Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nicolo Amati, Violin Maker Extraordinaire & Teacher of the Greats

By Stefan Aune and Andy Fein, with image research help by Elijah Fein

In The Amati Family of Violin Makers we introduced Andrea Amati and his sons Antonio and Hieronymus. These early makers established the Amati family and the city of Cremona, Italy as preeminate violin making institutions, and Hieronymus' fifth son, Nicolò, would build on this reputation and become the greatest maker of the Amati family, producing amazing instruments and training several of the most famous makers in history.
A violin by Nicolo Amati, Cremona,Itay, 1628

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Amati Family of Violin Makers. A Cremonese Dynasty

By Andy Fein, Violin Maker and Owner, and Stefan Aune, Fein Violins, Ltd.

1560 was a long time ago, even by violin standards where an instrument is "modern" until it's about one hundred years old. In an earlier post on the Oldest Known Violin Makers, we introduced Andrea Amati, the first recorded violin maker in Cremona, Italy. Andrea leased his first shop in Cremona in 1538, and his skills and those of his descendants produced a dynasty of violin makers of the Amati name and trained the Guarneris, Bergonzis, Rugeris and a fairly skilled violin maker named Antonius Stradivarius.

circa 1590 Andrea Amati viola

The life of Andrea Amati goes so far back in history that it is difficult to pin down the exact timeline of his career. It is commonly held that Andrea learned under Gaspare da Salo in Brescia before setting up shop in Cremona, with the bulk of his work occurring in the second half of the16th century. However, in the Daniel Draley sponsored translation of Cremonese historian Carlo Bonnetti's La Genealogia degli Amati Liutai e il Primato della Scuola Liutistica Cremonese, there emerges a different story of Andrea's life. Carlo Bonnetti made use of documents produced by the Cremonese government, such as leases, marriage agreements, and contracts, to show that Andrea was established in Cremona far earlier in the 16th century, and that he was in fact much older than Gasparo da Salo. In a document from 1556 listing those Cremonese residents of the appropriate age to bear arms (15 - 50), we find Andrea's elder son, Antonio, but not Andrea himself. This would mean that Andrea was at least 50 years old in 1556, and this fact, combined with the fact that Gaspare de Salo was born in 1542, means that Andrea was about 40 years older than Gasparo and highly unlikely to have learned under him.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Wittner Finetune Pegs


By Andy Fein, Owner and Violin Maker, Fein Violins, Ltd.

Learning to tune a stringed instrument can be one of the most frustrating and expensive parts of learning to play. Most student instruments are usually set up with some type of four fine tuner configuration. And they should be! But fine tuners on the tailpiece only solves half of the tuning problem.
Wittner Finetune Pegs

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guarnerius del Gesu: Outlier Violin Maker

By Andy Fein, Owner and Violin Maker, Fein Violins, Ltd.

In my earlier blog post, The Guarnerius Family of Violin Makers, we look at the history of the Guarnerius family, starting with Andreas Guarnerius. A couple of Pietros and a few Giuseppe's later, we arrive at Bartolomeo "Giuseppe" Guarnerius 'del Gesu'.

The 'del Gesu' was attached to his name, to distinguish him from his father, Giuseppe filius (son of) Andreas, and because 'del Gesu' put the initials "I.H.S." (a Latin abbreviation for Jesus' name) and a Christian Cross on all of his instruments' labels. He used 'Joseph,' the Latinization of 'Giuseppe,' on his labels.

del Gesu violin label
A label from a Joseph Guarnerius 'del Gesu' violin


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The History of the Violin:
Early Stringed Instruments and the Development of the Bow

By Stefan Aune

Tracing the origins of the violin is difficult - evidence of the earliest stringed instruments is primarily found in sculptures and works of art, as instruments made of wood are unlikely to survive for thousands of years. Cultures such as the ancient Greeks and Egyptians made use of stringed instruments, but they did not make use of bows, and the development of the bow is what sets the violin family and its ancestors apart from harps, guitars and other early stringed instruments. A common theory, which is discussed and refuted by Ed. Heron-Allen in his book Violin-Making, as it was, and is, attributes the earliest violins to the Israelites, citing passages in the Bible such as Psalm 81:2 that says "The pleasant harpe, with the viol," or a passage from the book of Samuel that says "And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord with all manner of instrumentys of fyrre woode, wyth harpes, psalteries, timberelles, fyddelles, and symbals." These passages that seem to reference the viol or fiddle are in fact mistranslations of the Hebrew word for harp, and no word that would signify "bowed instrument" appears in the earliest versions of the Bible.

An ancient Greek vase, which depicts a phorminx, and early Grecian stringed instrument

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Guarnerius Family of Violin Makers. Scions of Cremona

By Andy Fein, Owner and Violin Maker, Fein Violins,Ltd.

We think of Cremona as the center of the world for violin making. After all, the greatest names in violin making worked there. Stradivarius, Guarnerius, Amati, Gudagnini, Bergonzi, and a few others. One of the earliest violin makers in Cremona was Andreas Guarnerius. A great violin maker and founder of a dynasty that would reach its apex in just two generations.

The scroll of the 'Primrose' Andreas Guarnerius viola of 1697

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eugene Sartory:
Violin Bows of Sartorial Splendor

Mirecourt, France has been the birthplace and springboard of most of France's great violin makers and bow makers. The typical route to glory starts with birth and childhood in Mirecourt (often with a father or elder brother already working in the field), an apprenticeship that begins at a young age, and then a quantum leap to Paris, where the artiste either grabs the gold ring or slinks back to Mirecourt, to hang his head in shame.

Eugene Nicolas Sartory was no exception to this plan. Born in Mirecourt in 1871, he apprenticed with his father, a bow maker, for a short while, before heading off to Paris. He grabbed that gold ring and held on tight!
E.SARTORY A PARIS violin bow

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Killer Music Scores:
Video Game Music Composition

Written by Andy Fein, Angie Newgren, and Debra Krein

A few months ago, I was driving along listening to the radio show Performance Today with my two boys in the back seat. Normally, they're your average overly-rambunctious eight- and eleven-year-old boys. But on this occasion, they were listening intently to Fred Child's broadcast. Fred had Emily Reese on as a guest and they were discussing and playing video game music. Emily hosts a podcast, called Top Score, about the music and composers of video game music.

Be Quiet, Fred!!
As the music was playing, the boys sat in the back seat in complete silence. Fred began to comment over a piece, and from the back seat I heard, "Be quiet, Fred! I want to listen to the music!" That has never happened before.

