In addition to the school year being done and the promise of warm, hopefully beach-filled days, many of you are getting ready for summer programs. Not sure what to bring? We have a few suggestions:
Extra Strings. This may be the single most important item to bring excluding your instrument. In most cases you won’t be near a shop and you do not want to be in a bind because you didn’t have an extra A string. Bring at least a full set of new strings, and hang on to those old ones that may be less than ideal but better than nothing in a pinch.
An organized way to carry your music. Maybe you have a music pocket in your case that works just fine. If not, a messy pile on the floor you grab before running to rehearsal is not gonna cut it. Whether it’s a backpack, tote bag or something else entirely, make sure it safely fits those original parts.
Tuner/Metronome. Yes, many of you have an app on your phone. However, it is nice not to have to drain your phone battery. Plus, these metronomes and tuners can be much louder and more versatile. Go for a combo to take up even less space.
Peg Compound. This product is small but useful. It’s helpful in both summer and winter to help pegs grip and to lubricate them. When you are far away from a workshop, this can be an invaluable product.
THINGS THAT GET LEFT BEHIND
Water Bottle. Hydration is the key to success. You may not be rehearsing in the AC, and these programs, while rewarding, are also tiring and can take a lot out of you. Stay healthy and hydrated.
Sunblock. This is an important and easily forgotten item. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside. Stay protected! Playing a violin with a severely sunburned shoulder is not fun.
A Fan. AC is not a given in the dorms you are most likely staying it. Even a small box fan in a window can do wonders for air circulation.
Pencils. This is a no-brainer. You are a musician and need a pencil in rehearsal. Grab a package of them before you leave (and a sharpener if you prefer non-mechanical ones) so you’re not caught without one.
ONE LAST THING!
Before you leave, visit a luthier. Get your instrument and bow looked over. Be sure to let your luthier know if you will be going somewhere with a drastically different climate so they can prepare your instrument accordingly.
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. I 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
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
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.
The season we’ve been dreading is finally here. While we hope this year is not nearly as buried in snow (despite current forecasts to the contrary here in Boston), winter provides a variety of stresses for musicians. Here are some posts to help you deal with the two main offenders:
The citizens of Westeros are not the only ones who fear the coming season. Musicians can feel its icy claws reaching out in the form of slipping pegs and shrinking string heights. Humidity once again betrays us as it retreats from winter’s advance, leaving our instruments vulnerable. Rapidly changing environments, both outdoors and in, seek to wreak havoc. How can we defend ourselves against the impending storm?
Step 1: Know your enemy.
Winter has many weapons in its arsenal and wields them without mercy. As fellow survivors of Snowpocalypse 2015: Boston Edition, we remember its fury. The two most effective weapons winter possesses are humidity and temperature.
Humidity: During more temperate times, humidity can be an asset. Wood expands and contracts depending on the humidity level; more humidity means expansion (swelling of the wood), lack of humidity contraction (depression of the wood). Winter is not a humid season in the northeast, which means the wood on your instrument is shrinking. There are a few specific consequences of this:
As the humidity decreases, the belly will get lower. This lowers the bridge height and consequently the string height. This is most apparent on cellos—many cellists have seasonal bridges for this reason.
Ever wonder why your pegs constantly slip when winter comes? It’s probably winter’s fault for driving humidity away. Pegs and the peg box are made from different types of wood that expand and contract at different speeds. This means the peg may suddenly be smaller than the hole.
Temperature: Like you (or unlike you), your instrument does not enjoy rapid temperature changes. This includes going from the frigid outdoors to the well-heated indoors and vice versa. It also includes switching between rooms with very different climates, like from the green room to the stage. Winter is diabolically skilled at making sure this situation materializes on a daily basis.
Step 2: Arm yourself.
Never forget you have your own arsenal with which to fight back.
This is your most powerful weapon in the war against winter. Do not underestimate its importance! If you aren’t comfortable somewhere, neither is your instrument. Insulate and humidify it like you do yourself. The analogy ends here, because remember how we said rapid temperature changes were a weapon in winter’s arsenal? While we enjoy sitting by a heater or fire, your instrument does not. Don’t fall into winter’s trap—keep your instrument away from direct heat sources.
Humidity Control: We’ll say it one more time: lack of humidity is bad for your instrument. Humidify the case, just like you do your home or individual rooms. Ideally, you want to keep the humidity around 40%. There are many types of humidifiers you can use, but our recommendation is to stick to an in-case model rather than one that goes inside the instrument. Both work well, however in-case keeps direct moisture away from the instrument and requires less maintenance. If it goes in the instrument, it means drying it thoroughly, keeping track of it when it’s not in the instrument, and daily maintenance. You need to decide what’s best for you and your instrument.
A luthier can be your greatest ally against winter. Despite your own preparations, winter can be a cunning adversary. Be on the lookout for these common battle wounds:
Open Seams: This is by far the most common issue seen during the winter. Thankfully, it is also relatively easy to fix. Keep an eye on the seams–even if you can’t see them, a tell-tale buzzing, pop, or sudden change in sound will usually let you know something is amiss. Again, this is something that a luthier can take care of relatively easily but DO NOT REPAIR THIS YOURSELF. Any variety of glue you find at the hardware store should be nowhere near your instrument. Luthiers use hide glue as well as well-placed clamps to ensure everything is set correctly and have a trained eye to check for any other problems. Home repairs can mean more money spent in the future to undo damage. Don’t give winter the satisfaction—go see a luthier.
Cracks: Humidifying your case and protecting your instrument against rapid temperature/climate changes should minimize your risk of cracks, but sometimes winter wins and cracks appear. These should be seen by a luthier as soon as possible because they are more difficult to repair than open seams.
Now is the time to prepare for winter’s onslaught! Check out our newly re-vamped website at www.johnsonstring.com to find out more about the products mentioned here or visit us in person at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls.