Uptown Violins

Dallas - Wichita - Kansas City - Springfield

Celebrate America!

“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” –Francis Scott Key

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     Happy Independence Day! Growing up, we members of Uptown Violins loved celebrating the 4th of July together as a family. As we had a great view of fireworks from our elevated back porch, we often invited other family members over to our house for homemade ice cream, which we helped Mom and Dad make earlier in the day with the old-fashioned ice cream maker. Of course Dad had to do the bulk of the heavy cranking! But it was always worth it, as nothing could beat the homemade taste, accompanied by a phenomenal fireworks show.

     Probably one of the most widely used pieces of music for 4th of July fireworks displays, the 1812 Overture, was actually written in 1880 by the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It originally had nothing to do with the United States, as it celebrates Napoleon’s defeat by the Russians. Tchaikovsky even quotes the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, in the composition. However, Americans realized that the famous cannons lend themselves well to the booming nature of fireworks, and it has become a staple song in our holiday festivities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31eHHQiY-xw

     Another iconic work associated with American heritage, the William Tell Overture, was composed by the Italian composer Giachino Rossini in 1829 for his opera depicting the Swiss Alps. Although not American at all, the TV show The Lone Ranger popularized the work in the United States, associating it with the American Wild West. That’s quite a stretch from the majestic mountains of Switzerland! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4134FfagFo

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     This past month I have enjoyed delving into Czech composer Antonin Dvorak's famous  American Quartet, as I am to perform it this upcoming year! I love the bucolic themes and pioneer spirit the work evokes. Dvorak composed it while visiting Iowa where he first experienced the American Midwest. (At the time he resided in New York City while serving as the director of the National Conservatory.) Dvorak was particularly drawn to African-American and Native American music, which helped inspire both his New World Symphony as well as the American Quartet. The latter has become part of the standard cannon of chamber works for string quartet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxtAHpYIXdU

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     The 20th Century American composer Aaron Copland continued the tradition of bringing folk music to the classical genre with his popular ballets Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942). Copland incorporated a lot of cowboy tunes into these ballets which helped preserve the allure of the Wild West. His “Hoedown” from Rodeo draws from the folk tune “Bonapart’s Retreat.” His work gained further national recognition as the music for the commercial “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.”  Christy and I had fun performing this work as a dueling violins duet several years ago for her school talent show. It continues to be a favorite showpiece! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsReWx9XdNs


     We hope you all had a wonderful time celebrating the 4th of July, and encourage you to stay tuned for our upcoming music video!! We will give you more behind the scenes details about the project in our next blog!!

 

What Music Should I Choose for my Wedding?

-“For they say when you marry in June, you’re a bride all your life.”

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    June is known as the month of weddings, and it certainly is for Uptown Violins! We have already been playing for several weddings throughout the Midwest and the South, and thought we would take this opportunity to share with future brides-to-be a few of the things to consider when choosing wedding music.

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    First of all, having live music at your wedding is always much more memorable than simply playing a recording through a sound system. Although it will not sound exactly like the recording, especially if you have a different instrumentation than the original, it will help your wedding stand out from what your guests could otherwise experience in their homes.

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    Secondly, when choosing music and style you should take your venue into account. If your wedding will be outside, you may want to consider our electric violin option, as these instruments will carry much further than our acoustics. However, if your wedding takes place in a historic church, the acoustic instruments would be preferable, as these older buildings were designed for acoustic instruments. Also, if you are having a traditional liturgical wedding, like Catholic or Lutheran for example, you will probably need to primarily choose traditional classical songs, as all selections must be approved by your pastor/priest. However, if your wedding takes place at a country club or in an outdoor garden, you will have more latitude in your choice of repertoire.

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    On a related note, you should consider the overall style of your wedding. Is it contemporary and cutting edge? Simple yet distinctive? Traditional and elegant? These questions will help guide you in choosing the style of your music. At Uptown Violins we offer a wide array of music, including traditional classical, romantic gems, religious hymns, praise and worship music, jazz classics, and contemporary pop.

    Lastly, it is important to know the places where music is needed in your ceremony. Some of the most common include (but are not limited to):

    -Prelude: 20-30 minutes of music which sets the tone for your wedding as your guests arrive. Usually the musicians choose these selections based on the style of your wedding.