The Best Video Game Music Ever!
A few weeks ago, on November 8, 2011, The London Philharmonic Orchestra released their CD, The Greatest Video Game Music. I'd like to nominate the cover art for one of the Ten Best Classical CD Cover Art Pictures of ALL TIME!
best video game music cover art
The CD Album cover for "The Greatest Video Game Music"  by the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Beethoven, Kreutzer and Bridgetower
Oh, What a Sonata!

By Andy Fein, Violin Maker & Owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.

If you're a violinist or a Beethoven fan, you probably know of Rodolphe Kreutzer. Today, November 16 marks the birthday in 1766 of Rodolphe Kreutzer. Probably the finest violinist of his time, Beethoven's "Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major" is dedicated to Kreutzer and is known as the "Kreutzer Sonata". If you're a string player, you have probably worked your way through Kreutzer's "Etudes" at some point in your playing career.

Violinist George Bridgetower
How about George Bridgetower? Know about him? Ever heard of him? Probably not. But you should! George Bridgetower was one of the first African-European violinists of prominence.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Booty Call from Berlioz: It's Fantastique!
(A Few Fun Facts on Hector Berlioz)

By Debra Krein

I think it's probably safe to say, that at one point or another, we've all done something crazy in the name of "love" (and/or "lust," as the case may be).

Composers are, of course, no different. Why, one might even venture to say that, due to the creative nature of a composer, they may be prone to even crazier actions, done in the name of love, than say, a rocket scientist. But that's all based upon stereotypes, and not much else. (And we all know that stereotypes are always completely factual.)

So, without further ado, I present to you a few fun facts on Hector Berlioz, and the crazy things he did for love. (Trust me, this is fun stuff!)

Hector Berlioz (December 11, 1803 - March 8, 1869) was a French composer of the Romantic era (quite apropos, no?), most famous for his piece, Symphonie Fantastique.

Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
What a handsome bloke.

In 1827, Berlioz watched Irish actress, Harriet Smithson, at the Odéon Theatre, where she played the parts of Ophelia and Juliet, in William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, respectively.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chanot-Chardon: The Violin-Making Soap Opera Family

Written by Stefan Aune

The Chanot-Chardon family of French and English violin makers trace their origins to Joseph Chanot, the first member of the family to add violin-maker as a profession. Joseph ran a small shop in Mirecourt, France, and the first violins that feature his label were produced in 1790. Joseph was a violin-maker, tradesman, and a farmer; a triple threat of vocations made necessary by his twelve children (that's quite a few mouths to feed). Two of Joseph's sons would follow in their father's footsteps and establish the Chanot name among the elite of French violin makers. The eldest, Francois, studied mathematics in Paris, graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique. He went on to specialize in the construction of naval war-ships, before taking an interest in violin making, albeit from a very scientific point of view. His thesis, titled (translated from French) "To Fix the Method a Violin Maker Must Use in the Workmanship of Stringed and Bowed Instruments" was accepted by a committee of experts and professional Alexandre Boucher played on the instrument built to Francois' specifications. Francois would go on to present a second thesis on instrument construction, and had the opportunity to present his research to the King of France during an exhibition. His forms were eventually taken up by the violin firm "Lete's Widow & Payonne," where they were used by the a young Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, who would go on to become an internationally renowned violin maker and a close friend of the Chanot family.

The Chanot shop in Paris
Picture from Parisian Violin Makers in the XIXth and XXth Centuries, Tome 1: The Family Chanot-Chardon by Sylvette Milliot
The youngest son, Georges, apprenticed with his father before joining Francois in the capital. He worked for a succession of Parisian makers before opening his own shop, founded in 1821. Georges was joined by his pupil Florentine Demolliens,  a 24 year old woman whose position as a violin maker caused a bit of a sensation, as women traditionally did not make violins at that point in history. Georges and Florentine eventually married, after having several children out of wed-lock, and the children were all legitimized together through baptism after the marriage. Wishing to get his name out there, Georges spent seven years traveling to Spain, Portugal, Germany, and England, and Russia, where he cultivated relationships with other makers and gained many international clients. His most notable customer was Tarisio, to whom he sold several highly skilled copies of Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins. In 1840, his wife and business partner Flornetine became ill, retiring to the countryside where she was cared for by her maid, Rose Chardon. Roses' sister, Antoineette Chardon, traveled to Paris to help Georges with the business. Their working relationship blossomed into some thing more, and Georges and Antoinette would eventually have a son together, Marie-Joseph Chardon. In the baptism act, Georges was named the godfather, and it wasn't until adulthood that Joseph learned that Georges was in fact his father. He would carry the family name Chardon, and pass it on to his children.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Gagliano Violin Makers:
The Pride of Naples

What if you're a budding superstar violin soloist or concertmaster and you can't come up with a few million dollars for a Stradivarius or a Guarnerius del Gesu to power your playing career onto the world stage?

You could save a few nickels and consider one of the somewhat lesser Cremonese instruments like a Guadagnini or one of the other Guarneris. The best of those instruments are equal or better in tone than some of the lesser Stradivaris and del Gesus. Heresy, I know, but there are soloists that don't use Strads & del Gesus and they are quite happy.

Another alternative is to take a turn to the South and play some of the finest violins from Naples made by members of the Gagliano family.
Violin by Alessandro Gagliano, made in Naples,  circa 1715

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Charlie Siem - Model Virtuoso Violinist

 Written by: Amy Tobin

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. Rarely has there been a violinist who not only plays so beautifully, but also looks so damn good.


Born in London, England, in 1986, Charlie Siem began studying the violin at the age of 4. He continued his studies at the Guildhall School of Music, and, later, at the Royal College of Music. He has soloed with orchestras that include the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, and the Israel Camerata. Meet Charlie......



He began studying the violin when, at the age of three, he heard the Beethoven Violin Concerto played, in concert, by violin great Yehudi Menuhin. Interestingly enough, he now plays on one of Menuhin's most beloved instruments.....his 1735 Guarneri del Gesu d'Egville. Sounds like a dream come true, to me!

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Violin Shop Ghost Story

By Andy Fein

As musicians, we all know how close we can become to our instruments. There really is a deep spiritual and physical connection a lot of us have to a particular instrument. Just how close it can be was shown to me several years ago.

We hang all our instruments on racks that have slots in them for the instruments' necks to slide into, with the scroll resting on the top side of the rack.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Greatest Bow Maker You've Never Heard Of- Nicolaus Kittel

By Andy Fein, Owner and Violin Maker, Fein Violins, Ltd.

