American Luthier Carleen Hutchins: The Art & Science of the Violin

American Luthier Carleen Hutchins: The Art & Science of the Violin


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, DC.>>Quincy Whitney: Thank you
very much for coming tonight. And forgive my voice. I think the changing weather you all
are having is as bad as New England. And so, I’m catching
up with the blossoms and the pollen and everything else. But anyway, I’m very excited to be
here at the Library of Congress. And first of all, I want to say a
personal note about the connection between New Hampshire and
the Library of Congress. I was an arts reporter for the Boston Globe covering
New Hampshire for 14 years. And the result of that was my
first book, which is called the “Hidden History of New
Hampshire,” which is 60 stories about New Hampshire’s
most important legacies. And one of those legacies is that New Hampshire granite
built the Library of Congress. Is this good time? Is this close enough? Is that where you would like me? Is that good? Okay. So anyway, thank
you for coming tonight. First of all, I want to thank very
much the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the musical instruments department for giving me two research
fellowships, which allowed me to finish my research, and
also the Hosking Houses Trust, which is in Clifford
Chambers England, and she gave me a five-week
residency just at the point where I was trying to finish the
book, which was rather incredible. I also want to thank Carol Lynn
Ward-Bamford and the Library of Congress for inviting me. This is a very special
opportunity for me and especially at the beginning of women’s
history month because we get to celebrate an American
female luthier, which is rare to begin with. And Carleen Hutchins
is quite a pioneer. So I’m going to start
with the keyboard here. I’m trying not to lose
my cards here. The Giant by N. C. Wyeth
is my favorite painting. It always has been. I love it because it implies
the limitless possibilities of a child’s imagination. It reminds us that there
is so much more to life, to reality than meets the
eye, and it urges us to use and not lose our imagination. The axiom the sky is the limit sums up the nature of a
successful pioneer. In her book “Pythagoras’ Trousers,” physicist Margaret Wertheim
chronicles the unique numerous and wonderful contributions of female astronomers
across three centuries. The question is why astronomy. Why were females able
to self-actualize and pursue their passion
in studying the skies? The answer is quite simple. Their classroom was the sky. No one could stop a curious
female from looking up at the sky. In 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered
that the universe was expanding. But his discovery hinged
on a discovery by a female astronomer
almost two decades earlier. Henrietta Leavitt in 1908 discovered
the idea that the longer period of luminosity for a star means
that is it directly related to the luminosity of the star. Leavitt was one of a litany
of unsung female astronomers at Harvard chronicled
recently by Dava Sobel in her book “The Glass Universe.” These unschooled, self-taught
women made great contributions to their field, just
like Carleen Hutchins. I got a little turned around here. And the sky was literally
the limit for George Lucas when he had a passion
and a crazy idea about creating a space opera
based on his passion as a child for Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. After struggling with a
script for five years, Lucas never gave up on his dream. When he and partner Gary Kurtz
pitched a 12-page treatment to Hollywood, United Artists and
Universal both turned it down. Twentieth Century Fox
gave it a shot, and the result was a $7.5
million budget film that ended up garnering 513 million and sort of capturing the imagination
of generations. Lucas’s dream will
culminate with the opening of his space age designed museum
called the George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art to open on the
lakeshore of Chicago in 2019, which is all a testament
to the power of believing. And this year, recently a week
ago, at the Academy Awards, the remarkable story of more
hidden figures, females, African-American female
mathematicians who were known as computers back then who produced
the hidden mathematical figures that would put John
Glenn into space. Of course, these women were
also hidden figures themselves in the history of NASA. They calculated the mathematical
variables of the NASA wind tunnel, which by the way, followed the
example of the Wright brothers. And the Wright brothers also
did not have a formal education and taught themselves physics
and aeronautics through trial and error, very much like Hutchins. There was an innate belief that
they could do the impossible. Unlike the 18th and 19th
century female philosophers, unlike the ladies of
the Harvard Observatory and unlike the hidden
