About a decade ago, perhaps in a masterclass during my undergrad as a violin performance major, I recall the discussion of what was required to be a violinist in the 21st Century. Something about the very wide range of technique needed to perform today's expansive repertoire and how being able to "do it all" these days, from baroque to contemporary, is nearly impossible... This vague recollection came back to me upon hearing the title of a discussion led by the Formosa Quartet entitled "What Does It Take To Be A 21st Century Musician?" Only ten years later, there was a lot less talk of technique and repertoire, and much more about social media, local and global communities, and crowd funding!
It's a scenario every beginner or intermediate string player finds themselves in at some point: either a string broke, the metal winding is unraveling, or they've simply decided better strings will make them finally sound like Anne-Sophie Mutter. I can tune my strings by now; I'm sure changing my strings is simple enough! With headstrong independence they place an order for the set they heard are really great and wait patiently for their new strings to arrive. In a few days, they tear open the package, sit down with their instrument and get started...
“. . . a master violin is an accumulation of many small steps, each carried out with painstaking care”
~ Rainer W. Leonhardt, Master Violin Maker, Mittenwald, Germany
While Cremona, Italy, is generally accepted as the birthplace of the violin, instruments by the great Cremonese makers quickly found themselves in the hands of skilled German craftsmen, who happened to live in a geographic and economic sweet-spot for violin making. German instruments have always made up a good portion of instruments available in the market, and the tradition goes back much further than the post-industrial era that German manufacturing is commonly associated with. Knowing some of the history of German violin making and the important towns and makers is vital for anyone beginning the process of finding and purchasing a fine instrument. The names of German makers, workshops, and towns are standard vocabulary for dealers, luthiers, appraisers, and players alike.
The history of the violin is a bit like the evolution of a migratory species. It didn't come about all in one place or all at one time; various factors influenced it's changes over centuries, and in many ways we are still writing the violin's history today, all over the world. Still, there are pivotal moments in the history of the way violins are made. One very important time and place in the influence of almost every instrument made today was 19th-Century France. Knowing a bit about violin-making in France might help you to know a bit more about your own instrument, and will certainly help anyone interested in buying a fine violin, viola, or cello to understand the wide variety in age, style, sound, and price of what's on the market.
There have been rumors about counterfeit strings for violin, viola, cello, and bass infiltrating the market for at least a decade. When I heard of "counterfeit strings", I mostly imagined packaging that looked like it came out of an Inkjet printer, and obviously cheap strings with noticeably altered thread colorations. As popular brands of strings continued to pop up online at wildly low prices, it was time to do some deep investigating. What SHAR found was very troubling: obviously inferior strings of unknown composition and origin, with nearly perfect packaging and presentation. SHAR began buying up these strings, dissecting them, showing them to manufacturers, and searching for the source of these knock-offs, which led us across three continents and deep into the shadowy world of counterfeit products and online marketplaces.
Have you ever been to an Irish pub or special gathering where a small circle of people pulled out their various instruments and just started playing, without pause, energetic and mythical sounding sets of tunes that just turn and turn into the night? The group may be as small as two people, or as large as a small orchestra, and while some people may be close friends, others are total strangers. What they all have in common are their memorization of dozens, sometimes hundreds of tunes, all shared in a common ancestry - not hereditary, but simply musical. If you play a stringed instrument and haven't been a part of what is most often called Irish session music, you absolutely must, and this St. Patrick's Day is a great opportunity. If you are hooked on Celtic fiddling, a tune book and some advice will help you in becoming one of that timeless circle of musicians.
Do you want to have a gift ready for your string teacher at your first lesson after or before Christmas? Maybe you know a string player who gigs and teaches, and you want to get them something practical that they will truly enjoy, but aren't sure exactly what? These suggestions are my top picks for string players and teachers who need some finer things in their life. Tell your teacher or colleague that you appreciate their hard work and talent!
Some people are difficult to shop for, and some are near impossible. If you're lucky, the person has an interest or a hobby that you'd love to support by gifting them something related. The only problem is that you might not be sure what that something is, whether or not they need one, or if you're totally off! When it comes to advancing string players like highschool or college students, there are some gifts that might sound like a great idea, but could essentially be useless to the person if they are already particular about brands, sizes, styles, or difficulty levels. If you are having a hard time thinking of what to get for an advancing string student who has been playing for several years, then this guide should help you to know what is a safe bet, and what you might want to leave alone! Keep in mind that I don't know the person you're shopping for, and these are just general guidelines. Average price range accompanies the recommendations for reference. As long as you're giving from the heart, I'm sure they will enjoy whatever it is you find for them!
Shopping for Beginning violin, viola, cello, or bass players doesn't have be as daunting as it may seem. If you are a parent, aunt or uncle, or just a friend of a beginner or someone who wants to start playing a stringed instrument, you may have noticed that there's a lot of stuff you need to get started, and infinite variations of each! Yes, SHAR carries over 13,000 different items for string players, but this guide should help you narrow down the whole catalog to a few really great gift options, and at varying price ranges. Whether you want to buy a big gift or a stocking stuffer, there's something here that will help you check a name off your list!