Tourte,Vorin, Vuillaume, Hill, Nurnberger, Sartory, Kittel. Wait, Kittel? What's that name doing in the ranks of great bow makers?

Here's another list: Heifetz, Seidel, Vieuxtemps,Elman, Stern, Kochanski, Rosand, Erica Morini, Zimbalist, Kogan, Menuhin,and Vadim Repin. What do they have in common? (OK, besides that most of them are MOTs!) They are all violin soloists that used and loved Kittel bows. And preferred them over any of the French bow makers, including Tourte.
Yehudi Menuhin and his Kittel bow

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Artaria String Quartet

Written by: Amy Tobin

Here in Minnesota, we are lucky to have a vast array of very talented and amazing musicians. We've got the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Opera, as well as many smaller groups and individual artists. In fact, on most weekends, it can be difficult to decide whose concert to go to.
Annalee Wolfe, Nancy Oliveros, Laura Sewell, and Ray Shows of the Artaria String Quartet


One of my favorite small groups, in fact some of my favorite all-around musicians, is the Artaria String Quartet. Composed of Ray Shows as first violinist, Nancy Oliveros as second violinist, Annalee Wolf as violist, and Laura Sewell as cellist, each member is an accomplished musician with an impressive performance pedigree behind them. Collectively, they have performed in many of the major symphony orchestras across America as well as in Europe (both eastern and western), and they have been recipients of such awards as the McKnight Fellowship and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pushing the Boundaries of Modern String Performance - The Brooklyn Rider Quartet and The Knights Chamber Orchestra

By Stefan Aune and Andy Fein

The Brooklyn Rider Quartet, composed of violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords, and cellist Eric Jacobsen, is a modern string quartet that manages to stay rooted in the classic quartet repertoire while pushing boundaries through creative programming and collaboration. All the members are veterans of Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, with which they have recorded numerous records, performed all over the world, and participated in an invigorating blend of music and multiculturalism that encompasses traditions from all over the world. With Brooklyn Rider, they combine classical training with the sort of DIY work ethic more commonly found in the punk underground, touring constantly, putting out their own records, and collaborating with like minded artists across different mediums.



The Brooklyn Rider has performed everywhere from concert halls to clubs to pubs. Their particularly busy schedule in recent years has taken them to the Cologne Philharmonie, the American Academy in Rome, the Malmo Festival in Sweden, and the SXSW Festival in Texas, where they were the only classical group invited to perform amidst a who's who of punk, hardcore, indie rock, noise, and hip-hop. They performed at the US Open tennis tournament, toured Europe with Persian musician Kayhan Kalhor, and toured North America several times. This sort of grinding performance schedule seems more reminiscent of hardcore punk band Black Flag's "get in the van" tour philosophy than your average string quartet, but it goes to show that hard work and taking matters into your own hands can pay off in the classical work just as much as anywhere else. Be sure to keep an eye on the Brooklyn Rider website for up to date tour information, as they are probably coming to a city near you sometime soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happy Halloween!!
The Ghoulish Side of Classical Music:
Conductor & Performer Deaths

Written by Andy Fein, Angie Newgren, and Kevin Berdine

The music world is not immune from the vicissitudes of life. Bring life to music and life returns the compliment. All the way to the bitter end. Throughout history there have been some strange deaths associated with performances. Below is a list of conductors and performers who unfortunately fell into this category.

Many of these musicians and conductors were wonderful people and made great contributions to music. Death, in itself, does not have any entertainment value... but it is the season of Halloween. So while it's on your mind....

Friday, October 21, 2011

Learning to Love a Piece of Music

Written by: Amy Tobin

Music is an incredible thing! From the first reading, to the hours spent practicing, to performance, a piece of music can become a part of your life in a way that few other things can. Most of the time, a piece of music will be a great partner from start to finish, but there will be those rare instances when you just don't seem to connect with a piece no matter how hard you try. How, then, do you find a way to make that piece of music something that you can relate to and find beauty in?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pegs For Violins, Violas & Cellos- Ebony, Rosewood or Boxwood?

Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker & Owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.

Ebony Violin Pegs with Parisian Eyes 

Ebony, Rosewood or Boxwood. Those are usually the three choices of wood for pegs on stringed instruments. What's the difference? Probably not much beyond wood color and looks. But in stringed instruments, everything makes a difference. Considering that your pegs are the functioning unit on your instrument that enables you to tune, the pegs are very, very important.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Ahn Trio. Beauty & Talent.

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

The Ahn Trio


Who are the best the best looking Juilliard graduates? Hmm, that might be difficult to decide. OK, who are three of the best looking Juilliard graduates that are sisters and have a fantastic trio? If you want to believe People Magazine, it would be the Ahn Trio! I would agree.

Angella, Lucia, and Maria Ahn are three sisters who make up the Ahn Trio. Born in South Korea, each sister was accepted into Juilliard, the performing arts conservatory in New York City. Angella on violin, Lucia on piano, and Maria on cello. For the last decade, the Ahn Trio has traveled internationally to perform. They have released five albums, and have started their own production company. They teach at workshops, appear in advertisements, and have won several awards. Their chamber group has given inspiration to many contemporary composers. The Ahn Trio, in turn, performs many new works.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hilary Hahn - Professional Violinist, Girl Next Door

Written by: Amy Tobin

If there were such thing as a "young person's classical violinist," well, Hilary Hahn would definitely be that! In a time where the violin is getting more and more popular, by being used in more and more kinds of music, and yet less and less refined in its traditional sense, Hilary has managed to be able to combine both of those things. Firmly planted in the classical world, she wanders blissfully along the pathways of other artists and genres when the opportunity arises, never really leaving her ties to the classical world, but yet never really trying to be anything other than what she is when playing with others.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Realist Violin:
Electric/Acoustic playing at Its Finest!

Written by: Amy Tobin

I am a violinist who is always looking for new and different things to do, both musically and technically. As a result, I have found myself in many situations where I needed to play amplified. I have used fully electric violins, acoustic-electric violins, and various pickups on my own violin, all for different reasons and to different effects. One of the reasons I have used so many different kinds of instruments is that I never really found one that satisfied my yearning for a rich, warm, full sound while playing plugged in. That is, until now.

Meet...............

THE REALIST!
The David Gage Realist RV4 Violin

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, Violin Maker of Piacenza, Milan, Cremona, Parma & Turin

Written by Andy Fein & Angie Newgren

Italy's Po River Valley figures prominently in the history of great violin-makers, as well as the Fein family history.