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    -Seating of the Parents/Grandparents: This song can be played as the last song of the prelude, or the first song of the ceremony. As it is hard to predict how long it will take your Grandmother to walk down the aisle, it is important to select a song that has multiple stopping points in the phrasing. For a classic choice, you can’t go wrong with Bach’s famous “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Some more contemporary options could include John Legend’s “All of Me” and Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.”

    -Wedding Processional: This is often the longest of the opening songs, as it usually includes the procession of the bridesmaids, flower girls, and ring bearers. One of the most popular wedding songs of all time would be Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” Again, this piece can cadence at any point during the song, so as to accommodate the number of people walking down the aisle. If you prefer an ethereal, Impressionist selection, you might enjoy Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” For some more contemporary choices, you could consider Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.“ or Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.”

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    -Bridal Processional: This is the climatic song for the opening of your ceremony, and should be the most poignant. However, as it is just for the bride, it is also the shortest song, so again, you need something that can be stopped after a brief period of time. For a dramatic entrance you can’t go wrong with baroque composer Clarke’s “Trumpet Voluntary.” A fabulous Romantic era masterpiece would be “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Some popular contemporary choices are Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” and “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding. However, if you choose one of the latter three, you may have to wait a little longer for the musicians to reach a cadence that sounds natural, so as to avoid an abrupt cutoff when you reach the altar.

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    -Unity Candle: You will probably enjoy having music during the ceremony, and this is an excellent place to include one of your favorite songs! However, you don’t want to pick a long song, as it can be uncomfortable to be standing too long awkwardly waiting for the music to end after you light the candle. A verse or two of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer” is always a nice choice, as well as the beautiful hymn “Be Thou My Vision”, and Burke’s “Hallelujah” as a more contemporary song.

    -Recessional: This song concludes your ceremony, to which you and the bridal party will exit. You definitely want to choose something exciting and upbeat. We recommend “La Rejouissance” (The Rejoicing) by Handel, or “Rondeau” by Mouret. Maroon 5’s “Sugar” is a fabulous choice as well as Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and “Finesse”  if your goal is to leave with big and fun exit!

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    -Postlude: Here you can pick a song or two as an exit for your guests. Handel’s “Hornpipe” is an excellent classic in addition to his “La Rejouissance” and Mouret’s “Rondeau,” which also make great postludes. Many brides choose an old-timey song such as Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)”, Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely”, and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” You could even choose something like One Republic’s “Counting Stars”, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home”, or Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” if you want a dramatic finish!

    -Do not forget that you can also hear any of these songs plus plenty more at your cocktail hour for your reception if you would like to include this option in your wedding package!

    We hope that this list helps guide you as you prepare for your special day! Please check out our Audio/Video link to listen to several of these selections!

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Happy Easter!

“And He Shall Reign Forever and Ever. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.”

    -George Frideric Handel, The Messiah (1741)

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    April festivities began before sunrise on April 1st for several of us at Uptown Violins! We had the privilege of participating in Easter services in three different states throughout the country.

     Growing up, Easter was always a special time for us as a family. I remember waking up and hurrying downstairs to see if the Easter Bunny had filled my basket with goodies, piling it high with malted milk ball eggs, chocolate bunnies, and yellow peeps. The Easter Bunny’s jellybean hunt was always a huge hit, although I ate the goodies so fast not many of them actually made it into my basket! My sisters and I always loved reading the tales of the Easter Bunny, especially The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward (1939). It is a charming tale about a little bunny who dreams of becoming one of the five Easter Bunnies when she grows up. Everyone tells her it is impossible, but even after she has a large family (of twenty-one baby rabbits!) she proves to the world that she deserves to be one of the five. She hops all over the world, delivering colored eggs to children everywhere before returning home with a basket for her own babies, wearing a magical pair of golden shoes. My sisters and I loved this story so much we would act it out, with me as the mother bunny, my sisters as the babies, and extra stuffed animals to fill in as the remaining bunnies.

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     On Easter we always attended church, often listening to our mother sing with the choir or play in the pit orchestra for the Easter cantata. In the evening our parents led us in a time of family worship, for which we sang the beautiful Easter hymns “Up From the Grave He Arose” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Afterwards, Dad gave a devotional on the importance of Christ’s death and Resurrection to our Christian faith. Although Easter was particularly special, my parents led us in these devotions every Sunday night throughout the year, helping us to better understand the life and work of Jesus.