figures of NASA, Carleen Maley Hutchins was alone. She was a singular pioneer who
contributed more to her field than any luthier since Andrea Amati
designed the earliest known violin in 1560. And Stradivari perfected
it around 1720. The stakes in the violin world
may seem inconsequential compared to the space program. Still, Hutchins is
another intriguing example of a most unlikely pioneer who
pursued her passion relentlessly. Hutchins also has a link to NASA. On March 2, 1999, 18 years almost to
the day ago, I accompanied Hutchins to NASA Langley Research
Center in Hampton, Virginia. She gave her last public lecture
called Acoustics and the Violin: Past, Present and Future. And she gave it to 150
acoustical physicists at NASA. She was the keynote speaker for a colloquium they
called What Is Music. I bring up all this sky talk
because Hutchins is a story. The Hutchins story
is about the pursuit of dreams and never giving up. It is also a story about the fact
that things are not as they seem. “American Luthier,”
my book over there, which I just completed this past
spring and was published by ForeEdge of the University Press
of New England. “American Luthier” intertwines
the story of this unlikely pioneer with the story the violent itself. The story reminds us that
music is both art and science. Without the science of the human
auditory system interacting with vibrating soundwaves,
there would be no music. Music hinges on the
science of acoustics, the same science that
put man into space. The cover of “American Luthier” is
a painting by Walter Tandy Murch. It first appeared in
November of 1962 as the cover of Scientific American,
in conjunction with her breakout article that
put her on the map in her field. It depicts a scientific experiment
that was set up by Hutchins in her acoustical laboratory in the
basement of her home at 112 Essex in Montclair, New Jersey. The word “luthier” is a
French word for violin maker, originally meaning lute maker
because the lute maker made a range of stringed instruments, which
included both those plucked like the lute and those
bowed like the violin. Carleen Hutchins, pregnant
with her first child, carved her first viola just
to see if she could do it. She chased her passion for
fiddles for the rest of her life. As an only child, Carleen possessed
a self-reliance, born of the sparks, flying between a nurturing
mother and a difficult father, fanned by an early passion
for the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts gave Carleen an
escape, an oasis, a direction and instilled in her the innate
belief that she could do anything. As a Girl Scout, Carleen
developed the courage to do what she did
not know how to do. The Carleen Hutchins story
is a story of many hats. By the time she graduated
from Montclair High School, she was an accomplished naturalist,
trumpeter and master woodcarver. At Cornell, she became
a birder and a biologist and eventually became
a science teacher. When her friends invited
her to play chamber music, Hutchins gladly traded her
trumpet for a viola because she was so enamored of the
camaraderie of chamber music. In the two years it took her
to complete her first viola, she donned the luthier hat. The same year, she met physicist, chamber music player
Frederick Saunders. She apprenticed at the
same time in violin making to Karl Berger, a master
German luthier. And then she began
experiments in the same year in violent acoustics with Saunders. Essentially, she taught
herself acoustical physics by carving fiddles in her kitchen. Carleen eventually became an
inventor, an author, a catalyst, an editor and an international
lecturer. Hutchins and Saunders performed more than a hundred different
experiments over a decade. And why did they begin with
the viola and not the violin? Well, unlike the celebrated violin, the viola is the unsung
stepsister of the quartet. In three centuries, no
one has ever figured out a standard size for the viola. Too large to play comfortably and
too small for its tonal range. The viola is forever stuck
between the ergonomics of playing and the acoustics of tone. For these reasons, violists tend to suffer the most injuries
among string players. But the great silver lining
here is that, also an irony, is that the viola is the
tonal center of the quartet. The chamber music world and every
quartet generally always is looking for a viola, which is a
great thing for a violist. Saunders was a physicist and a
good amateur violinist and violist. Before he met Hutchins, he
experimented by playing instruments in his own sound chamber
that he developed and also by placing small weights on
the bridge of an instrument. They were delicates because
he loved the instruments and didn’t want to ruin them. On the day that they met, Saunders
gave Hutchins reprints of some of his articles on violin acoustics. Now Hutchins was a biologist,