The towns of Cremona, Piacenza, Parma, Milan, and Turin are all beautiful towns along the Po, or one of its many tributaries. In 1944 and 1945, Bert Fein, Andy's father, along with thousands of other brave soldiers of the U.S. Tenth Mountain Division, and joined by local Appenine fighters, pushed the Nazi army out of the Appenine Mountains and other strongholds along the Po River.

About 230 years earlier, in the small village of Beligno, at the foot of the Appenine Mountains, Giovanni Battista (J.B.) Guadagnini was born on June 23, 1711. J.B.'s father Lorenzo was a violin maker, the first in a long line of violin makers that stretched into the twentieth century.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

New or Old. Which is Better for Violins, Violas & Cellos?

Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker & Owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.

I'm often asked: "Which is better? A new instrument or an old one?"

There is a mystique about old instruments. After all, Stradivarius & Guanerius were making instruments in the 1700s. Aren't all old instruments better than new ones? Well, yes and no. It depends on what you are interested in.

Stradivarius and Guarnerius made new instruments. Seems like a simple and intuitively obvious statement, but not everyone realizes that. Yes, Stradivarius, Amati, the Guarneris, Guadagnini, Montagnana, Vuillaume, Lupot, and the Chanot/Chardons were all real people. Real people making brand new instruments. Did they sound good when they were made? Probably, but we have no real way of knowing that. But judging from the people that played them and loved them, they were very nice sounding new instruments.

There were also a bunch of other makers from the 1500s on through the 1900s ( and even today)  that made passable, mediocre and downright lousy instruments. Are those old instruments better than a good sounding new instrument? Probably not.

Here are some considerations.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yo Yo Ma - Virtuoso Cellist, Collaborator, Educator

Written by Stefan Aune


October 7 is cellist Yo Yo Ma's birthday (happy birthday!) - and just in case you've been living under a rock and don't recognize him from the orchestral stage or your own television, we thought it fitting to pay tribute to one of the best cellists ever in today's blog.

Yo Yo Ma is widely considered to be the preeminent cellist of our time, and he is certainly the most famous. Unlike many classical virtuoso performers, Ma has managed to transcend the insular classical world and become a household name. He has even appeared on television programs such as Arthur, Sesame Street, The Simpsons, The West Wing, The Colbert Report, and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. My personal favorite is in the television show Seinfeld, where the character Kramer exclaims "Yo Yo Ma!" whenever he is surprised by something. It is this accessibility and name recognition, combined with his towering skills on the cello, that have made Yo Yo Ma a superstar of the classical world.

Yo Yo Ma, with some help from Elmo

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Messiah Stradivarius

Written by Stefan Aune

Antonius Stradivarius is easily the most renowned violin maker in history. His name has a magical quality that makes it recognizable to people who have never picked up an instrument or seen an orchestra perform. It is not uncommon to get a call here in the violin shop from someone who thinks they have found a "Stradivarius" in their basement and wants to know if they found the real deal. Although highly unlikely, turning up a genuine Stradivarius in your basement would be akin to winning the lottery - this past summer the Lady Blunt Stradivarius sold at auction for an astounding 16 million dollars. When it was auctioned the Lady Blunt was called "the best preserved Stradivarius to be offered for sale," and this was certainly true, but it isn't the best preserved Stradivarius in existence. That title belongs to the "Messiah" Stradivarius, which many people call "the consummate violin" for its astounding craftsmanship and perfect preservation.

The Messiah Stradivarius of 1716

The Messiah was made by Antonius Stradivarius at his shop in Cremona, Italy in 1716. It remained, unsold, in the shop until Stradivarius' death in 1737. Stradivarius' son Paolo sold the Messiah to Count Cozio di Salabue in 1775, and famed collector Luigi Tarisio purchased the violin from the Count in 1827. Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume of Paris purchased the Messiah upon Tarisio's death, and the violin eventually made its way to the Ashmolean Museum of London where it remains to this day. As the Messiah passed from owner to owner, it remained relatively unplayed, which is why it is in such spectacular condition today.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pinchas Zukerman and a Circle of Friends

Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker and Owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.

My life has brought me many interesting intersecting circles.

The neighborhood I grew up in, Haddontowne in Cherry Hill, NJ, was filled with working musicians and artists. Many of my neighbors and parents of my friends were in the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was through neighborhood gatherings that I first met Herb Light, a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and his wife, a fine pianist Yoheved (Veda) Kaplinsky. Veda is now a piano professor and chairperson of the piano department at Juilliard. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I knew her as a really, really good piano teacher and performer.

Veda is from Israel and knew Pinchas Zukerman from their days as young star musicians in Israel. I first met Pinchas through Herb & Veda. But, honestly, I was a somewhat oblivious kid and it didn't really register on me who I was meeting.

When I was in college, Herb casually told me about a great violin maker in the town next to ours. Sergio Peresson was working in Haddonfield, NJ. Many famous musicians were commissioning instruments from him. At the time, he was working on a violin for Pinchas Zukerman. I was interested in violins and violin making and Sergio graciously let me visit him in his workshop. While I was there, I watched him work on the violin that would become Pinchas'.
Sergio Peresson chatting with Jacqueline du Pre

Friday, September 30, 2011

Classical Music and Rioting - Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring

Written by Stefan Aune

Classical music is traditionally thought of as a quiet, reserved, and dignified world. Formal wear and polite silences are the standard, and it would certainly be considered a faux pas to dance around during a concert or yell "play freebird" at the orchestra . However, every once in a while the cummerbunds and formalities are traded for boos, jeers, and fist fights in the aisle. The "classical music riot" has been a consistent enough phenomenon over the years to warrant its own Wikipedia article - the most famous example being the Paris première of Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite Of Spring in 1913. The Rite Of Spring caused such a disturbance that the police were brought in at intermission, but were unable to quell the rioting audience. The publicity of the première, combined with it's groundbreaking tonality and genius, have made The Rite of Spring one of the iconic musical works of the twentieth century.