     Now, although we can’t all be together each year for this special holiday, we continue our Easter traditions in our own communities, with our own families. In Dallas Kerri played for a Good Friday service, and Brittany performed several for Easter. She even had the opportunity to accompany Christian recording artist, Jeremy Riddle while he sang “All Hail King Jesus!”

     In Kansas City Sheree contributed to the Good Friday service at her church, playing the poignant worship songs “My Savior King,” “Broken Vessels,” and “Provide.” Allison sang with her church choir in Wichita, while also celebrating the holiday with Christy and our Dad. Stacy. In Illinois, I had the opportunity to play for Good Friday and Easter morning services at my local church. I especially enjoyed playing my friend’s spine-tingling arrangement of the hymn “Stricken and Smitten,” as well as accompanying the choir on Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from his famous baroque oratorio The Messiah. Afterwards I “hopped” back home in sparkling silver shoes (apparently silver ones have no magical powers) to fill my own daughter’s Easter basket with goodies, and to hide the jellybeans for the jellybean hunt. And of course, I had to read The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, in the hopes that one day she will carry on our Easter traditions with her own family.

The Chamber Music of Secrets!

“Chamber Music— a conversation between friends.” –Catherine Drinker Bowen

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One of the advantages to being a professional violinist is its variety! We frequently have the opportunity to learn new material, explore multiple genres, and uncover old gems from centuries past. We also have the chance to play in a variety of capacities, whether as soloists, orchestral players, or members of small ensembles.

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This month I am enjoying immersing myself in the latter by delving into the world of chamber music. It is such a fun medium, as it provides an intimate setting in which performers can engage in “musical conversations.” This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to perform a chamber concert featuring several violin and cello duets, including Beethoven’s Duet in C Major, as well as several pieces by lesser-known Russian composer Reinhold Glière (1874-1956). In his work Huit Morceaux pour violon et violoncelle, Op. 39, the first movement certainly reflects the provocative harmonies of the turn of the twentieth century in which the violin plays an accompanimental role while the cello plays the doleful melody. However, the second movement stands in sharp contrast to the first, as this “Gavotte” sounds much more Baroque in style. The third movement, “Berceuse” is a sweet lullaby, evoking a soft quality by the instrumentalists’ use of mutes. The “Canzonetta” picks up the tempo, with the violin carrying the melody over the cellist’s broken arpeggios.

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On March 25th, I look forward to performing more Beethoven, whose genius is by no means lost in his string quartets, as well as a portion of Shubert’s famous quartet Death and the Maiden (1824). Sadly, Schubert was a sickly composer who died at the young age of 31. This work reflects his preoccupation with death, depicting the maiden’s struggle and eventual embrace of death. In spite of the composer’s early demise, his quartet’s appeal has lived on for nearly two centuries.

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I asked other members of Uptown Violins what were some of their favorite chamber works, and they mentioned Brahm’s Horn Trio in Eb Major, Op. 40 (1865), a fun work for violin, piano, and natural horn, as well as Shostakovich’s famous String Quartet No. 8 (1960), which secretly depicted his struggle against the Communist Party. We also really enjoy performing Baroque violin duets, including Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, as well as Tartini’s Sonata in D Major for Two Violins and Piano. We have a lot of fun performing together (as well as collaborating with our talented colleagues), and look forward to many more upcoming performances. If you are interested in having special music at your event, please consider adding a bit of charm by adding our live chamber music!

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Gliere: https://youtu.be/YCEKqjKZ8rE

Beethoven Quartet in c minor: https://youtu.be/ejL43BmxL20

Schubert Death and the Maiden: https://youtu.be/8fXYjSmR6Bw

Brahms Horn Trio: https://youtu.be/ORvvsRawgDo

Shostakovich Quartet No. 8: https://youtu.be/tby5aMrMu6Q

 

Romeo and Juliet!

“Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, bringing thoughts of love and warmth to our cold winter. I can still remember a very special Valentine’s Day several years ago when a handsome guy took me on a helicopter ride and asked me to be his wife. I said yes, of course!

    However, the love story we are looking at today is not quite such a happy one, although its longevity has stood the test of time. Romeo and Juliet is arguably one of the most famous plays ever written. William Shakespeare wrote the work at the end of the sixteenth century, and it has continued to fascinate artistic aficionados centuries later.

