Welcome, In Kyu Hwang!

Photo credit: Cydney Scott

Photo credit: Cydney Scott

In Kyu Hwang is the newest luthier in our workshop at Carriage House Violins of Johnson String Instrument. Hailing from Korea, In Kyu studied in Mittenwald, Germany and holds the Geigenbau Meister (Master Craftsman) certification. He joined us here at Carriage House in October of 2015. We asked him to talk to us about what inspired him to become a luthier, what prompted him to join our company, and what advice he has for aspiring luthiers: 

As a small child I always enjoyed making models, carving things from soap, that sort of thing. When I saw a documentary about the violin making school in Mirecourt, France, that was really a moment of culture shock because at the time I didn’t know such a thing existed in the world. I was very jealous because the individual featured in the documentary was a fourteen-year-old Korean boy. was a fourteen year old Korean boy! But–a foreign country, a foreign language–for me it seemed impossible. So I forgot about it.

When I was nearing the end of high school I realized I didn’t want to do the usual things like go to college and get a regular job. A classmate of mine (now my wife) who played the violin introduced me to a local violin maker who had trained in Japan. He asked me, why did I want to do this job? I would be so poor. He was quite poor actually. But I couldn’t listen to him. I had such a passion to do this. So he accepted me to work with him building an instrument in his shop. After half a year I had to mandatory two year Korean military service. I never finished that violin, but he encouraged me to go to Germany and study at the school in Mittenwald when I finished my military obligation.

As a non English-speaking foreigner, negotiating the school’s entrance process was its own story. Eventually after fulfilling the two year requirement of violin lessons (among many other things) I finally gained admittance in 2003. It was a three and a half year course of study in the heart of Bavaria.

I began official German language studies as soon as I arrived in Germany, but due to a death in my family had to stop after only two months. I was able to continue learning the language with the help of two German families who tutored me privately. I call them my angels. My success would not have been possible without their help and encouragement.

After graduating, I was able to find work at the shop of Anton Pilar in Berlin where I worked for three years before moving to Los Angeles to work for Georg Ettinger, head of the Hans Weisshaar shop.

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

What was your most memorable project?

I remember my first major restoration project. It was a massive undertaking on a Thomas Dodd cello. It required EVERYTHING and I thought, “Will I be able to do all of this?” But it went quite well and I continued [at Hans Weisshaar] working on many fine instruments, memorably a J.B. Vuillaume, Joseph Guarnerius, and another very large restoration on a Dominique Busan viola. I really enjoy such undertakings.

What drew you to Carriage House Violins?

Many different things drew me to work for Johnson String Instrument’s fine instrument division at CHV like the depth and variety of Boston’s arts and cultural scene, the history of the city itself, and the landscape of New England generally. Walking in Cambridge, seeing all the old buildings, I love it.

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

Photo Credit: Cydney Scott

What advice do you have for aspiring luthiers?

I might quote my first teacher in Korea: “Why do you want to work so hard and be so poor?” You must really really love this work.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Surviving Holiday Gigs

Holiday Gig Season

That time of year has arrived! It’s holiday gig season, when you live in orchestra pits and churches while Tchaikovsky and Handel reign supreme. Whether you are a seasonal veteran, a newcomer on the scene, or just wondering how many more times you have to play the Hallelujah Chorus before your brain starts trying to escape through your ears, it can be a stressful and exhausting ordeal. Here are some tips to help keep you both healthy and sane:

  1. Get organized as soon as possible. Calendars are your best friend, whether electronic or hand-written. Make sure to note call times and repertoire to avoid confusion the day of.
  2. Use the commute to decompress. You may be traveling quite a distance for these gigs. Have some coffee or tea, something unrelated to your gig to listen to, and bring plenty of snacks.
  3. Prepare for your venues. Orchestra pits can be dangerous places for your instrument; it’s a small, cramped space and accidents happen. Bows especially are in danger of damage, so whenever possible it’s advisable to use a carbon bow or at least not your best bow for these particular gigs. For churches, make sure you bring layers because it tends to get cold. Hand warmers and even long underwear are both invaluable at a frigid midnight mass.
  4. Take care of your instrument! It’s working hard too. Have extra rosin and strings on hand, and humidify your instrument. Each gig is in a different environment, which means your instrument will need time to adjust. It’s your most valuable tool, so treat it as such.
  5. Take care of yourself. Plan meals ahead of time, drink plenty of water, and sleep whenever/wherever you are able. Don’t try to suddenly change your lifestyle either–if you need to play a week’s worth of Nutcracker performances and then some, now is not the time to try and kick that caffeine habit.
  6. Be safe. If you are too tired to drive after a gig, consider staying overnight somewhere or taking a quick nap/caffeine break before heading on the road. Stay on the lookout for inclement weather and adjust your travel plans accordingly. Leave enough time to get to and from gigs as well so you don’t have to rush.

