So Here It Is ….

Jean-Joseph_Cassanéa_de_Mondonville_(original_replica)_by_Maurice_Quentin_de_La_TourIn my previous post, I mentioned my inspiration for and rationale behind purchasing an inexpensive Baroque bow from Shar.

Immediately when I received my new bow this past Wednesday and proceeded to try it out after removing it from all that protective packaging, I noticed a huge difference in the feeling as well as the subsequent sound. Although I had expected the inverted curvature and elegant, highly pointed tip, I was unprepared for some further aesthetic and constructional differences. For one thing, I was somewhat taken aback how it was much smaller than a modern bow (see photo). In fact, when I proceeded to tuck it in the bow holder inside my case, it barely reached the second holding ring; the end of the tip was barely hanging off it. Still, it’s pretty secure in there and does not look like it will fall out.

Speaking of the Baroque bow’s tip, I was equally surprised by the lack of ivory on the underside of the tip. Since I can find nothing speaking of this in my research thus far, I consequently assume that ivory tips are an invention that came with the modern Tourte bow; all Baroque bow copies that I see on the Internet lack an ivory tip. Furthermore, the manner in which this bow (and all Baroque bows) was haired differed vastly from how modern bows are haired in the respect that the hair extended into the frog, almost to the bottom of the frog. On a modern bow, the hair ends at the frog. Finally, I also did not expect the thinner quantity of hair on a Baroque bow. Just looking at this on my new bow told me that in no way was I going to be able to produce my signature “Aggressive Female” sound ….

Aesthetic and constructional differences aside, I was taken even more aback by the overall response and feeling of the bow when playing. Based on others’ testimony that I had read and heard, I still was stuck in the notion that using Baroque violin equipment would literally mean re-learning how to walk again. I literally thought that I would be skidding all over the place, taking at least two weeks to get adjusted. Remembering not to bear down hard based on my observations, I carefully yet confidently proceeded to experiment by playing songs that I already knew, beginning with unaccompanied Bach, which Mrs. Benner had recommended to me as a good starting point for me in the world of Baroque violin repertoire.

I could have not been more wrong in my Baroque bow assumptions mentioned above. Yes, playing with such a bow was indeed different. I immediately felt that the bow was much lighter and more delicate than a modern bow, with an inconsistent feel over the course of the bow which prevented me from playing full, passionate, romanticized legato. Still, I was surprised how I did not have a wild amount of slipping in the beginning, not to mention how much easier it was for me to execute inegal and produce a cleaner sound on rapid runs. As a musicologist had told me, I found myself articulating more with my right hand, but man did the bow respond with ease! at-home I felt with the bow after a mere five-ten minutes. I was in total shock at this and kept asking myself, “Am I really playing with a Baroque bow?” To test, I pulled out my modern bow and began playing. I immediately felt a difference in response and felt I was fighting the bow …..

I proceeded to return to my Baroque bow and play some Bach. I could not believe the difference from doing so. In the past, I had read and heard from one of my teachers who attempted to incorporate HIPP concepts (but grossly misinterpreted them) that playing unaccompanied Bach in its fullest is not possible with a modern bow due to the Baroque bow’s inverted curve construction. Finding unaccompanied Bach almost impossible to play then, I soon believed the statement above.

Now I was experiencing the reality of this statement. Not only did the music sound more pleasant (no more modern, romanticized renditions for me!), but I was more so shocked on how much easier I could execute inegal, subtle accents, dance rhythms, and all the cornerstones of HIPP which I had diligently been instructed on via recorder and voice. My violin/recorder makers and teachers have always known me as very picky when it comes to choosing musical equipment; I especially favor equipment with a rapid response and cannot stand equipment with poor, sluggish response. Using a Baroque bow totally satisfied this personal preference. Unlike with my modern bow, I felt I was not laboring to execute inegal, nor was I laboring to execute anything in general as was the case with my modern bow, even with my right hand higher up the bow like Mr. Nelson had advised.

As a final test, I proceeded to delve into the piece which not only won me my violinist nickname, “The Aggressive Female”, but also is the true test for me when I try violin equipment: The finale from Vivaldi’s Summer. Again, I was taken aback by how quickly the bow responded. I was amazed by how much cleaner and articulate I sounded on both the tremolo and scale passages at my neckbreaking speed of 152 BPM. I did not have to bear down hard to sound “Aggressive” (though I could not get the volume I would with a modern bow); the bow just did the work for me.

Furthermore, I have always experienced extreme fatigue two-thirds of the way through the piece, often accompanied by a painful cramp in my right shoulder. With the Baroque bow, I neither grew fatigued, nor did I experience the deadly cramp which I have fought to mask. In the past, I was always frustrated that, no matter how hard I worked to “clean it up”, I would never sound 100% clean, and no matter how relaxed I tried to be, the cramp would always creep up on me. Okay, I’ll acknowledge that the issue has to do with personal tension during playing, but now I know that it was the bow that was largely responsible for the issue …..

In the end, I was practically addicted to my bow for the next hour or so, only leaving it when I realized that I needed to practice for my upcoming voice lesson and following sonata session. I proceeded to return to it for the next few days, becoming comfortable in the process, and today I took it to school to show some eager individuals. Unexpectedly, a professor who is also a professional cellist (and the individual responsible for latching me up with Mrs. Benner) asked me to play for her. Even though I was still insecure since I am still adjusting to the bow, I gladly accepted her offer, performing some Bach and, of course, Summer, for her. At the end of this mini-performance, the professor remarked how I seemed so comfortable and at-home with my Baroque bow. Hmmm, even I feel that way …….

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