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    Artists including Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) and Frank Dicksee (1853-1928) have memorialized the famous balcony scene on canvas. Eighteenth-century actor and playwright David Garrick adapted the work to better appeal to his contemporary audience. The film industry has created multiple versions of the story, including the 1936 film with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer as the star-crossed lovers. The renowned 1968 film adaptation features Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, and of course who can forget Leonarda DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the 1996 version? Only a few years ago in 2013, Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld starred in yet another remake of the epic tale.

    Musically, Romeo and Juliet appealed greatly to the 19th-century Romantic sensibility, resulting in phenomenal orchestral masterpieces. Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) greatly admired the literary works of Shakespeare, as well as the musical genius of Beethoven, so when he wrote his symphonie dramatique Romeo and Juliet, he drew inspiration from Shakespeare’s epic depiction of love, as well as Beethoven’s use of vocals in a symphonic work, as evidenced in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (1824). Berlioz first saw David Garrick’s version of Romeo and Juliet in 1827, which inspired him to compose a symphony on the story. A little over a decade later, in 1839, he wrote the symphonie dramatique. Although the work employs vocals, Berlioz admiringly gave the lead characters of Romeo and Juliet to the orchestra, who play the “scène d’amour.”

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    Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Overture-Fantasy of Romeo and Juliet was first performed in 1870, but underwent much editing for a decade until the Tchaikovsky finished the version we know today. Unlike Berlioz’s colossal work (the entire symphonie dramatique takes about an hour and a half to perform), Tchaikovsky’s is more succinct, only about twenty minutes in length. However, the beauty and power of the work is no less breathtaking. The 1936 movie Romeo and Juliet even incorporates Tchaikovsky’s music into the film.

    Composers’ fascination with Romeo and Juliet continued in the twentieth century, with Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) stunning ballet, premiering in 1935. He derived three orchestral suites from the original ballet, the 2nd of which contains the famous scene between the Montagues and the Capulets, featuring the majestic dotted motif.

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    In 1957 the musical theater production of West Side Story captured the American audience through its retelling of Romeo and Juliet with relatable themes and a contemporary setting in New York City. The musical was a collaborative effort by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins featuring the volatile relationship between rival gangs the Jets (Montagues) and the Sharks (Capulets). American-born Tony, the contemporary Romeo, and Puerto-Rican Maria, Juliet, fall in love, but the story ends tragically with the death of Tony and a reprimand by Maria to the rival gangs in which she claims that hate killed him. The songs “Maria,” “Tonight,” and “Somewhere” beautifully describe the love of the young couple. The musical was memorialized in the 1961 film. Our own Uptown Violins member Allison Peterson even starred as Maria in a production of the musical!

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    This Valentine’s Day, take some time to relive your favorite renditions of this tragic love story, whether that be rereading Shakespeare’s original play, listening to Berlioz’ symphonie dramatique, soaking in Tchaikovsky’s Overture-Fantasy, watching Prokofiev’s ballet, or reliving your favorite film adaptation!

 

Berlioz: “Scène d’amour”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aenKKIgXP0I

 

Tchaikovsky: Love theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upyQMC-ioKE

 

Prokofiev: Balcony scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a04IcHI1fFQ

 

West Side Story: “Tonight”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7xTvb-FAhQ

 

Let's Accessorize!

Exercise? I thought you said accessorize! –Anonymous

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    We all know that a well-chosen accessory can really make an outfit pop, like a pair of red heels with a black cocktail dress, or a sparkly clutch with the right blouse. However, we’re not here to talk about fashion! In our last post we looked at the benefits of the electric violin, and here we are delving into its many accessories.

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    Firstly, the electric violin by itself makes no sound, therefore buying some kind of amplifier or speaker is paramount. Many guitarists use Fender amps, and they can work well for their instrument. However, Fenders do tend to produce a gritty sound overall, making them less conducive to the violin. We at Uptown Violins personally prefer the Fishman amps, which can be bought from most local guitar centers. If you are just getting started with the electric and are only looking to plug in yourself, you might consider the Fishman Loudbox minibox (60 watts). However, if you often collaborate with another musician, we recommend the Fishman Loudbox Artist Amp (120 watts) or the Fishman Loudbox Performer (180 watts) which allow for two instrument inputs. The Fishman amps keep a clean sound that doesn’t distort the tone of the violin, better resembling the sound of acoustic instruments. If you want a quality three-instrument input amp, we recommend the Acus Sound Engineering One for Strings (200 watts), although it is significantly more expensive than the Fishman amps.

