Friday, May 05, 2006

A mother's purgatory

Meghan's 6th grade orchestra at Jones Middle School had a field trip to Cincinnat on Wednesday. I "volunteered" to help chaperone. What that means is that no other parents volunteered so Meghan begged me to come. Somehow, the committee meeting I missed at work sounded awfully good after spending too many hours on a bus with 12 year olds. . .

The trip had two parts. First to the Cincinnati Music Hall to hear a joint concert by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra. There were dozens of other schools from around the state also in attendance. What a zoo!

Our school had seats up in the first balcony. In the Ohio Theatre, that would be the Loge section. The seats were fine, but you have to watch out for the posts getting in the way of the view. The sound was kind of dead in that hall. One would expect a double size orchestra to really fill the place with sound, but it was very quiet during the entire concert.

Fourteen double basses for a concert? Wow! Actually, the principal bassist from CSO wasn't there, so we had only 13 basses. The last selection feature three timpani players for the last section of the music.

The next phase of the trip was a visit to the Baroque Violin Shop, which is owned by Paul J. Bartel. He's a violin maker and has two buildings. The first is a warehouse/shop/display room. He has an exhibit of Crimona violins, which is apparently his featured import. He has an exhibit showing the parts of a violin in the room where the Crimona instruments are on display.

The kids went wild in here and tried all the instruments. It was pretty stressful - not only for me as a chaperone worrying about breakage, but none of the instruments were tuned, so I had to listen to the cacaphony of dissonance.

There was an impressive selection of double basses in the warehouse.

Meghan liked this room a lot!

The workshop was in the warehouse, too. It looked liked any woodworking shop you'd care to visit. Maybe a little more chaotic than some I've seen. This is a mortiser. I suspect it's used to open up the peg box of a stringed instrument.

This lathe has a duplicator attachment. It's probably used to make pegs. It might be used to rough out the necks, also. I wish we had been given a tour of this part of the facility. I can only speculate on what they're doing in here. . .

As I said, it's not a particularly tidy workshop, but it certainly appears to be in frequent usage.

The hand work is done in the other building, upstairs from the store. I enjoyed this part of the tour very much - especially in seeing all the workbenches and parts storage. This is a rack of bridges for the various instruments. Each bridge is shaved down to fit the profile of the instrument's belly. You have to have good contact to make the vibration of the strings carry into the sound chamber of the instrument.

Here's a close-up view of the bridges hanging in the window.

Instruments in various stages of assembly or repair are hung from wires attached to the ceiling.

This corner is for carving the belly and back of the violins. The hand gouges are sharp. Paul gave some of the kids a chance to try their hand at carving.

This storage bin has the split boards that will be glued up for the belly and back plate of the violin.

Dowels are used for the sound post, which is placed under the treble side of the bridge.

Hair from a horse's mane is used for the bow.

There are many different styles of chin rests for violins and violas. I use one that has a very high platform, because my neck is so long.

The kids were sent on a scavenger hunt, and were turned loose to explore every room in the building - and I mean, every room. There were things on the list to be found in the strangest places. . .

Paul explained how you go from some boards to a finished violin. He held up a stack of wood and told the kids that "this is a violin." It just takes some work to get there. . .

Violins that are beyond repair are cut up and placed in the "violin graveyard."

And, here's the genuine article: A stradivarious that is about 350 years old. Paul played a snippet of a tune on this for the kids. Very, very nice. . .


Anonymous said...

oh ... WOW! ... what lucky kids -- thanks for the pictures..

Andi Wolfe said...

Hi e -

You're right - these kids are lucky to have such a good strings program, and to have this opportunity. It was certainly an interesting day, and I enjoyed seeing the workshop part of the violin store.