push in even with steady strong pressure? Some of the hair gets pushed into the softer wood and is locked in place while some of the hair, backed by the wedge, pushes out, exerting pressure on the flat sheet of silver. The result is well executed rehair and a potentially “poofed” ferrule – depending on the thickness and hardness of the metal.

Would you rather have a flat ferrule and potentially failing rehair or a slightly pushed out ferrule and an excellent, reliable rehair? Add to that the fact that no bow loses or gains value due to an “original” or “replacement” ferrule and I believe my point is well made. The shape of the replacement ferrule as well as the thickness of the metal is determined by how the frog was made – it must conform to the ebony to fit properly. So a well-made replacement ferrule must by definition look like the original. This is why value is not affected – the same goes for replaced pearl eyes or slides. Can ferrules be damaged? Certainly – but the damage occurs slowly over time as the result of routine usage and maintenance. Sometimes the seams can come open, but these can usually be resoldered. Bows and violins are functional tools that have working parts which wear out and must be replaced or repaired as responsibly as possible until they are no longer functional – that’s just how it is.  Everything wears out with usage over time, moving from a condition of order to disorder.

PS – If any player believes that a bow with a less than flat ferrule plays poorly because of it, I’d love to hear from them!