A long, musical journey

I played the clarinet and it was pretty straight-forward since I never got good enough to need a really good clarinet and they only come in one size so physically outgrowing it wasn’t an issue. Dealing with a string instrument is a whole other deal. When Katy decided at the end of second grade to sign up for Music Matters, the new after-school program, in third grade and play the violin I spent the summer figuring out how exactly you acquire a violin, what to look for, whether to rent or own and how to figure out which size. We finally ended up at Dirt Cheep Music in Smyrna, which sells decent student-model instruments approved by Cobb County music teachers. We went down right after school started and found out our petite little daughter was too small for anything they had in the store. She needed a one-eighth and they had to special order that. So we came back the next weekend to pick it up. the guy took that tiny little instrument out of the case and I thought “you have to be kidding, it looks like a toy”. But in her hands it was the perfect size. Everyone else in the class of third-fifth graders had one-fourth to one-half size and she took a little ribbing about her “itty bitty violin” but it worked well for her. And she was glad the next summer to find she’d grown enough to not only outgrow it but to skip a size and move up to a half-size. She played that half-size for three years.

Katy with her 1/4 at the Christmas concert in third grade.
Katy with her 1/8 at the Christmas concert in third grade.

Then at a sixth grade fall concert we realized she’d outgrown the 1/2, her elbows were much more bent than the other kids’. We planned that Saturday to go look at a 3/4 and then my car was hit and totaled and we had to push that back a couple of weeks while we bought a new car. She had tried out for All-State Orchestra with the half-sized Dirt Cheep violin and one thing she scored really low on was tonality. Some of that was her but a lot of it was the quality of the instrument, too. We  decided those Dirt Cheep instruments were fine for elementary school but she needed a real instrument. Her private teacher took lessons many years ago from a man who owns a violin shop so he sent us down there saying to mention him and we’d either get royal treatment or get booted out, he wasn’t sure which. That was Huthmaker’s in Suwanee. So we went down there and bought her a nice, second-hand 3/4 size. There wasn’t much to pick from — and nothing new — as they don’t carry many 3/4, I think most people go from a half to a full.

So a few week ago (about a year and a half after we bought the 3/4) Katy had a lesson, everything was fine, she went to camp for two weeks, came back and had another lesson and had outgrown the 3/4. They feed them well at camp! So it was back to Huthmaker’s for a full-size, real and truly grown-up violin. Her private teacher told us if we got something in the $1,000 range it would get her through college and something in the $1,250 range would get her through life. Well, naturally they didn’t have anything in those price ranges. Most students go from a student model to a step-up model, which is better than a student but not as a good as a professional model. He said he sold a lot to students earlier in the summer and his supplier in Romania was having trouble getting anything out of the country. He was expecting a shipment from Czechoslovakia the next week but that was a new supplier and he wasn’t sure what the instruments would be like. So we had to look at a professional model, which naturally costs more.

We spent a lot of time while she played several models. She also tried a rare 7/8, which were created especially for women (it had ladies’ violin carved on the back of the scroll), but after playing the full size she thought the strings were too close together. Just as well, that one was $2,000!

Finally she narrowed it down to two choices — one made in 2006 and one made sometime between 1900-1915. She really just couldn’t decide so we brought both home on approval for the week. The violins were $1,475 and $1,500 and she had two bows both in the $300 range and I was a nervous wreck with all this expensive stuff we didn’t own lying around. Well, when we got home, she realized the antique violin had a buzzing sound to it. She took both to her lesson, her teacher spent about 30 minutes playing and examining both while we listened, then she played them both some more. He was getting the buzzing, too, with both her loaner bows and his bow. But other than that, the antique instrument sounded so much better. I really liked the antique one, too, I especially liked the idea of having something with some history to it. Not that we know what the history is, but you can imagine! Her teacher also found a nick in the scroll that might be cosmetic or might be the cause of the buzz.

So today we headed back to Huthmaker’s, still unsure which one to get because we didn’t know about the buzz. Mr. Huthmaker went over it and finally decided it must be missing some glue or something on the inside. When an instrument is 115 years old, things are bound to happen. In the meantime he told us he just got a new violin in that was really nice. It was made in 2015, so it was a new one. He put Katy and that violin in one of the rooms. That violin was $1,750 and naturally she decided she liked it better than the 2006 $1,500 model. Then awhile later Mr. Huthmaker came back with the antique model. He said some rosin had built up in the f-holes (the little carved section on each side of the strings, if you don’t know). He cleaned it all out and the buzz was gone. Katy played it a bit and decided that was her violin.

The bows were a little easier. She liked them both equally, one was wood and one was carbon fiber. Her teacher said to go with the carbon fiber as it won’t break.

So we made our purchases. We got a fantastic deal on our trade-in, usually it’s 60% but the daughter said she liked us and was giving us a little more and “don’t tell my mother” who was standing right there. And Katy picked out a case and her favorite one happened to be on sale, so that was nice.

About the nick in the scroll, he said it was just cosmetic and he’s going to fill it in while we’re on vacation and don’t need it.

Katy is very happy in her usual low-key way.

Oh, and the t-shirt. When you buy a professional violin or bow or both from them you get a t-shirt but you have to answer the riddle on the back first.

Mr. Huthmaker showing Katy the riddle.
Mr. Huthmaker showing Katy the riddle.

You can’t enlarge photos on WordPress anymore so you can’t read the shirt. It says:

I was alive in the woods,
I am killed by the cruel ax,
While living, I was silent
In death, I sweetly sing
–Brescian Legend

Her answer was “a bowed string instrument”. I thought she would say violin. But then I pointed out it could have been an oboe or clarinet or bassoon or any other wooden instrument. He said he gets all kinds of wild answers, including “tree” when people only read the first two lines.

So she got her t-shirt.

Katy and Mr. Huthmaker with the t-shirt.
Katy and Mr. Huthmaker with the t-shirt.

Katy and her new violin at home. ‘Scuse the mess in the background and I should have taken the video from the other side.


Update: The rosin build-up was not the cause of the buzz and we ended up taking the violin back a couple of weeks later and they decided it needed something replaced (warranty work, no charge!) and she has been happily playing it for nearly a year now.

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