From the Joffrey Ballet's rendition of Rite Of Spring using the original 1913 set and costumes

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Five Things You'll Need to Start the Season Off Right & Sound Your Best

It's the end of September and the weather and temperature have settled into the next season: Fall. Auditions everywhere are being held, and orchestras and ensembles are beginning to start again as well. There are a few things you can do as a player to create better sound, and keep your instrument in its best mode. Now is the perfect time to do it!
  1. Straighten Your Bridge.
    Check to see if your bridge is still on correctly.
    I was preparing for an audition the other day, and while practicing I noticed that sometimes my strings gave out a false sound. With an upcoming audition, I wanted all the sound I played to be fluent and pure. But my bridge was leaning forward, out of position and preventing me from creating that sound. The vibration of the bridge is what translates the vibrations of the strings to the instrument. After I straightened my bridge, my violin played much more like its old self. I didn't have any more distractions for my audition, which helped me focus on playing. If you're not comfortable adjusting your bridge, bring it to your violin shop, where your luthier should be more than happy to help. You'll need your luthier for the next few steps as well.



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Alisa Weilerstein - Cello Genius

By Stefan Aune

Alisa Weilerstein is an internationally renowned cellist and a 2011 MacArthur Fellowship award winner. This award, given each year to between 20 and 40 U.S. residents, is known colloquially as the "genius award," and is presented to individuals of any age or field that "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work." Alisa certainly fits these qualifications, both for her exceptional skills as a cellist and her drive to collaborate and work on new music with contemporary composers.


Born to musical parents (her father is the 1st violinist of the Cleveland quartet and her mother is a well known pianist), Alisa picked up the cello at age 4, and made her debut at the age of 13 with the Cleveland Orchestra. In addition to her orchestral work she plays in the Weilerstein Trio with her parents, which resides at the New England Conservatory. Eschewing the typical route followed by most musical prodigies, Alisa went to Columbia University and received a bachelor's degree in Russian history, at the same time keeping up a hectic performance schedule.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Anne Akiko Meyers:
The Girl with Two Stradivarius Violins ( & a del Gesu!)

By: Debra Krein

Anne Akiko Meyers is one of the greatest violinists of our time. (Not to mention, she's gorgeous!)

Anne Akiko Meyers Stradivarius Violin
Photograph by Andrew Eccles

Do you find classical music boring? Think it's too old school and just plain dull? I'm a classically trained violinist, but personally, I would rather listen to hip-hop music than classical music any day of the week. Yet, one listen to any of Anne's numerous recordings and even the greatest skeptic will be moved, as you can literally feel the emotion emanating from Anne's awe-inspiring performances on her violin.

Speaking of her violin, Anne Akiko Meyers owns two pretty awesome Stradivarius violins. TWO!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Transition from Baroque to Modern Violins - Bigger, Faster, Louder

Written by Stefan Aune

The baroque period lasted from approximately 1600 to 1750, and is famous for names such as Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. These world-renowned composers were defined in part by the venues in which their music was played. Musical performance during the baroque period occurred primarily at court in front of royalty, or in churches. As a result, the auditory demands placed on baroque instruments were lesser than they are today - instruments didn't need to be as loud, or project as far as they do now. During the mid to late 1700's, as western music transitioned from the baroque to the classical period, public musical performance outside of the church or court was on the rise. Public orchestras were becoming popular, and the spaces in which music was performed proliferated and grew larger, both in terms of audience as well as sheer physical size. As a result, the technical specifications of musical instruments went through an adjustment period, and it was this transition that gave rise to the modern stringed instruments we use today.

Bach played the organ in church most Sundays

Modern violinists needed to play louder, as the venues in which they performed were growing larger and getting packed with audiences. Thanks to the development of the modern bow by Francois Tourte and others, string players were able to use their bows to greater effect, but violin makers needed to match these improved bows with louder, more playable violins. Additionally, the steady inflation of concert pitch, which rose gradually through the baroque and classical periods, necessitated modifications to stringed instruments that could accommodate the higher string tensions.

Italian violinist Giovanni Batista Viotti deserves a great deal of credit for the change to modern instruments. He played, quite successfully, on a Stradivarius with many of the following modifications, helping spur the change to modern instrument construction.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

WTC 9/11 - Steve Reich's Musical Commemoration

 Written by: Amy Tobin

September 11, 2001 is a day in America that will never be forgotten. It will be forever etched into our collective psyche, the way a knife wound creates a permanent scar in flesh. Almost anyone who was cognizant at the time will be able to tell you exactly where they were when they first saw, heard, or learned about the attacks that occurred on that day. It is only natural that people find ways to commemorate the event, or translate the feelings and actions of that day into some kind of lasting form.

Steve Reich in his hometown of New York City

Friday, September 9, 2011

Canterbury Music Racks - Solving Your Music Storage Mess

Written by Stefan Aune

My mother is a piano teacher, and for as long as I can remember, our dining room, where the piano is located, has been strewn about with stacks of sheet music. The situation becomes particularly bad around the holidays, when piles and piles of music for students to "test drive" end up blotting out our dining room table, and you have to maneuver with care to avoid knocking down 20 copies of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." I could attribute this problem to a lack of organization unique to my mother, but I've known quiet a few musicians in my life, and most of them are disorganized when it comes to sheet music. They cram it into tote bags, pack it into folders that are barely holding together, or jam it into the compartments of their instrument case. Under these conditions, trying to track down a single xeroxed sheet of paper can be a nightmare. 


We previously wrote a blog about music stands that highlighted the differences between poor quality wire stands and sturdier, better looking wood music stands. Many musicians put up with infuriating wire stands simply because they are unaware of alternatives. The same is true for sheet music storage - you don't necessarily need to keep stacking your music on the floor or cramming it into tote bags or folders. A piece of furniture called a "Canterbury," popularized in England during the 1700's, provides an elegant and practical solution to sheet music and music book storage. 


Canterbury

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Finding that Dream Violin After Years of Searching...

Written by Stefan Aune

Here at Fein Violins we often get feedback from our customers regarding the instruments they purchase. Nothing makes us happier than being able to help someone achieve that perfect sound, or track down an instrument with just the right look or feel. Every so often we get feedback from a customer that is particularly personal or moving, and it is just such a story I want to share with you today. About a year ago, Jim Y. purchased a violin from us that connected back to his early life growing up in China during the cultural revolution, and his longing for a particular violin in a department store window that was, sadly, financially out of reach. What follows is Jim's story, reproduced verbatim, so that he can tell you in his own words how special a new instrument can be.

Thank you for your email. It has been a very pleasant experience when talking with you over the phone, and reading your emails. It's not like dealing with a sales person or business owner, but like talking with good friends.

I don't want to waste your time reading my emails, knowing you must be busy with the business. Still, I just can't help telling you my gratitude on getting the wonderful violin from you. From the following story, you may get a sense of how elated and gratified I am to have stumbled upon the people and the violin from Fein Violins.

