Monday, January 9, 2017

Time Off, Thoughts of Gratitude and Shiny Wooden Boxes

Time Off, Thoughts of Gratitude and Shiny Wooden Boxes

Long, lingering shadows,
still, frigid nights;
 crunchy uneven turf and  

 Winter settles on New England,
with gardens long since put to bed and lawns cleared of autumn’s leftovers,
 thoughts turn inward, find   

For family and dear friends,
work that tires bones but quiets anxious thoughts;
for strength of limb, nature’s lessons and nature’s     

Season now for making oddly shaped wooden boxes,
that shine and soar in soprano octaves
and whisper almost inaudible.

Soon however births spring,
gardens blooming in soft, wet soil and everyone and everything of earth, and on earth, rushing blissfully blind;
leaving little time for reflection or for funny wooden boxes that


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Additional photos Opus iii

For those of you who don't get to my website I thought I'd include a few more photos of my latest violin. Enjoy. Bill

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Little Gypsy Girl

I've been playing this little beauty since April. I guess it's time to introduce her to the bloggesphere. She is my opus 3 and is by far my finest violin. I love her markings and finish. Her contours are graceful, all of the turns, arching, channels etc. are smooth. Yet because she is hand made and finished with steel scrapers instead of sand paper you can actually feel the narrow spruce top grains and the more prominent maple flaming on her back. Only the neck is silky smooth, as it should be to facilitate position changing while playing.

I absolutely love the way she looks and handles but that's not what makes her a standout violin. You only need to play her for a few moments to fall in love. Unlike my first two and many other violins I've played there aren't any weak tone areas. All four strings are very even. From the open "G" to the very highest reaches on the "E" the sound is luxurious and powerful. It's going to be tough losing her eventually to some gifted player. The good news is I took detailed notes on the steps that determine how a violin sounds, and I have almost identical wood for the next violin. I'm not changing the mold, arching or anything else. The finish coloring for opus 4 will likely be different but as long as the same amount of "ground" preparation, glazing and varnish is used I think I can duplicate the sound to a high degree. When I started this journey three years ago I thought it might take many years if ever to get the sound right. If all my instruments for the next several years sound this good I'll be very pleased.

As I have been playing my opus 3 over the past four months I have steadily improved my playing technique. Perhaps the ease at which a broad, warm tone can be achieved with this violin has accelerated the process. There have been many "aha" moments in that time where improvement seems to leap ahead. Tonight there was a giant "Aha" moment; some of it technique but more importantly this time was something else. Many of you know that I love that gypsy, eastern European sound, characterized by heavy use of minor keys, expressive verbrato and very high position playing especially on the two lower strings. In the past I have dabbled with that type of playing, usually as warm up exercises leading to more stately classical pieces. As my technique improved over the weeks I would experiment with a more radical gypsy style but inevitably going back to basic music. Tonight as other nights past I began the same way but never looked back so to speak. Just kept going, getting more intense and expressive into that "sound" than ever before.

I believe I have finally found my voice on the violin. It needs to continue to evolve and improve but I know the general direction to follow. I'm saying goodbye for now to classical styles and pieces and putting all my effort into this other sound. In finding my "voice" I think I've found my true musical self. In future years when thinking back to this big "Aha" moment it wont be hard to remember the date. My little baby sister has a say in this. Thanks Jane. Happy Birthday!

Here's to opus three. My "little gypsy girl"!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Little Gems

Many of my blogs have been quite long winded but this one should be more concise. Maybe it will reach a few more of you that way. A few years ago I was down on the way the internet and internet related industries were reducing the influence of filter giants like The New York Times and other big media outlets. If everyone has access, if there aren't big institutional media outlets to guide us to excellance how will we ever wade through the enormous material out there to find greatness in whatever category we seek? In many ways I still feel that way but am glad to be able to find "little gems" on my own. I joined Rapsody a few months ago and Pandora two years or so before that. Both have helped me discover new classical music I didn't know was out there. Last year it was a few works of Gerald Finzi, "Romance" and "Introit". Before these internet based musical stations existed you would have to rely on traditional classical radio stations that played the same old time worn giants over and over again. Small obscure pieces never got any play. The latest little gem I've discovered through Rapsody is Alexander Glazunov's 9th Symphony. Please try to find it and give it a listen. It's only a 10+ minute,one movement piece. Its not Beetoven's 5th.Just a small slice of good old fashion 19th century russian romantic music at its best. Enjoy. Bill

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Easier Than Golf

After taking a brief hiatus from the world of music on my last blog, I thought I'd return with a little observation. Playing the violin, like golf, is a difficult endeavor but not nearly so diabolical and innumerably more rewarding.

For the most part I gave up golf at the onset of my violin making avocation. Not a day too soon I must add. Back when I played a fair amount, I had golfing buddies who were entirely into competing against other players. As many of you may know, golf has a strange handicap system that allows players of all skill levels to compete against each other. You can be a horrible golfer but regularly beat great golfers because of the number of strokes thrown your way. So often these guys would get really fired up when they shot 1000 for 9 holes because after deducting 961 shots because of their handicap they "beat" their competitor who shot a respectable 40. Where was this system when I use to run marathons? Imagine getting a ten mile head start at the Boston Marathon, beating some truly great runners by a whisker and whooping it up at the local pub cause you just "won" a really big race.