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    In order to set up your amp, you will need a ¼ inch cable that connects to both the violin and the amp. We suggest that you don’t put the gain too loud, as it is not just volume. Also, if the treble is turned too high it becomes piercing, so it should be turned down lower than the bass and middle ranges. You can plug an auxiliary cable into your phone for music/backing tracks/etc. If you are playing in a large venue you should plug your amp into a sound system via an XLR cable, allowing for a more surround sound. If you use the amp a lot, you might also consider buying a cover to protect it, as well as a dolly to help transport it from venue to venue.

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    After you have purchased your amp and ¼ inch cable, you might consider buying a pedal to allow for different effects. For this you will need an additional ¼ inch cable. One connects your violin to the pedal via the electric guitar input, and the other connects the pedal board to the amp. We like the Boss ME 80 pedal board, as it includes fifty-nine different effects. As opposed to the individual Loft pedals, this combines several pedals in one. The pedal board weighs about eight pounds, which is much easier to transport than a huge pedal board with many different individual pedals. Some of our favorites effects include the blues pedal (good for jazz), the wahwah pedal (for an electric guitar sound), the octave pedal (which we use to imitate the cello), the distortion pedal (which also imitates the electric guitar), the delay pedal (which gives an ethereal sound, and you can choose how many seconds delay you prefer), the loop pedal (allowing up to thirty-eight seconds of looped material), and the OD (overdrive) pedal (which gives a gritty sound). You can also buy a Boss ME pedal bag to hold the pedal and cords. If you prefer not to have so many cords, wireless options are available as well.

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    Another small accessory we like to use especially with our electric instruments is our violin mute. The mute gives our instruments a warmer, less tinny sound. Because we use the mute most of the time, we turn our overall volume up. If you want a more pointed sound, we suggest taking the mute off. We personally like our Finissima mutes, which our friend Brandie Phillips decorated for us with sequins to add a little extra.

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    Lastly, if you want to fully digitize your music we suggest purchasing the new I-pad pro. You can upload your music onto the device through the app For Score. This eliminates your need to carry around enormous bags of heavy music, as you can have it all at your fingertips. You would need to buy its accompanying stand, and we recommend the Page flip firefly Bluetooth page-turning pedal as well, so that you can keep your hands free from inconvenient page turns.

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    As Valentines Day approaches and you’re thinking of buying your violinist sweetheart a gift, instead of giving a visual accessory like jewelry or shoes, try buying an auditory accessory instead!

It’s Electric!

“If I like dubstep and electronic, why don’t I make the violin fit me rather than making myself fit the violin?”- Lindsey Stirling

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Last month we looked at the origin of the acoustic violin, and we thought it would be fun to contrast it with the electric violin. Surprisingly, the electric violin will soon be celebrating its centennial, as it first appeared in the 1920s and 30s during the jazz age. Stuff Smith, a famous jazz violinist of the era, performed on one in his band Stuff Smith and the Onyx Club Boys during the 1930s.

Now, nearly a century later, violinists have a wide variety of options to choose from when considering electric instruments. As usual, however, you do get what you pay for. If you buy the cheapest instrument you can find off the Internet, you may be disappointed with the quality of sound it produces. Most classically trained violinists who venture into the world of electric sound prefer the Yamaha line, including popular artists Black Violin and Lindsey Stirling.  All members of Uptown Violins perform on a Yamaha SV-130 Concert Select Violin. Brittany experimented with a few others before deciding on purchasing the first electric violin for the group, and she found that this violin most closely resembles the feel of the acoustic. Some of the other brands she tried out had a weak sound, and she wanted something that still sounded refined but with an electric edge. Although some electric violins look impressive with their minimalistic straight neck approach, we definitely prefer electric violins with a shoulder in order to better accommodate left hand shifting. For violinists who also double as violists, the five-string Yamaha SV-255 Silent Violin Pro can be a good fit because it includes both the E and C strings.

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We at Uptown Violins love the versatility of playing on both acoustic and electric instruments. We were all trained on acoustics, which allowed us to develop better dynamics and, most importantly, excellent tone. Students who try to bypass using an acoustic often deprive themselves of these fundamentals needed for violin playing. However, the electric instrument offers violinists the opportunity to expand their sound palette, as well as adapt to more contemporary venues that were designed with electric instruments in mind.

    Here are a few the things we consider when deciding whether to use our acoustic or electric violin.