I had genuine interests in music as a kid. As teenager, I was among the millions of mid-schoolers to be sent to the countryside to do farmwork (so called by the then president Chairman Mao, to "receive re-education from the poor and middle class peasants"). In the countryside, we toiled with all sorts of farmwork every day and saw no future. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dvorak and the Minnehaha Melody

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

The first Monday in September is celebrated as Labor Day in the United States. This annual holiday which brings families together and marks the end of summer has been around since 1894.

The year before this holiday started, Saint Paul, Minnesota got a visit from a great composer. A special place in our state inspired Antonin Dvorak to create beautiful music that we still listen to over 100 years later. It's time to recognize Dvorak's composition and spend part of our holiday celebrating Dvorak's love of Minnehaha Falls.
Minnehaha Falls in Saint Paul, MN
On September 5, 1893 Antonin Dvorak came to Minnesota. Dvorak had traveled from Bohemia to the United States at the end of 1891. During the summer of 1893 Dvorak was living in Spillville, Iowa and had recently finished his ninth symphony, "Symphony in E Minor (From The New World)." He was looking for peace and quiet away from the press. He was also enamored with Minnehaha Falls from a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The famous poem, The Song of Hiawatha, had been translated into the Czech language a few years earlier. Dvorak traveled to St. Paul from Spillville, Iowa by train and then hired a carriage to take him across the river to Minneapolis and Minnehaha Falls. Dvorak described the area as being "so intensely beautiful that words cannot describe it."

Luckily for us, Dvorak's talent wasn't for words, it was for music. Dvorak said that he fell into a trance-like state staring at the shimmering water, and in his mind, heard the song of a Native American. Standing next to Dvorak was his assistant and translator, Josef Kovarik. Dvorak leaned over to Kovarik and said "quick, lend me paper and a pencil." Kovarik, having no paper, gave Dvorak a pencil only. Dvorak, on his shirt cuff, wrote down the melody that possessed his mind. The melody later was dubbed the "Minnehaha Melody" by Fritz Kriesler.
The "Minnehaha Melody" which was written on Dvorak's cuff

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Day That The Angels Came Out of Hiding

Written by: Amy Tobin

This story was written by one of our visitors who came into the shop with a violin that he had built many years earlier. He was in his early 90's when he came in and has since passed away. I was invited to play the violin he made at his memorial service, which was an incredibly touching affair. I thought it would be a nice tribute to publish his story here.

The Day That the Angels Came Out of Hiding, by Mr. Mehrkens


My son Douglas and I spent a nice father and son day. It was our day even if some of the time was spent on a doctor call. Life is almost too busy…so busy that we miss some of the simple things in life. Doug and I hadn’t spent a day together for quite a while.
It was a day to do as we liked. We left Elk River in late forenoon and headed for St. Paul after getting the doctor behind us. Doug had visited some small but interesting violin shops in St. Paul and had talked to the managers about his dad’s home-made fiddle. They wanted to see it. As we rang the “ding-dong bell,” two ladies came to meet us. They were very anxious to see Doug’s dad’s home-made fiddle.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A 440. Not So Standard.

Written by Stefan Aune

Violins, Violas, and Cellos all have an A string, and every violinist, violist and cellist invests a great deal of  time and energy into keep that A string in tune and then tuning their other strings in relation to the A. Most orchestras and ensembles tune from the A pitch, which is usually used as the standard for tuning. Whether it is a line of beginners waiting for their orchestra teacher to tune their instruments, or a seasoned professional attempting to wrestle a stubborn string into tune before a concert, tuning is an (all too often aggravating) shared experience for musicians. Despite the importance placed on playing "in tune," you might be surprised to learn that "in tune" has meant a variety of things over the years, and only recently has there been anywhere near a consensus on what exactly an in tune "A" should sound like.

Sound is a vibration that travels in waves, and humans perceive these sound waves as a pitch that is measured in a unit called Hertz (Hz).  Hertz are used to measure the rate of vibration of a sound, and each of our musical notes (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G) corresponds to a certain Hz measurement. However, there hasn't always been a general consensus on what each musical note should measure in Hz. When Bach played an "A" on his organ, that note's Hz measurement was different from the "A" that we tune the violins to in our shop. The development of pitch standardization has been the result of technological and scientific advancements as well as "pitch inflation," the gradual rise in pitch levels that results from instrumentalists attempting to achieve brighter and brighter tones.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Christian Howes

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren


Many days in the violin shop something new, strange or exciting unexpectedly walks in the door. Sometimes it's an old friend (human or wooden), sometimes it's a rare instrument or bow, sometimes it's something so odd it defies explanation.


Last week, a young man came in with a violin family instrument I had never seen before. It was about the size of a large viola, with a cello style bridge, ribs about twice as high as a viola, and it had a chin rest. It was an "OktavGeige", German for Octave Violin. It is tuned like a violin but one octave lower. After some study I agreed to work on it. It was then that I found out it was owned by Christian Howes and used by a member of his band.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Fine Art of Practicing

 Written by: Amy Tobin

It may sound a little funny, but knowing how to practice takes practice! When you are learning a new piece, I think you will agree that just playing it over and over again isn't going to make you learn it any faster or better. In fact, it might even slow your progress! Sometimes we need to take baby steps in order to be able to make those giant leaps!

In any practice session, the first thing you absolutely need to do is warm up. This is crucial! You would never see a major league pitcher come right from the dressing room and start pitching full force, whether it was for a practice or a game. He takes the time to warm up his muscles by doing some stretching and specific exercises.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chin Rests- Find The One That Fits Your Face!

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

When purchasing a violin, usually you play on a few different instruments before choosing the correct one for you. The same can go for chin rests! There are many different structures of faces around the world so there are also different options for chin rests. You do not necessarily need to stick with the one that came with your violin. In fact, if the chin rest on your instrument is not comfortable, change it!

A tremendous variety of chin rests are made for violin and viola. Some hold your chin on the left of the instrument and some on the center. Some have deeper arcs, some are close to flat. You should choose your chin rest the same way you choose your instrument. Somehow, you need to fill the space between your chin and your shoulder. It's best to do it in the most comfortable way possible.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Cheapest Violins - Maybe Not Such A Good Deal

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

As time passes and technology improves, the number of people worldwide who shop online continues to rise. It's easier for customers to shop and see what's available, and our shop's online store has given us customers and friends from all over the world! But how do you know when you cross a deal for violins, violas or cellos that is too good to be true? This blog explains why the cheapest violin (viola or cello) you find online (or in a store) is the wrong violin to purchase. Visit our other blog  Finding Your Violin Online to read about purchasing the right one for you!