When I played golf I didn't enjoy competing much. At least not against other players. It was always me against the course, trying each day to play better than the day before. Guess who won most of the time? Guess who won 99 times out of 100? the #*#* golf course. I really worked hard at the game too but despite my efforts there was very little improvement or satisfaction. Frustration, well if that was the goal then I was better than Tiger Woods! Endless supply of that.

Playing the violin is almost entirely different than golf other than one shared aspect. They both are incredibly difficult to master but that is where the comparisons end. The violin is rewarding and enjoyable almost every single day I play and many days it is rapturous. Often improvements carry over from one day to the next. As long as I'm not exhausted (from other activities) when I begin playing I can almost always count on playing some pieces or exercises well with good tone and a fair amount of expression. Lately each day seems better than the one before with a tone production quite intoxicating. Sometimes I'm playing along (alone I might add) and all of a sudden I've got this huge smile on my face from the beautiful sounds coming from the instrument.

I guess this is a long winded way of saying making music is an amazingly sensuous and incredibly rewarding endeavor. Perhaps the violin is not for everyone but given the diversity of instruments out there I highly recommend some form of music playing for all people. Especially the young and young at heart.

Add one last observation: Although I am no less passionate about spiritual and religious matters, I suspect this blog might solicit a little more response than the previous one. We'll see.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


This isn't about violins. I know a thing or two about violins now, how to make them and play them reasonably well. No this is about something of which I know much more than violins. This is about people, cultures and whole societies manipulating spiritual experience for their own gain and drastically cheapening it for others in the process.

I am tired of Tim Tebow. I am tired of evangelicals. I am tired of Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and a host of other personalities selling their bag of goods. I am tired of any and all religions that are about destinations in the next life. I am more than tired of them. I am really fed up with them and that's why I'm writing this.

I go to church almost every week. I support my church to the tune of many thousands of dollars annually. I recite the Apostles Creed, the Lord's prayer, take communion and take part in many other weekly rituals. I sing in the choir, help the homeless and regularly visit an elderly parishioner with soup and a few pops. I do all these things because it's about living life responsibly, collectively and spiritually. It is not about a destination, it is not about seeing loved ones in the future that have left this world. It is not about answering a "call" someone has decided for me. I gave all of that up many, many years ago. I'll say it again. It's about living responsibly, collectively and spiritually.

Why isn't this enough. Why do we have to invent elaborate religious narratives about stuff of which NOBODY has the remotest clue. Sure, like I mentioned above I recite creeds, say prayers and perform other weekly rituals in church. Its like getting dressed in the morning, having a cup of coffee, having a pleasant word for the waitress in the coffee shop, treating employees like family, praising sons and daughters endlessly, loving spouses unconditionally and after all that, taking your dog for a daily walk.. These prayers, creeds and what I call "living in the Kingdom" are things we do that fill a life, that create a cadence, that play music in our souls. This is the essence of "the divine". There are endless varieties of this "life" dance. No one better than the next. But it pains me to no end when these beautiful brush strokes are co opted by "holy" men and women, religious organizations and other charlatans and turned to filth with narratives of exclusivity and bigoted piety.

This is it. There is no place else to go. It's not about answering to SOMEONE out there directing us. Why can't we grow up and discover the "divine" right here. Why do we insist on adding layers of gook to a dish of exquisite simple elegance.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

One Hundred Years Ago Today

January 12th, 1912, the day my father was born, one hundred years to this day. A thousand thousand thoughts come and go in my mind, drift in - drift out. There is no one definitive image of my father. There are many. As many as I allow in. And as I dream further, more still.

It is not so much the memories that consume me, but the empty gaps. His mother who none of us, that is the grandchildren, knew; what were her thoughts one hundred years ago today? Did she hope to one day hold one of us in her arms as she was holding her infant son, dreaming what our lives would entail? She lived a mere seven years more. What were her thoughts in the last days of her influenza shortened life? Did she worry for her young son? Surely there was immense grief knowing she would not even live to see him grow into a young man. What were her thoughts one hundred years ago today? Did she dream of seeing my dad grow up and eventually marrying my mom. Did she dream of celebrating birthdays and Christmas and even our eventual marriage ceremonies?

Seven years are never enough. They were all she was given. Her first day of those seven began a hundred years ago today. What were her thoughts on that day?

There are so many gaps in the story. Who was my fathers best friend as a child growing up. Did he have a special valentine in kindergarten as I had some forty two years later? What were his thoughts as he graduated from high school, lacking family money for college and entering the work force in the beginning years of a historic economic depression? Who were his friends prior to meeting my mother during those tough '30s pre war years? On and on my thoughts wander, many many more questions than answers.

This day however, January 12th, 2012 is about remembering a fateful day a full one hundred years ago. About a mother and her newborn, her dreams for him and his life to come.