  1. Musical genre: If our gig is classical in nature, we often prefer to play our acoustic violins, as these were the instruments used by the composers whose music we are interpreting. This certainly doesn’t mean we can’t play Bach on the electric with a contemporary twist!

  2. Ensemble: When performing in a large group, like an orchestra or large chamber ensemble, we usually perform on acoustic instruments, as electrics are much less universal. Large groups need the string section to elicit a more uniform sound, which would be impossible to do if some string instruments were amplified and others not. In contrast, if we are playing in a rock/pop/praise band setting, we prefer to use our electric instruments, as they can compete more easily with the other instruments in the group, including electric guitars, keyboards, and drum sets.

  3. Venue: Sometimes we perform in large venues that necessitate amplification. For example, when playing in a stadium, contemporary church/building, or outside, we often need our electric violins to help our sound project throughout the entire space. However, if we are playing in a small setting like a home, in a traditional church, or in a classical concert hall, we usually prefer to use our acoustic instruments, as they are more suited to these environments.

We hope you all have a Merry  Christmas, and an Electric New Year!

"I Want a Stradivarius for Christmas. A Stradivarius is all I Want..."

"... I don’t want Amati, a Stainer or a toy. I want a Stradivarius to play with and enjoy. I want a Stradivarius for Christmas. Only a Stradivarius will do. No French Vuillaumes, or Guarneriuses. I only like, Stradivariuses. And Stradivariuses like me too!"

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     If you know anything about violins, you’re probably aware you can’t go wrong in buying your sweetheart violinist a Stradivarius for Christmas. And she would most certainly be happy with an Amati or Guarneri as well! The primary glitch is they are very expensive!

So who were these famous luthiers (violin-makers), and how did the violin become the prestigious instrument it is today? 

     The violin emerged onto the music scene at the beginning of the sixteenth century at the peak of the Italian Renaissance. Bertolotti “da Saló” (1542-1609) founded one of the earliest violin-making schools in Brescia, Italy, during the mid-sixteenth century. Around the beginning of the seventeenth-century, Cremona, Italy, took center stage, boasting the most famous luthiers of all time: Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri.

     Niccolo Amati (1596-1684), the grandson and son of luthiers Andrea and Girolamo Amati, improved the family tradition of violin making using more precise mathematical proportions than his predecessors (Cizek, 49-50).

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     Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), the most famous luthier of all, most likely studied under Amati, and some of his early violins resembled those of the Amati school. However, during Stradivari’s second period of work he created longer, more slender instruments, which deviated from those of his teacher. His most famous violins emerged during the third period of his career, around the turn of the eighteenth century, and are still performed by twenty-first century virtuosos today! Over the course of his lifetime Stradivari made more than a thousand instruments, including at least five hundred violins (Cizek 61-62)!

     Stradivari’s contemporary and fellow Cremona luthier, Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri “del Gesù” (1698-1744) created instruments that rival even the Stradivarius. The Guarneri violins can be even more difficult to procure, as fewer than one hundred of his violins and violas have been preserved. Nineteenth-century virtuoso Paganini played a late Guarneri instrument which Paganini famously referred to as “Il cannone” due to its incredibly powerful sound (Cizek, 63). He would send “Il cannone” to renowned French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (1798-1875), to be serviced. Vuillaume’s copies of the Italian masters were so precise that even virtuosos like Paganini couldn’t always differentiate them from the originals (Cizek, 65)!

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     During the late Classical/early Romantic period the violin underwent many changes in order to meet the needs of the day. In contrast to the more intimate settings of the previous era, violinists were now expected to perform in larger venues where they needed a more powerful sound. Composers were also writing compositions that required musicians to play higher pitches than before. As a result, luthiers tilted and lengthened the fingerboards, even altering the instruments of the previous era, to accommodate the nineteenth-century demands. Louis Spohr designed the chinrest in the early part of the century in order to allow the violinist to hold the instrument with the chin rather than the hand in order to facilitate shifting to the higher positions.

     Today, our twenty-first century acoustic violins still largely resemble those of the nineteenth century, and the eighteenth century instruments of the Italian masters are still the most revered worldwide. Although I personally don’t own a Stradivarius, I do enjoy my Italian-made Regazzoni!

     Stay tuned (no pun intended)! Next month we will look into the contemporary electric violin!

Works Cited:

Cizek, Bohuslav, adaptation française de Cécile Boiffin. “Chapitre 2: Instruments À Cordes Frottées.” Instruments de Musique. Édition Gründ, 2003.