If you're just starting out, it's hard to fathom why you should spend any more than the cheapest price you can find. Unfortunately, stringed instruments are pretty hard to learn and if everything (& I mean EVERYTHING!)  is not set up pretty close to perfect it makes it almost impossible to learn to play. In fact, the set up on a beginner instrument is just as important as on a fine soloist instrument.

Violin Values range from under 100 dollars to over 100,000 dollars.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to Prepare For an Audition

 Written by: Amy Tobin

Auditions are stressful situations, and preparing for them can feel overwhelming. You want to play as perfectly as you can, and you want to impress the people listening to you, but with music being such a subjective thing, what, exactly does that really mean?

First of all, let me help you to alleviate some of the stress. I think that, many times, the words we use can create certain feelings within us. For instance, if I say the word "audition," I think there is an entirely different visceral response than if I say the word "performance."

Friday, August 19, 2011

François Tourte and the Making of the Modern Bow

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

The 18th century was a period of great productivity in the arts and commerce. Many changes were going on: World trade, the French Revolution, the  end of the Baroque period and the beginning of the Classical period (circa 1750). For string players, luthiers and bow makers, the advance in playing techniques demanded better and different equipment. Bows underwent a profound change, from the Baroque bow, which was the standard, to the "modern" bow, which we now use.

Up until the middle of the 18th century, bows were more of an accessory for a violin instead of an integral part of the instrument's sound. Bow makers were continuously experimenting with different techniques and materials, but they never went too far out of the "guidelines" that were documented for bow making.

The baroque style bow was usually made of snake-wood (a stiffer and denser wood) rather than the modern bow which uses pernambuco (Pernambuco Blog).  Baroque bows were shaped into a convex curve, which is the opposite of how today's bows are shaped. The bow was arched more extremely, looking more like the bow from a bow-and-arrow. The hair on the bow was bundled, and only half the amount we use today was put on a baroque bow. Lastly, the length of the hair was only about three-quarters of the length of our modern bows.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Colonizaton & Commerce: Pernambuco Wood and the Development of the Modern Bow

Written by Stefan Aune

In 1492 Columbus made his first voyage to what he called the "New World" - a voyage that sparked the European colonization and settlement of what we now know as North and South America. This voyage triggered a rush of settlement and conquest that lasted for hundreds of years, with the great European powers carving up both continents into colonies dedicated to the extraction of resources, the conversion of indigenous peoples to Christianity, and the creation of settlements. The profound exploitation of natural resources coupled with the catastrophic loss of life for indigenous peoples made the colonization of the Americas a grim chapter in human history. The politics, economics, and entire social fabric of much of our modern world comes out of this colonial period, and you might be surprised to find that stringed instruments and bows are no exception. The modern bow, as developed by Francois Xavier Tourte and other bow craftsmen in Europe during the 18th century, made use of a wood known as "pau-brasil," "brazil wood," or "pernambuco." This wood would revolutionize the bow-making world, but at great cost to both natural resources and human lives.

A "Brazil Wood" or "Pernambuco" Tree

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hill & Sons Violins. One-offs to Workshop

Written by Andy Fein and Stefan Aune


The Hill family of violin makers reaches deep into the history of violins. You can read our blog on the rise of the Hill firm to get a nice overview.

In the mid 1700's Joseph Hill was working at the Haymarket, in London, "at the sign of the Harp and Flute". He had a small shop at first and was probably working alone. Most of his instruments were made on a high arch model along the lines of Amati and Stainer. Joseph Hill's sons, William, Joseph, Benjamin, and Lockey all became violin makers as well. They continued with the high arched models that were popular at that time.

Lockey Hill's son, Henry Lockey, adopted the Stradivarius model and abandoned the higher arched models. For an individual maker, Henry Lockey is probably the finest maker of the Hill family and his instruments are some of the most valuable English instruments.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bows from W.E. Hill & Sons

Written by: Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

The Hill Violin shop was one of the greatest and largest violin shops in the world from the mid 1800s until the firm's demise in 1992.

W. E Hill violin bow with a fleur-de-lys design in the frog

Hopefully you have read our blog on the history of the firm. Some of the best products of W.E. Hill & Sons were their bows. Beautiful violin, viola and cello bows! Bows made of the finest Pernambuco available.  With fittings (frogs, butons, slides, and tips)  made of silver, gold, ebony, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, abalone and ivory. Sometimes with elaborate designs. Sometimes very utilitarian looking. But almost always producing a great playing stick! 

Were the bows made by W.E. Hill or any other member of the Hill family? No. Not at all. Alfred Hill became quite the connoisseur of French bows. Alfred imposed on a long succession of bow makers the "Hill" bow style based on a Tourte bow for violins and a Voirin bow for cellos. It was Alfred's expertise and taste, combined with the skill of the bow makers, that produced incredibly consistent, high quality and very recognizable bows.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

If Only They Had Told Me

 Written by: Amy Tobin

I have been a musician for nearly all of my life. I started playing the piano when I was three, and then I added the violin to that when I was ten. In fact, I went to college for music, majoring in violin performance.

I love symphonic music, and I love chamber music. When I was studying at Boston University, the faculty there did a great job preparing me, as well as all of the performance majors, for orchestral careers, but nobody ever talked about any other options. In their defense, however, other outside-the-box types of performance careers were not as plentiful or accepted as they are now, so I definitely can't fault them for that. If I had known then what I know now, however......

Friday, August 12, 2011

W.E. Hill & Sons - The Rise of England's Greatest Violin Firm

Written By Stefan Aune

The Hill family of London is synonymous with high quality instruments, even higher quality bows, and for operating one of the most famous violin shops in the world. Particularly noted for being experts on the identification and restoration of older instruments, the Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers by William Henley calls the Hill guarantee "the most reliable in the entire world." The Hill family's roots go back hundreds of years in the history of English violin making, and they are one of the true institutions of the trade.

Most violin historians trace the family back to Joseph Hill, born in 1715. A well known and respected London maker, Joseph Hill had four violin-making sons, of whom Lockey Hill is considered the most distinguished. His son, Henry Lockey Hill, was the first Hill to adopt the Stradivarius model for his instruments, and to this day his instruments, particularly the cellos, remain some of the most valuable English instruments produced. His adaptation of the Stradivarius model raised the Hill family standard above that of general trade work and further engraved the Hill name into the annals of violin-making history. Henry Lockey Hill had five sons, and his fourth, William Ebsworth Hill, carried the family name even further when he founded the violin firm W.E. Hill & Sons in 1887 in London.