Good luck to all in the holiday hustle. We wish you a safe holiday season!

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Upcoming Dates at JSI

We have a lot of exciting things happening in our shop during this upcoming holiday season! Be sure to mark your calendars for the following dates:

 

November 21st-January 2nd: Our annual Holiday Sale is back! Keep an eye out for flyers arriving soon with more information. The sale begins this Saturday and runs through the first Saturday of 2016. Deals can be found both in store and online, so be sure to keep us in mind when shopping for the musician in your life this holiday season!

November 28th: Small Business Saturday is back and nationally recognized by Congress! Come in or visit us online to support local business.

 

Please also note will have abbreviated hours coming up as the holidays approach:

November 25th: Open 10-4pm

November 26th: CLOSED

December 24th: Open 10-4pm

December 25th: CLOSED

December 31st: Open 10-4pm

January 1st: CLOSED

 

Those of you who’ve visited our shop in the past few months may have noticed our new cello case decor. We’ve switched up in honor of Thanksgiving:

Ghost Cellos!

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Stop by to snap a picture with our current turkey cello!

 

 

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Switching From Violin to Viola

If you are a violinist, you have probably been asked this question at some point during your musical career:

Can you play viola?

For some, the answer is a resounding “NO.” For others, this question leads to them taking on the viola as a secondary or primary instrument. This can happen at any point, but many students are asked around middle or high school in an effort to even out the sections in school programs. Since the violin is more well-known and recognizable, many students or families initially choose it over the unknown viola. Whenever or whatever reason the switch is happening, here are some important things keep in mind:

Be careful when choosing a viola size.

The viola is unique in that there is no “full size,” unlike other string instruments. The viola began as two separate instruments: alto viola and tenor viola. Technically, in order to achieve an ideal tone the viola should be much longer than it is now–upwards of 19 inches. That length would make it impossible to play. The tenor viola was the closest solution to this issue; however it was still so long that unless you had very long arms and fingers, it was too painful to play for an extended period of time. Modern violas fall closer to the size of the alto violas, with makers striving to recreate the sound found in the tenor violas of the past.

Today, the viola typically ranges in size from 15” to 17”, with most players falling between the 15.5”-16.5” range. Some 14” violas do exist (the same length as a full-size violin), but they do not have the same sound quality/depth. For new players, your best course of action would be to start by trying a 15-15.5” instrument and adjusting up or down from there. You do not want to feel like you are straining to play. It will feel larger, but should still be comfortable.

Learn to read or transpose the clef.

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to rely on your ears to tell you exactly what you should be playing, especially if you are working on familiar repertoire. Violists primarily read alto clef and it is one of the only instruments that does so. It lies between treble and bass, with the middle line being middle C. This accommodates the instrument’s range well. Like learning another language, practice and immersing yourself will help you learn faster and more completely. Your treble clef skills will still come in handy, as viola music sometimes switches between the two. There are books that can help you make the transition into reading alto clef, which can be found on our website.

Your position will need to change.

It may look like a violin. It may still be held on your shoulder. It may even feel the same.

It isn’t.

Keep in mind that violas and their bows are heavier than violins and this will change how you support the instrument. Your arms will be more extended and the finger-spacing of your left hand will be more spread out, which will necessitate changes in your overall position and posture to prevent tension. The best way to discover what you will need to change is:

Find a teacher who plays viola.

Find a teacher who really plays and works as a violist. Even with only one or two lessons, they can be an invaluable asset in finding a position without tension. Many violists are former violinists and will be able to help  you with the transition.

 

Keep your eye on the Johnson String Instrument blog for more posts, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

See the Johnson String Project in Action!

Johnson String Instrument is a proud supporter of the Johnson String Project. Our goal is to bring high quality, well-maintained instruments to under-served children throughout Massachusetts. See our program in action by watching the video below. For more information, please visit our website.