and she wasn’t real familiar with the physicist jargon. But she had a lot of common sense. And she looked at these
articles and she thought, well, for some reason he’s not doing
very invasive experiments. So she asked Hutchins, Hutchins
asked Saunders what would you do if you had instruments
that could be destroyed. And Saunders thought
this was a crazy idea and said what violin maker would
be crazy enough to make instruments that are going to be destroyed. And Hutchins said, I will. When Vermont composer
Henry Brant learned of the New Jersey housewife
violin maker who was making news in the New York Times, he decided
to stop by Montclair and meet her. And when he did, on that first
day, he posed the question about families of instruments. We have families of recorders
and families of viols, and we have families of saxophones. Why not a complete
family of violins? Hutchins agreed to try
this in five minutes, but it took her the better part of
a decade, aided by the calculations of Bell telephone engineer
John Schelling. In 1965, Hutchins designed her first
violin octet, eight instruments across the tonal range of a piano
ranging from an 11-inch treble to a 7-foot contrabass violin. She proceeded then to make about 100
octet instruments, which amounted to about six more violin octets and about 400 conventional
stringed instruments. She also found an international
community devoted to violin acoustics called
the Catgut Acoustical Society and published a biannual
journal in the field of violin acoustics
for more than 30 years. But more important, Carleen
reversed the paradigm, almost every paradigm she came
across in the violin world, beginning with the fact that there
had been centuries of secrecy and competition between luthiers. She asked why not share
information instead of guard it. She built a bridge where there
had been a wall between luthiers, and she built a bridge between
the art and science of the violin by sharing information about
acoustics, about her experiments, and about violin making,
rather than hoarding it. Realistically, Carleen Hutchins
had absolutely no business in the string world. She did not belong. She was a total outsider as
a female and a biologist. But like female astronomers,
the female astronomers, and like the Wright brothers
and those human computers who followed them, Hutchins
displayed a curiosity, creativity, courage and resilience that characterized most
successful pioneers. They have the courage to go
it alone and to be the first, if no one’s done it before them. For the untrained mind,
there are no dumb questions and there is no sacred ground. The complete disregard for
authority enables the outsider to question everything about the
trappings of traditional thinking. Part of Carleen’s investigations
revolved around the study of old instruments made
by European masters. In the spring of 1962, Hutchins
visited the Library of Congress to view the Cassavetti
viola, which is in this room, in the glass case over there. At this time, the Budapest quartet
was the quartet in residence at the Library of Congress. One morning, Carleen went to
the Budapest quartet rehearsal in the Library of Congress
auditorium. She was listening to the Strad cello that was being played
by Mischa Schneider. Afterward, they got to
talking to Hutchins. And Hutchins dared to
say to Mischa Schneider that she thought she had a cello
that might be as good if not better than his Strad in her car. And Schneider suggested that
perhaps she should bring it by his home so he could try it. Carleen recalled, much
to my delight, he found that it was very
similar to his own cello, and he liked it very much. As it happened, the Budapest
quartet was presenting a concert the following week at Montclair
High School. And Schneider, delighted to not
have to bring his cello case along, said he would be happy to bring his
bow only if Carleen would meet him at the auditorium door
with her cello. Carleen recalled her excitement. You can imagine how thrilled
I was to sit in the audience and listen to the cello sing. Afterward, I went to
retrieve my cello and I asked Schneider how did it go. He said one word, magnifico. This was, indeed, the thrill
of a lifetime for Carleen. The violin octet, this is
a photograph that was taken in her living room in
Montclair, New Jersey. The violin octet, the Hutchins
violin octet is a family of eight tonally matched
violins, graduated in size from the smallest to
largest violins. They are the treble, soprano,
mezzo, alto, tenor, baritone, base and contrabass violins. The mezzo is the closest to the size
in size the conventional violin. The treble, soprano and
mezzo are played da braccio, via outstretched arm. The tenor and baritone are played
delle gambe, between the legs. The bass and contra are played
standing in the standing position. That leaves the enigma in
the middle of the octet. The alto violin or the vertical
viola played like a cello. What happens when someone
