This summer I attended the Oberlin Bow Making Workshop for the first time in 11 years. This and the other programs offered each summer by the VSA represent some of the best of their kind. I have been meditating on my experience there and have come up with five suggestions that would improve an already fantastic workshop.
Oberlin Bow Workshop Improvement Ideas
1) Make it easier to sign up. Currently there is no clear method of applying to join the bow making workshop – only a generic form on the VSA website that seems to apply to all the workshops. It’s also not clear what the criteria are for participation. There is no real description of what the workshop offers on the website – literally no “more details” link. Anna Hoffman of the Oberlin Program Office is the only actual human contact listed. The violin making workshop actually has its own website at violinmakersworkshop.org.
2) More inclusivity. There is a little too much of a clique feeling to the workshop, with a large core of very long-term participants and a smattering of more recent attendants. More diversity and new blood is always needed. It would be wonderful to attract bow makers from all over the world to Oberlin. Look at the range of cultures, genders and ages represented in the violin making workshop. New faces and personalities mean new energy and strengthen the workshop through different ideas, professional experience, and perspectives.
3) More curriculum. Currently the workshop represents a wonderful collection of talented makers working on bows in a collective setting. How one uses his or her time is not defined, except for the enforced participation in making a group bow or meeting other group obligations like kitchen duties. The workshop presents an amazing opportunity to observe others at work, ask questions, and to exchange techniques. However, wouldn’t it be great to build on this by adding more formal demonstrations and organized group discussions on specific topics germane to our field?
4) A consideration of function as well as form. Currently a major focus of American bow making is on quality of craftsmanship, modeling, and technique more than issues pertaining to playability and function. Never before has there been such a high standard of construction, a fact that the Oberlin Workshop has much to do with, so why not turn more of our collective focus to the technical needs of professional musicians? Our bows need to be well made and aesthetically beautiful, but they also need to work. I’m afraid that the culture of our craft has turned too much to the standard of the VSA competition bow, where musicians are not even involved in judging. If we strive to improve and understand playability as well as construction, we advance our craft and grow as makers.
5) Talk business. Without a sense of how to sell your bows or run a successful repair or sales business, none of us would make a living doing what we love. Business is not a dirty word, nor is it something to be taken for granted – the collective knowledge and years of experience represented by the participants in the workshop in this regard are a very valuable resource. Talking about how to run a better business, how to sell bows and meet the needs of customers, and how to do so in a manner that is not only ethical but personally satisfying, would be extraordinarily beneficial.
OBERLIN WORKSHOPS: Read about them at: www.vsa.to/oberlin-workshops