The Violin: A Devilish Instrument!

“Death at midnight plays a dance-tune, zig, zig, zig, on his violin.”

-“Danse Macabre” by Henri Cazalis (French symbolist poet: 1840-1909)

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The haunting month of Halloween is upon us, and I couldn’t help but revisit my favorite ghostly violin music. Over the past couple of centuries the violin has had it’s bout with the devil, from Berlioz’ Symphanie Fantastique (1830) and Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre (1874), to Mussorsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.

Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre is the quintessential Halloween work, as it celebrates the “Dance of Death” which we all must undergo eventually. The “Danse Macabre” was first depicted in Medieval French art during an era when Europeans frequently endured gruesome deaths due to war and plague. In Saint-Saëns’ 19th century rendition, the violin soloist plays the part of “Death,” who calls the dead to rise at the stroke of midnight on Halloween night. The violin, which we often associate with beauty and lyricism, begins its eerie dance using the diabolic tritone, or “devil’s interval.” In order to accomplish this feat, the soloist tunes the E string down to an Eb to clash with the open A string. The skeletons end their night of frenzied revelry when they hear the rooster crow, announcing the break of dawn.

In high school I played the ominous “March to the Scaffold” and “Dream from a Witches Sabbath” from Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique for the first time, and was struck by the power of this programmatic work. Last spring I had the privilege of hearing it performed live by the Illinois Symphony Orchestra in its entirety, and was again blown away by the French musical genius. Berlioz takes his audience on both a literary and musical journey through a series of movements featuring an artist’s obsessive love and grisly demise. I have always felt akin to the romantic notion of the fusion of the arts, and therefore admired Berlioz’ obsession with literature, which he read vociferously. I find that Berlioz’ fantastical literary descriptions of the work really bring it to life. Admittedly, Symphonie Fantastique is a phenomenal musical work in and of itself, but its ghoulish qualities are ever more grotesque when described in the dance of the witches’ Sabbath in the 5th movement, as well as the artist’s execution at the end of the 4th movement.

In Night on Bald Mountain, we encounter another witches’ Sabbath when the devil calls them together to celebrate St. John’s Eve, which takes place June 24th, as opposed to Halloween. As in Danse Macabre, the revelers dance the night away, but upon the return of the dawn, they retreat from the light. Although Mussorgsky composed the original of this work in 1867 (on St. John’s Eve!), his fellow Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s wrote the more famous 1886 arrangement, depicted in Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia.

In 2013, the film The Devil’s Violinist portrayed the life and career of Niccolò Paganini, the famous 19th century virtuoso whose compositions are so challenging even the devil might have a run for his money! Paganini’s intense popularity, bravado, love of violin and guitar, and lascivious behavior made him the rock star of his century, earning him the title “the devil’s violinist.”

Even outside of the world of classical music, the violinist still can’t escape a row with the devil! In the Charlie Daniels Band country song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (1979), the boy Johnny duels with the devil on his violin to save his soul. Fortunately, Johnny wins out in the end with his flashy fiddling, leaving the devil to suffer defeat.

In my own family, we have always loved Halloween. As kids we usually planned our costumes nearly a year in advance, which our Grandma Carol would sew for us. This was no small feat, as there were so many of us! We especially enjoyed dressing up as the fairies from Sleeping Beauty while watching the 1959 movie featuring Tchaikovsky’s epic ballet. We good fairies always won over the evil Maleficent!

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Additionally, our Grandmother Ruth, family composer in residence, loves Halloween so much she wrote a Halloween musical triptych made up of “The Witch of Hate,” “The Devil of Temptation,” and “The Giant of Selfishness.” I can still remember all the lyrics to the first, having dressed up as a witch to sing it as a little girl.

We now enjoy celebrating the holiday with my daughter Annalise who was nearly born on Halloween! Happy haunted listening!

Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyknBTm_YyM

Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique:

    “March to the Scaffold”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roX70PAu3oA

    “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cao6WyF-61s

Disney’s Fantasia: Mussorgsky’s/Rimsky-Korsakov’s Night on Bald Mountain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLCuL-K39eQ&list=RDSLCuL-K39eQ&t=14

The Devil’s Violinist (2013): Paganini’s Caprice No. 24:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV5wDqJ5WU4

Charlie Daniels Band “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgvfRSzmMoU

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty: Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Opus 66: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmM-XX8atlQ