This is "Sub-Zero," my kitty, who sits in my case every day when I practice:
As a violinist, I'm always looking for a relatively inexpensive way to improve my sound. Finding a great rosin falls under this category. I've tried Liebenzeller rosin, Tartini (Andrea Solo) Rosin, Pirastro. I once tried a rosin that came in a cool looking, round wooden box. However, I do think that Baker's rosin is superior, really gripping the strings well, without creating a lot of dust. Most rosins have been in a store room or on a shelf for months, drying out and becoming less effective. Baker's rosin is produced fresh every season, and is apparently made from real pine sap and high quality additives (bark, resin, metals). It smells great and the packaging is smart. There are two kinds, amber and citron - the amber colored one seems to grip a little bit more and the citron tends to sound a little glassier.
To buy Baker's rosin, go to http://www.bakersrosin.com/ and ask to be put on their mailing list. The rosin is made seasonally. It seems that there is usually a batch completed around December. About $22.
Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to visit Ole Bull's castle in central Pennsylvania.
"Who is Ole Bull?" you might be wondering. Well, he was one of the greatest violinist-jugglers and proponents of Norwegian music of the 1800s. He discovered Edward Grieg and sent him to music school. He had concert wars with the great Vieuxtemps. He performed with the New York Philharmonic before there was a dress-code, when musicians made $3 and conductors, $5. Ole Bull was one of the last successful self-taught fiddlers, and played concerts consisting mostly of his own variations and Norwegian folk-tunes. Only a few of his works survive today.
There's a wonderful biography on Ole Bull called "The Life of Ole Bull." Great reading!
Below, I've included some photographs of my trip. Ole Bull was famous for starting impossible endeavors (becoming one of the worlds greatest violinists was a start). One of his biggest debacles was the purchase of about 11,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania, intended to be a Norwegian colony. Bull thought he had purchased about 10 times as much land, but was swindled. He also believed the land was fertile, and ready for farming, which was not the case at all! His castle resides in what is now Ole Bull State Park.
This is a collection of shots of the "castle" and its surroundings. Click fast and you'll feel like you're there. I've been told there's a special name for moving pictures...
Just out today is the promo for the exciting Viola-matic 2, a spoof video of what you can do with a carbon fiber viola. This is a creative treat from Matt Diekman, who among other pursuits, subs with the San Antonio Symphony.
I'm extremely impressed by the camera work in this new video.
If you missed the original viola-matic for some reason, you can find it here:
I was first introduced to Clara Rockmore when browsing videos of students playing video game themes on the theremin (wiki). The theremin, by the way, is the only instrument that requires no touch. It senses when you are close. Bringing your hand closer to the vertical antenna makes the pitch higher. Bring your hand towards the horizontal antenna makes the pitch softer. Here's a video of Leon Theremin playing the instrument he invented.
Clara Rockmore entered St. Petersburg Conservatory at age 5, as a student of the great Leopold Auer, earning the prestige of being the youngest student ever accepted. Later on in her teens, after developing some sort of muscle condition, Clara dropped her violin career in favor of the theremin. She worked directly with Leon Theremin to make certain adjustments to his invention, and developed a fingering system similar to what we call "positions" on the violin. What fascinates me about the theremin, is that portamenti (use interchangeably with "glissando"), or slides, are built in to the instrument. It is almost impossible to avoid them, especially as you change hand positions. The portamenti are a fundamental characteristic of theremin sound and they are necessary for maintaining a sense of accurate pitch.
When playing the violin, students these days are often told to avoid portamenti altogether, or to only slide occasionally. Portamenti are often regarded as distasteful, self-indulgent, or dirty. Extremely sterile playing is regarded as a virtue, especially in an orchestral setting. Clara Rockmore's theremin playing has made me rethink the use of portamenti in my own violin playing. After all, the violin has no frets. Before Spohr, and the invention of the chinrest, the portamento (slide) was a much more necessary aspect of violin playing. After much thought on the subject, and reading Ruggiero Ricci's treatise on the subject (Ricci on Glissando: The Shortcut to Violin Technique), I firmly believe that portamenti (glissandi), should play a more commanding role in violin technique. As a side note, some musicians make an effort do differentiate between portamento and glissando, though physically, the left hand action is identical. Should we sound like cats mewing? Hopefully not. Portamenti should sound "vocal." Also, a delicate glissando can be used as a vehicle for great listening and great accuracy, especially in double stops and in virtuosic passages.
My favorite Clara Rockmore video is the "Hebrew Melody" by Achron, a 20th century composer know for his film music. The portamenti in this piece sound weeping and full of sorrow.
I was so moved by this performance, that I decided to play the "Hebrew Melody" for my public recital last year, taking a shot at producing a similar a similar affect on the violin.
Sometimes I wonder why classical music isn't more popular amongst the under 65-somethings in the U.S. There are a couple reasons I can name off the top of my head:
1) Orchestras are notorious for gearing most, if not all, of their advertising dollars towards season ticket subscribers. Most of the time, younger audience members do not buy subscriptions. We're too busy to attend a series of concerts or we don't have the cash. The subscription pricing model, in my opinion, is probably the main barrier of entry.
2) School music programs have tiny budgets compared to school sports budgets. Maybe this is a side effect of American culture. Some people really do think sports are more competitive. There is a clear winner and loser. I think the idea of mercilessly crushing your opponent with sheer strength is appealing. Perhaps Suzuki (of Suzuki violin method) was on to something when he instituted a level system comparable to Karate belt rankings.
3) U.S. media completely ignores the classical music scene in favor of Teen Idols and Pop Culture. See: Hannah Montana, Justin Bieber, Rebecca Black... A lot has been written about the false dichotomy between "Classical" music and "Pop" music. This is not a question of talent, although you could argue that teen idols are popular because they are average. As far as I can tell, the main difference is that classical music is advertised poorly and has poor media visibility. There's no good reason that "E! Online" can't cover Lang Lang or Hilary Hahn.
Nodame Cantabile (wiki) is a Japanese cartoon (anime) geared towards high school and college students. I would say it fits into a comedy/drama category. The two main characters are Nodame, an aimless, female pianist, and Chiaki, a piano/violin/conducting prodigy that is top of his class. They attend various college conservatories in Japan and France and go through all of the struggles that music students in the states go through. They have personal goals, they want to be respected by their peers, and they constantly struggle to balance practice time and their social lives. Sound familiar?
The anime, sponsored by Yamaha, includes lengthy and dramatic sequences featuring orchestral music by Beethoven, Mozart, and Rachmaninov, solo piano music by Chopin, chamber music by Schumann, and even Lalo's "Symphony Espagnole," for violin and orchestra. Most of the musical performances are top quality and at the very least, serve as a gateway towards other great classical works. Unlike "feel-good" music movies like "Mr. Holland's Opus," or Meryl Streep's "Music of the Heart," Nodame Cantabile actually has a strong undercurrent of deep respect, enthusiasm, and excitement towards classical music. More than that, it actually paints a fairly realistic picture of conservatory life. The show was so successful in Japan, that it has lasted multiple seasons and even spawned a live-action spin-off.
Nodame Cantabile proves that if you have something actually meaningful and worthwhile, you can market it easily to a youthful audience. The series is credited with actually increasing sales of classical music in Japan. For some reason, youth advertising and animation (one and the same) in the U.S. tends to cater to the lowest common denominator. See Cartoon Network.com.
Though not available on Netflix or officially anywhere in the U.S., I'm sure the average internet surfer could find an English Subbed version with little difficulty. "Nodame Cantabile" is not alone in art-themed anime. See also "Honey and Clover" (a painting/sculpture focus)