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 Craft of The Connoisseur




Recently I ran across the website (above) of maker, restorer and expert Roger Hargrave while doing some online research.  If one clicks the “library” tab on his home page, you will find a series of incredible articles that he has written over the years for publications such as the Strad magazine.  Here you will find great essays on technical and historical issues relating to string instruments, but it is the series of pieces on the nature of connoisseurship and the violin market that I find most helpful.

His is a rare critical public voice in the current wilderness of over-commodification and increasingly unhinged pricing of violins and bows – a world where profit frequently trumps common sense and leaves musicians holding the bag.   I encourage you to look at some of the following articles he has graciously made available.

The Connoisseurs’ Craft and its Role in
Instrument Identification and Valuation
The Importance of Background Knowledge

Click to access 01_Identification_Backround_PRN.pdf


The ‘Sainton’ Controversy – Genuine or Fake?

Click to access 03_Sainton.pdf


The ‘Messiah’ Stradivari Controversy

Click to access 02_Messiah.pdf


Undercover agents

Click to access Artikel_2000_10_Strad_nota_Strad_PDF.pdf


Pry Before You Buy -Buying an Instrument

Click to access Artikel_2011_12_Pry_Before_You_Buy.pdf


The craft of the connoisseur – What makes a violin connoisseur?

Click to access Artikel_2011_05_Craft_of_Connoisseur.pdf



Market Logic

From the documentary film on the art market and forgery:

Beltracchi: Die Kunst der Fälschung

“There’s and inherent market logic that penalizes depreciation, criticism and doubt, and rewards appreciation, euphoria, and calling something a masterpiece. If someone has a paining and asks, ‘Could it be a Derain?’, the expert will say, ‘It’s a Derain.’ The auctioneer’s excited. He can earn millions from the masterpiece at auction. The expert pockets a large commission. The vendor makes money, and the buyer is excited to see a Derain reappear on the market. None of the people involved in the system want it to be a fake.”

Niklas Maak

Art Critic

“Sadly in the art world there are more people who know how to make money then there are works of art. There’s a surplus of financial interests. And enormous sums of money whirling around. The record prices for art are broken every year.”

Sofia Komarova

Gallery Manager

Interesting parallels to the violin, and more specifically, the bow market, don’t you think?

J & A Beare Starting Online Auction

IMG_1224Note: This is a personal reflection on the changing nature of the violin business.  I am in no way affiliated with J&A Beare or Charles Beare.

London dealers J & A Beare have announced that they will begin auctioning items from their shop online starting this October.   In response to what they claim is an increasing demand by customers to have their instruments and bows auctioned off rather than consigned for sale, directors Simon Morris and Steven Smith have decided to offer what they call a “small, boutique quality auction service.”  Items will also be available for immediate purchase with a “buy it now” option and will come with certificates from the firm.

It is important to note here that neither Charles Beare, nor his son are in in any way affiliated with J & A Beare and that we must assume that the creation any certificates issued by the firm does not involve the participation of Charles Beare.  In fact, Charles Beare has recently announced that he is “now able to resume normal business.”  What exactly has been going on behind the scenes is unclear – but what is crystal clear is that the noted violin expert is now independent of the firm that bares his family name.  Please see the link at the end of this article to read his full announcement.

Traditional auction houses like Christies and Skinners have added live online bidding to complement their in-house, in-person auctions, while Tarisio offers an exclusively online auction, which lasts for a number of days.   Now J & A Beare has begun a new model – that of a violin dealer offering a kind of mini internet auction with an eBay-like format, comprised exclusively of instruments associated with the shop’s own inventory.   They claim that it will “complement and enhance” their current private sales endeavors.

I predict that more and more violin shops will offer inventory online, where musicians can choose instruments and bows to purchase or have shipped for testing.  Some of the current websites, like Martin Swan Violins in Scotland, have clients purchase the instrument first, but offer a 14 day return policy.   Other shops keep a very current online list of items and prices or price-ranges so that musicians can call and make inquiries.  J & A Beare will be the first shop to actually auction off their own instruments and bows by themselves.  It will be interesting to see how it goes…








Charles Beare & Son are Back:



J&A Beares has announced “Moto Perpetuo”, a kind of continuous auction system where shop inventory is constantly on offer.  One can make an offer on an item or bid on it.  This new hybrid violin shop/auction house model attempts to meld the highly lucrative online auction world of Tarisio and say, that of a traditional multi-generational shop like Kenneth Warren & Sons.

“We wish to give a facelift to a business that has been operating under a veil of mystique and secrecy, historically leading to unnecessary controversies amongst its various competing entities. We also want to do away with the ‘buyer beware’ aspect often associated with auctions: the small number of select items offered at various times means that we are able to customize the presentation of each lot.”


The real goal, of course, is quite simply to make as much money as possible selling violins and bows.  Will it work?