introduces something new in the classical music world? There’s lots of opposition. The violin octet made waves
Carleen never imagined. The new violent family was
controversial from the start. Understandably, most classical
musicians marry their instrument and are reluctant to
retool on a new one. The Wright brothers worked in
total obscurity for several years in the vacuum of the interest
from their own government. They sold their first
flyer to France. Similarly, after fighting an uphill
battle for more than a decade, a fight trying to find
interest in America, Carleen first found interest
in her violin octet in Europe. Her violin octets, first in England,
Scotland, Wales, then in Sweden and then in Russia, each have
their own story about what makes or breaks a new instrument in
the classical music marketplace. And here, the Russians in
1995 were the very first to produce a professional recording
of the Hutchins’ violin octet. In 1995, Yo-Yo Ma won a
Grammy for his performance of the difficult Bartok
viola concerto performed on Hutchins’ vertical viola. In a recent interview, Ma said
this, “What’s interesting is that in the last 40 years, the quality of new instruments
has increased exponentially, with the idea that there are
no secrets between makers. It’s the collapse of secrets. And that’s part of
Carleen’s legacy.” In 1983, California
bassist, and he is far left, Joe McNally first played the
Hutchins’ contrabass in a concert at the University of
California San Diego. From that moment on, he dreamed
that he would one day own one. And in 2000, he made
that dream come true. And McNally founded
the Hutchins’ consort, which is the only professional
ensemble in the world that perform on a Hutchins’ violin octet. They actually own two. The new violin family
rocked the boat of people’s expectations
about chamber music. In 2009, as an example,
following the death of Hutchins, a you New York Times obituary
writer, who was writing about her, happened to be a former cellist. She pulled her cello out and
hadn’t played it in ten years. And she went and started practicing. And then when she was
ready, she took her bow to the Metropolitan
Museum of Art and found it on Hutchins’ instrument just
because she wanted to play it. She wanted to try it out. And she ended up complaining
to me that Hutchins — She was upset with Hutchins for
fooling around with the quartet. The quartet was already perfect. Is the quartet tonally perfect? The idea that the traditional
quartet has tonal gaps is actually an old idea. In a letter dated 1690, the
Marquis Ariberti of Cremona, Italy ordered two altos
from Stradivari. One was to play the contralto, and
the other was to play the tenor. So there you have the
problem right there. Other luthiers tried to address
the problem of tonal gaps in the quartet before Hutchins. In the early 1900s, two
French makers by the name of Leo Sir Senior [phonetic] and Leo Sir Junior [phonetic]
created a true family of violins by creating six stringed instruments that were complementing
the quartet instruments. So there were ten of them. Their ten-instrument concert,
which was called [inaudible], won awards in Liege in 1905 and a
grand prize at Bordeaux in 1907. Tragically, fire destroyed
this consort of instruments, and then the work ended
for both of them because the young Sir
died in the war. In 1935 Frederick Dautrich
of Torrington, Connecticut, also invented four more instruments
to complement the quartet. Dautrich had limited success, but his instruments gave Hutchins
a head start in figuring the sizes and tunings for her violin octet. In 1965, when Hutchins
debuted her violin octet at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA, conductor Leopold Stokowski
was in the audience. He found her the next day raving
about this tone of her alto violin. And he said that was the tone
he’d always wanted in a viola. For a year, Stokowski tried
to convince his violists to play a vertical instrument. It failed. And when it failed, the
maestro asked Hutchins to make an ergonomically
successful viola with the same tone. And this is the result. She ended up calling it the monster. And it was so unbalanced, she just
tried everything she could to figure out a way to make it
easier, but that’s what — It resides today in the collection
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So it’s now an artifact
because it couldn’t be played. Carleen Hutchins defied
the odds on every front, and she did it modestly
and frugally. In 1954, when the Acoustical Society of America awarded Frederick
Saunders the Honorary Fellowship, which is the highest honor for
the ASA, he said to Carleen, who was then his young
apprentice, that she need not come to see him receive the award because
she “may not understand it all.” Thirty-four years later, in 1998, Carleen Hutchins won the
same award as her mentor. In the finale of my book, I like in
violin world to the violin itself. In choosing one of the 80