The bridge on the 'Lady Blunt' Stradivarius- W.E. Hill & Sons
(C) Tarisio 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Paganini's Violin: Il Cannone

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren, edited by Amy Tobin

There is a triangular relationship between a violinist, their instrument and their bow. Often times, we think of a certain "sound" when we think of a particular player. Much of that sound is defined by the instrument they play.
Niccolo Paganini & his  Guarnerius del Gesu violin,  "Il Cannone"



Paganini and his violin, a Guarnerius del Gesu named "Il Cannone" (the Cannon!), defined each other. Paganini was one of the first soloists to play a del Gesu. Its huge sound and fast response became Paganini's "sound". Made in 1742 (the Hills' attribution, others say 1743), late in del Gesu's life, the violin is preserved, as it was when Paganini played it, by the city of Genoa, Italy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rachel Barton Pine. Violin Soloist. Head Banger.

Written by Angela Newgren and Andy Fein

Rachel Barton Pine. Concert violin soloist. Metal head. Head Banger. Baroque violinist. Electric violinist. The gal does it all.

Rachel Barton Pine


Talented on her instrument, playing solo performances, writing music and traveling across the globe to perform, Rachel Barton Pine's off-stage life remains just as accomplished. Whether she is teaching lessons, working at a summer camp for young musicians, promoting music education, or jammin' back stage with metal junkies, Rachel Barton Pine uses her talents to give back to the community.

Rachel Barton Pine started violin lessons at three years old.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

7/8 Size Violins and Cellos. The Right Size?

Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker, Fein Violins, Ltd.

The 7/8 size for violins and cellos is a somewhat rare and odd creature. Not quite a full size and definitely larger than a 3/4 size. If you feel, for any reason, that a full size instrument is too big for you, then you might consider a 7/8 size.

Generally, if you are at about 5 feet tall, you are right in the range of the person that might need a 7/8 size. There are also other factors: your age, the length of your arm, the length of you fingers, arthritis, and muscle or tendon injuries.

This is the right size!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Joshua Bell, Growing Up Normal

 Written by: Amy Tobin

When people think of famous solo violinists, they often picture them as toddlers, with their chosen instrument, doing absolutely nothing but practicing and performing for their entire childhoods. In fact, many people would assume that, if the child isn't devoting absolutely all of their time to music, they will never be successful later on. This may be true for some, but it would also seem that it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.



Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell, arguably one of the brightest stars in the classical music world, actually had a pretty normal childhood.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. Luthier, Bow Maker & Dealer Extraordinaire

Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume is an extremely important figure in the world of violins. Vuillaume had a shop in Paris from 1822 until his death in 1875. He was admired by and friends with Paganini, Ole Bull, and a host of other great soloists.
Label of an 1841 Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume cello

He was three steps removed from Stradivarius' workshop. After Antonius Stradivarius died, his entire workshop and remaining instruments were purchased by Count Cozio. Luigi Tarisio, an itinerant violin dealer purchased many instruments from Count Cozio and brought them to Paris. Vuillaume purchased many Stradivarius instruments from Tarisio. When Tarisio died, Vuillaume traveled directly to Italy to purchase his remaining collection of Stradivarius instruments. And other Cremonese instruments as well. Guaneris, Amatis, Bergonzis, Ruggieris, Rogeris and many more. Just about every Stradivarius and Guarnerius del Gesu passed through Vuillaume's shop at some point.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

You or Your Luthier?

 Written by: Amy Tobin

Violins, violas, and cellos, because they are made from wood, can change. In fact, they are designed to do so. That way, when the weather changes, and the wood shrinks or swells, it protects the main body of the instrument from cracking. So, when things happen to your instrument and it ceases to operate smoothly, which things can you do yourself, and which things should you bring your violin in to your luthier to take care of?

One of the most common things that can happen is a tuning peg that either slips or sticks.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ole Bull, the Original Andre Rieu

 Written by: Amy Tobin

Ladies and gentlemen! Please welcome consummate violinist, composer, advocate, and all around electrifying personality........

OLE BULL!!!!

Ole Bull


Born in Bergen, Norway, in 1810, he was the original rebellious child.
His father had plans for him to become a minister, but after showing talent at a very young age (soloing with the Bergen Philharmonic at age 9!), it was clear there was only one path for Ole. In fact, when he went to take the entrance exams for Theology school, he failed. Yep. Question is, did he really fail or did he throw it?

In an apparent attempt to have his father think that he was making something of himself, he went to Germany, where he pretended to study law. 'Yes, Dad. Everything's great! School? Oh, school is going just fine.....' Shortly thereafter, he moved to Paris, Europe's famed haven for all artistes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Glitz, Celebrity & Sex Appeal in Classical Music

Written by: Andy Fein


One of my musical heroes, Gidon Kremer, recently cancelled out of playing in the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. In a, public letter to the director Mr. Kremer decries a classical music world "in which 'stars' count more than creativity, ratings more than genuine talent, numbers more than...sounds." He also points out a "misguided fixation with glamour and sex appeal."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who Worked with Stradivarius?

Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker and owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.

The romantic image of a lone violin maker, crafting each instrument individually from start to finish, is certainly an image that is held in high esteem. Something the British have termed "A One Off" - each instrument crafted from start to finish, varnished and set up by one individual.  But is it a true image of a violin workshop? Have instruments ever been made that way?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Comparing Two Stradivarius Violins - The 'Lady Blunt' and the 'Messiah'.

Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker & Owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.

On June 10, 2011, the two finest Stradivarius violins in the world were displayed side by side at the Ashomolean Museum in Oxford, England. The Ashmolean is home to the most perfectly preserved Stradivarius in existence, the 'Messiah' of 1716. The Lady Blunt of 1721 would certainly be considered the next most perfect Stradivarius next to the 'Messiah'. The strange difference is that it is almost universally accepted that the 'Lady Blunt' is a Stradivarius. Not so with the 'Messiah'.
The 'Lady Blunt is on the right, the 'Messiah' on the left

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sometimes, It's The Little Things That Count

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

Okay, so you have practiced, and practiced, and practiced (just like you're supposed to!). You have a nice violin (viola, or cello), you've matched it with a good bow, and hopefully you have a nice set of strings.  Is there anything else you can do to bring your instrument's sound to the next level? Of course! We previously wrote a blog on 10 things to improve the sound of your instrument. In addition to these 10 things, there are a few other simple steps you can take to get the most out of your instrument.