Friday, March 22, 2013

What's in the Case?

"What's in the Case?" is the title of a monthly column in Strings Magazine, in which a writer interviews a violin player about his or her violin.  I have enjoyed reading the articles over the years and thought it might be fun to write one of my own.  Of course, I am both the interviewer and the interviewee! I hope you, my readers, enjoy it, even though this post has a narrower focus than many of my previous posts.
What's in the Case?

Player: Virginia Boyle Traver has been playing the violin for 48 years, since she was 8 years old.  "I play more now than at any time except when I was in college," she says, "and I have lots more fun playing than I ever have."  She performs with the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra, the Union College Orchestra, and plays chamber music with friends.

What is your primary go-to instrument?  I still own the factory-made Strad that my parents bought me when I was in 6th grade, which has a surprisingly nice tone. It's a back-up in case of disaster.  My current instrument is a 2004 Andre Hoffer violin from Budapest. I am its first owner.

What made you purchase a new instrument?  From college until 2002 I played a 150-year old German Pfretzschner violin that I loved.  Then it developed a buzz.  I took it to quite a few technicians and no one could fix it.  Finally, one of them told me, "When a violin ages, we always think it will get better, but sometimes it can age in a negative way."  I was fortunate to be able to sell it.  For a year and a half I grieved for it while I played my student violin.  Finally, after much searching, I bought a brand new violin from Nick Frirsz in Greenfield, outside of Saratoga Springs.

How does the new Hoffer compare to your old Pfretzschner?  It took about two years for us to get used to each other.  Now, I really think that if I could play the two instruments side-by-side, I would prefer my Hoffer violin.  There is something romantic about having a richly colored and softly shaped historic instrument, but, in fact, I think my new instrument's tone suits me better.  It has a stronger sound and makes me a more confident player.

What are your violin's likes and dislikes?  It doesn't like winter when the house is dry.  The pegs slip and it sometimes develops a buzz which really freaks me out.  I am paranoid about buzzes.  I use a "damp-it," a rubber snake that helps moisturize the wood, but, really, unless you keep a wooden instrument in a humidified room, nothing else is very effective. Usually, by late winter, I buy new strings. Violin strings are very expensive (I just paid a sale price of $70 for a set), so you don't replace them as often as you would guitar strings. This violin responds more to new strings than my previous instrument.  The warmth of tone is palpable as we head into Spring.

Have you ever done anything that might have robbed your instrument of its "mojo" such as a repair? (mojo is that special magic that lies within the soul of an instrument)  In the seven years I've had this violin, I haven't hurt it in any way, but I do have a wonderful 1975 German Herbert Wanka bow that I beat up a bit. I have no idea how I chipped the ivory tip.  I just noticed that it was chipped all around.  I don't remember dropping it, but apparently I gave it a rough time.  I have since had the ivory replaced.  Technicians now use a small piece of bone from a cow for this.

If given the ability, what would your violin say to you if the two of you sat down for tea?  Whenever I practice at home by myself, I always love playing, taking care with how I shape the music, and listening to how my violin really sounds.  Yet, most of my time is spent playing with other people when there are so many other things to focus on.  I think my violin would say to me over a cup of Turkish Ode to Joy Almond Tea, "You say you love to play just with me, alone at home, but you don't make that a priority.  Why can't we spend more time together, just you, me and the music?  Must we socialize so much?"