parts that make up a violin, I like in Carleen Hutchins to
the sound post of the violin. She was a hidden figure, just like the sound post is
hidden inside the violin, an invisible component hidden
from view that plays a vital role in perfecting the sound
of the violin. Carleen’s life touched every
corner of the violin world, and yet she was little
known outside her field. Will her life go unnoticed, as do
so many those of hidden figures, or will it pave the way for the
discovery of new highways and byways in the art and science
of the violin? Either way, the Carleen Hutchins
story reminds us to reach for the skies and follow
our passions. You never know where that
journey will lead us. Thank you. [ Applause ] And now I’m very excited to
introduce Shannon Merlino, who is a viola doctoral
student at Temple University. And she’s going to
play a Bach Prelude on a Hutchins’ traditional
viola, which is SUS number 53. And this is the last story
I’ll tell you, which is why all of Hutchins’ instruments have
SUS before them in the numbering of them in the label inside. It’s going to say SUS 1, SUS 23, SUS
450 because of a story that happened in 1945, before she
ever made an instrument. She was teaching science
at the Brearley School. She was teaching grade
school science, and she was a naturalist
by her passion. So she had all these animals in
her classroom for the children. She had guinea pigs, rabbits
and, you know, little chicks. So on the first day of school in
1945, she is the science teacher and a new music teacher arrives. And that’s Helen Rice,
chamber music lady and guru. And she has to start
a string program. And she’s only got
one string player. She hears that the science
teacher is an amateur violist. So she also has a very
pregnant sow on her family farm in western Massachusetts. And so, she says to Carleen the
day she meets her, I hear that you like animals in the classroom. And Carleen said yes. And she said well how
would you like a piglet. And Carleen said I’d
love to have piglet. And she said, well, you can have the
piglet if you come and play viola with my students on
Friday afternoons. So when Carleen made her first
instrument, she felt it had to be SUS number one because
SUS is the Latin word for pig. And they had named the
pig Susy the pig anyway. So SUS 53 is now what Shannon’s
going to tell you about. You want to — What’s good? Over here?>>Shannon Merlino: Hi. So before I began, I just want to
mention that the vertical viola that we have today has been recently
donated by the Carpenter family. And we are just very
grateful to have that. I’d also like to thank Wamsley
Violins in Haddonfield, New Jersey, who has been generous enough
to loan me the Hutchins’ viola that I’m going to be playing the
Bach today, and also my mother, who’s in the audience, who
made this all possible. Anyway, when I first started
my doctorate in viola, we had to take an entrance exam
on the very first day of classes. And the question I was asked was
what is the role of the violist. What exactly do we do with our job? And it’s kind of hard. I’ve spoken with some composers who often have told me
we can’t really hear you when you play in an orchestra. What is the viola’s
job in the orchestra? As Quincy was saying, our
role as a violist is to kind of tie the whole thing together. There’s a little bit
of tonal disagreement between the violin and the cello. Our job is to bring them
together somehow with our sound. So in Carleen’s instruments, they follow a very interesting
tonal range, I think. Very different than
my own instrument. What I’ve noticed playing Carleen’s
viola for a few days is that, as Yo-Yo Ma said in a review in
I believe it was a Baltimore Sun of his Bartok performance. He mentioned that the viola
had a very reedy kind of sound, almost like an early
music instrument. I would have to agree. And there are certain things
about Carleen’s traditional viola that I found very,
very, very interesting. So to start, I wanted to discuss the
measurements of these instruments. Standard measurement for
a viola, for, you know, an average viola is anywhere
between 38 and 46 centimeters long. That’s about 15 to 18 inches. Interestingly enough, the viola
is the only string instrument that does not have a
standard full-size. So I’ll show you. So this is the size of the
standard Hutchins’ viola. This is SUS number 53. It was made in 1966 in
Montclair, New Jersey. It’s 41.8 centimeters
long body length. The lower bout from here to
here is 25.7 centimeters, middle bout 14 centimeters exact,
upper bout is 20.4 centimeters. That’s around standard. The viola that I perform on now,
which was made by Clifford Hoing, a British viola maker,
contemporary to Carleen Hutchins, is 42.5 centimeters for comparison. So it’s just slightly longer. In comparison, the vertical
viola, which is kind of massive, as you can see, this is 50.75
centimeters long by length. The upper bout in comparison
