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 and support 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?

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Danger – Grafts on Bows

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This is a magnified picture of a graft on a bow that came thru the shop.  You can see the two different pieces of pernambuco joined together along a line running across the photo.  The darker wood at the bottom is the piece with the brand on it that was glued onto another stick.  Notice not only the difference in color, but also how the pores of the two pieces don’t match up along the glue joint.  This bow was sold at a reputable shop and has a certificate from a well-known expert and dealer.   Unfortunately I have seen this a number of times.  The graft can be hidden under the grip & wrap or it can be cleverly blended into the handle where it can be surprisingly hard to see if done well.   However, be careful when looking for grafts because pernambuco can have unusually strong grain lines that are sometimes mistaken for joints or glued cracks.  Always get an opinion from an expert.

So what’s going on?  Someone at some point decided to create a valuable bow.  They may have had access to a broken bow by a famous French maker, so they decided to carefully attach the handle end of the bow with the original brand to a stick with a head in the same style of the maker.  The frog and button may or may not be original.  Often times dealers and experts may miss these alterations and certify or sell the bow with the best of intentions.  I know, because this happened to me once.  Other times, it is a case of willful ignorance or lack of due-diligence – folks are trying to make money after all.

Always check a bow you are buying for condition issues, even if you are purchasing it from a well known dealer and it has a good certificate.  If you are buying a bow that is priced significantly lower than normal, ask yourself and the dealer why.  Make sure to ask what repairs have been made – they must be reported completely and accurately.  If the dealer fully reveals the graft or any other repairs and you still love the bow, that’s just fine as long as the price is right.

If you find yourself with a grafted bow, contact the shop you bought it from and inform them of the issue right away.  I believe that in most cases, the shop is just as much of a victim as the musician and will want to set the issue right.  The dealer should either refund you, offer a trade in for the full purchase price towards another item in the shop, or give you a partial refund if you’d like to keep the bow.  When a bow is represented to you as being in a certain condition, by a defined maker and you later find something like a graft under the wrap, the folks who sold the bow to you are absolutely obligated to fix the problem.  If they are rude, unhelpful, or deny that there is a graft, it may be time to pursue other avenues to obtain restitution.

A grafted HR Pfretzschner - what is the world coming to?!?

A grafted HR Pfretzschner violin bow – hard to believe, but true.  Can you spot the graft?  Look near the grip.