Oh Boy! A New Toy!

In becoming heavily involved in HIPP through recorder and voice, I have discovered the secrets to playing “like Il Giardino Armonico” rather than merely imitating as I described. In learning to play the recorder and sing in the historically accurate style, my ears have become sensitive to the subtleties of the HIPP style (e.g. inegal, good and bad notes, harmonic rhythm, dance rhythms), and playing Baroque violin repertoire in the somewhat romanticized style with which I have been taught — complete with continuous vibrato and whole bow — bothered me to the point that doing so is no longer became an option for me. Hence, this past week, I decided to make a significant addition to my violin-playing: Buying an inexpensive Baroque bow from Shar. Yes, you heard that right; I’ve got a new toy …….

I must gratefully acknowledge my recorder teacher, Mr. William Nelson, as the source of my decision to formally transfer my HIPP skills gained from recorder onto violin. At my first lesson with Mr. Nelson, he not only urged me to return to violin, but he also used it to explain recorder-related topics to me (good and bad notes = up and down bow, breath control is smoothly drawing the bow across the strings). Furthermore, Mr. Nelson proceeded to give me some friendly lectures on Baroque violin technique and playing. Though not a violinist himself outside of a strings class as a music education major, Mr. Nelson attended various early music workshops in which he would observe classes designated to transfer modern violinists into Baroque violin.

Before Mr. Nelson’s testimony, I had the impression that going into Baroque violin from modern violin was a very frustrating process not unlike learning how to walk again; the gut strings, Baroque bow, and absence of chinrest were enough to throw off any good modern violinist for a few months. However, Mr. Nelson described a totally different approach utilized in these workshops: The modern players participating in these introductory Baroque workshops were gradually eased into their period-equivalent equipment. Firstly, they were told to place their right hands 2-3 inches up from the frog of the bow so that they would be able to get a lighter attack and quicker articulation somewhat like a Baroque bow. Next, when they had adjusted to this, the players were given a Baroque bow and gut strings on a modern instrument, followed by a removal of the chinrest and any shoulder rests (which I do not play with). Finally, at the end of the workshop, the players were using solely Baroque violins and bows. Mr. Nelson then urged me to place my bow hand higher up as he described so I could get some feeling of what a Baroque bow was like and also get a more historically accurate sound.

Well, I listened to Mr. Nelson, and I immediately felt the difference: I was using my right hand to articulate more (which, as a musicologist later explained to me, is a key difference in Baroque violin-playing), and I was able to get a lighter sound complete with a somewhat distinct inegal. No, I could not produce my signature, fiery “Aggressive Female” volume and charisma (e.g. the “whiplash” bow stroke) in this position, but in my readings, I learned that such playing is historically inaccurate. Consequently, craving historical accuracy, I began to play all Baroque violin repertoire with my bow hand in this position, paying close attention to inegal, harmonic rhythm, and all the necessary components upon which Mr. Nelson and my voice teacher, Dr. Robert Holst (also a musicologist/Baroque specialist who serves as my accompanist), instructed me on.

The decision to buy the Baroque bow, however, stems from Wendy Harton Benner, the Baroque violinist and Baroque Band member that I interviewed as noted in my post “HIPP Phoney Baloney.” Since that initial interview, Mrs. Benner and I have been corresponding, and in one conversation not long after the interview, she urged me to go buy an inexpensive Baroque bow from Shar:


After I revealed to her how Mr. Nelson had told me to modify my bow hold for a more historically accurate style, she lauded his advice and confirmed that this was one step towards a more historically accurate sound. Still, she told me that only a Baroque bow would accurately capture that essence; it serves as the cornerstone by which that sound is produced. She proceeded to tell me about how countless mentors of hers — some of which were not HIPP artists — would have their students play Bach with a Baroque bow upon a modern instrument, since modern bows do not do unaccompanied Bach much justice (I often heard this in the past and always thought that such Bach was impossible to play). Furthermore, Gary Clarke of Baroque Band uses these cheap bows from Shar as introductory bows for Baroque violinists-in-training.

Hence, based upon both Mrs. Benner’s advice and the fact that Gary Clarke endorsed such cheap Baroque bows, I made the decision to formally invest in a Baroque bow. After all, the $109 price was not so bad for my limited budget, and my parents agreed that this could be my early Christmas present. I felt it was high time I applied my HIPP knowledge to my primary instrument after doing it long enough on recorder and voice, and I felt this was a step towards me eventually becoming a Baroque violinist. Yes, I knew it is made in China and is not 100% authentic, let alone it may seem scandalous to some HIPP purists for me to be using a Baroque bow on a modern, metal-strung violin. But no, I can afford neither a high-quality Baroque bow nor a Baroque violin now, so this was better than nothing and a good starter. So, fully confident in both the testimonies of Mrs. Benner and Gary Clarke, I placed my order on the Shar website and eagerly awaited my new toy’s arrival ……

To be continued …..

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