to Carleen’s other viola that is 20.4 centimeters,
24 centimeters. The lower bout is 30 centimeters. So the difference of 5
centimeters doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But when considering what our
training as instrumentalists, that becomes problematic. So that’s the next thing that
I’d like to address is, you know, what do we do, what
does the viola do? Up until about 1930, the
viola was, as Quincy said, the ugly stepchild
of the violin family. We had some technical issues owing
to the fact that acoustically, our instrument is just not in a
good position right from the start. Yeah, sure. Thank you. In order for a viola to have
the same acoustical properties as the violin or cello, it would
need to be, in fact, 20 inches long, which is what we have here. And until about 1930, we
performed primarily on gut strings. And technology was such that
we really hadn’t had a way to address the tonal issues
that the instrument had. So a lot of the extended
techniques that you’ll see possibly in the Shostakovich, which
is being performed tonight, wouldn’t really be possible
on earlier instrument. So as a violist, one of
the things that, you know, became very interesting to me when
I first spoke with Quincy was that, you know, how do these issues
translate to the vertical viola. How do we address the
idea of learning how to play this entirely
new instrument? So because of the innovations in
viola design and viola techniques since about 1960, it
is kind of an issue. So we would love to open this up
to some questions and answers now. So Quincy, like to join me?>>Can I have a microphone coming
for the people with questions?>>I guess more to Quincy. Have there been — I’d
be interested in knowing if there have been works
composed specifically for the violin octet
if you have examples.>>Quincy Whitney: There’s
probably now about at least 500. There were 300 maybe ten years ago. With the Hutchins’ consort,
two basses were both composing and one bass as we lost one bass because he died very suddenly
this year or this past year. So Joe McNally, the founder, is one of the primary
composers for the octet. But I know the octet is also open to any composers who
would be interested. Yes.>>I was wondering about the
price of her instruments. Have they gone up and all
of that kind of thing? And also, the acoustical experiments
that Saunders wanted to do and that she was willing
to make these instruments that could be destroyed in the
process, a little more about that.>>Quincy Whitney: Let’s see. When she sold her first sold her
first octet, I believe it was like 80,000 for the
8-inch instrument. So 10,000 was dirt
cheap in 1970 something when the English group wanted
to purchase them for Edinburgh. They are now at the
University of Edinburgh. In terms of the kind of acoustics
experiments, I could, you know, have a whole talk just on those. But one of the most interesting
ones with the swiss cheese violin, where she punched 64 holes
in the ribs of the instrument and then plugged those
holes of cotton. Then, she would remove the cotton. And she and Saunders were
exploring really the violin as a wind instrument. You think of them. They start out studying
the wood modes. They want to see how
the wood’s vibrating. And then they realized that maybe
the air currents inside the box are far more important. So that was one interesting
experiment. Yes.>>Are you considering
writing a screen play, and who would you consider
[inaudible]?>>Quincy Whitney: You know,
after seeing Hidden Figures, I am convinced that this is a film. But I’ve been convinced
for 20 years. And I’m not sure who should play
her, but I know it’s a story. I know it’s film. I haven’t gotten to that point,
but I’m certainly willing to do it if somebody had some interest. Yes. [ Inaudible Comment ] The acoustic.>>Shannon Merlino: Sure.>>Quincy Whitney: Go with that.>>Shannon Merlino: Okay. So one of the issues with
the acoustics is, as I said, in order for the instrument to
have the same acoustical properties as the violin, it would need
to be about 20 inches long. So one of the things — And surprisingly, this
viola doesn’t have these. One of the things that we experience as string players is
called a wolf tone. Violins don’t often have them. I was the unfortunate
owner of a violin with a very bad wolf
tone for many years. And my viola that I have
has a wolf tone as well. In the past few years, a
little device has been invented that gets rid of these wolf tones. But really, when you use a wolf tone
eliminator or something like that, it does damp the sound a little bit. So –>>Quincy Whitney: And I
would just add to that, the wolf tone was also
something that Hutchins and Saunders were studying a lot,
what makes them happen and why and when they’re really bad. And sometimes you can’t
do anything about them.>>Shannon Merlino: Right. The sound of the instrument is
produced by two different forces. The resonating body of
air inside the instrument and also the resonance of
the plates in the back. So, you know, it’s just my guess. I don’t have anything
to back this up. But because of the shape and the
dimensions of Carleen’s instruments, they do avoid some of
those issues that come up. So does that answer?>>Quincy Whitney: With
respect to playing them, I know that she had an experience
many times when a player would come to one of her instruments and immediately start
putting a particular pressure that a cellist might
put on his cello. And she had to pull them all off and
just say go much lighter and listen to what the instrument can
do because lots of times, you come to an instrument
with an expectation about how much pressure
you have to add. And she was always trying to get
them to lighten up because she did so much work on the resonance
of both the box and the wood that it started to sing
with less pressure. And I also wanted to add one
other thing about the fact that someone had asked
me if there are people who make these instruments still. Carleen had about — She taught
about 50 students and she has about nine living students today who make these instruments
if they were requested. There is a luthier in Genoa, Italy. There’s one in Belgium, and there’s
about six or seven in the states that know Carleen’s
work and have made them and might even have
them in their inventory. But as I say, you need to — I could get that information
to you if you’re interested. Yes.>>My question’s going
to be limited by the fact that I’ve already forgotten
the term that you used. But you mentioned the fact that
you and a colleague cracked one of these open and saw that there
was a part, that there was a new cut in it or an unexpected cut in it. And I’m wondering if you can comment as to why she might have
constructed it in that way or what acoustical effect
that was supposed to have had.>>Shannon Merlino: That’s
a really good question. Unfortunately, my knowledge
of physics as a music student
is somewhat limited. But, you know, one of the things that musicians spend hours upon
hours upon hours doing is getting adjustments made to our sound post. As the force that carries
the vibrations from the front of the instrument to the
back of the instrument, even a half of a millimeter
adjustment can dramatically change the sound of this instrument. So I know like my luthier will go
in there with a little tool and tap on my sound post when my
viola is having a bad day. I can only think that to reduce
some of the volume and the bulk of that sound post may have
a pretty interesting effect. I do know that this instrument
responds very differently than anything I’ve
ever played before. So I do think that there is
something to be said about that. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure to
have it for a few days, so.>>Quincy Whitney: Yes.>>I noticed in the diagram
here that the bass bar. Is that the bass bar coming
across the back or across the top?>>Quincy Whitney: Yes.>>It looks more tapered
than the standard bass bar. Is that something that you noticed or is there something she
was experimenting with?>>Quincy Whitney: This
particular drawing was from the scientific
American article in 1962. I don’t really know that
it’s a particular — I know that tapering is not unusual
I don’t think for the bass bar. But I couldn’t tell you about this
particular one in this drawing.>>Shannon Merlino: Can
I just jump [inaudible]?>>Yeah. I have to say I’m
a novice about all of this. I don’t really know much
about instrument making. I know the Sitka spruce is
used for pianos sometimes. I’m just wondering how much
experimentation there was with materials or if, you know,
if that makes any sense at all and if there’s any new technologies,
you know, discovered and so on in all of the components,
including the bow?>>Quincy Whitney: I don’t know. I can’t speak to the bow. But with respect to materials,
with respect to the instrument, one of Carleen’s experiments,
she tried 35 different kinds of wood for the bridge alone. That was one of her experiments. Another one was the epoxy
violin that she did, she made out of epoxy resin. She made an instrument. And she found that epoxy actually
was in many ways more uniform, and it actually could work. But many players thought
it was ugly.>>We have time for
one last question.>>Quincy Whitney: Yes.>>Did she experiment with bows?>>Quincy Whitney: No. Never touched experimenting
with bows.>>We can do one more
quick question.>>Quincy Whitney: And I just want
to remind you that I would love to sign a copy for anyone who
would like to read the book.>>So let’s please thank
you Quincy and Shannon.>>Quincy Whitney: Thank you. [ Applause ] Thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it.>>Shannon Merlino:
That was amazing.>>Quincy Whitney: Really good. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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