New Violin Doctor

Owlet has decided that violin lessons are interesting, and so she’s doing a couple of private ones with her violin teacher from camp in the afternoons. From what I saw yesterday, she works better one on one than in a group setting, which doesn’t surprise me at all, really.

The fingerboard popped off her violin last week, and since she’s interested enough to be doing private lessons, I needed to take it to a luthier — or, as I told her, a violin doctor — to be fixed. I went to a luthier about ten minutes away whom I’d never met before, but who had been highly recommended to me by a couple of string musicians in the area. I am trying to avoid going downtown, where the two other luthier shops I deal with are, since it is a nightmare of traffic and construction and detours and parking. And since I was taking her violin in, I figured I might as well take my cello in for its first checkup since I bought it about a decade ago. (Ssh. There have been no problems with it, and I can change strings on my own.)

He is awesome. His shop is one large open room, and he ran a thorough check on both instruments right there in front of me, explaining interesting things about them as he did. The reason Owlet’s fingerboard popped off the neck is because the curve of the fingerboard is opposite to that of the neck, so there is almost no surface to adhere. He showed me the different curvatures with his tools and it was fascinating. He needs to plane a bit off both to have a better match so he can glue it and it will stay. He’s also going to touch up the bridge to better match the fingerboard; he said it was a bit thick, too, and he suspected he knew what luthier it had come from, because each shop in Montreal has their own style of shaping bridges.

As soon as we took out my cello he said the neck seemed wide at the nut, but if it didn’t give me any problems like buzzing then it was just an interesting note. He explored the instrument, noting things here and there. The fingerboard has some bumps, but again, no buzzes so they’re fine. He correctly identified the luthier it had come from just by looking at the bridge (it’s like a fingerprint!) and he showed me that before it had been shipped someone had opened the top bout seams and shimmed the top block to correct the angle of the neck, which explains the tiny slices on the top under the neck and the accumulation of glue or resin around those seams. The adjustment even has a name, the New York neck reset. It was fascinating to learn about the history of my own instrument before it had even reached the shop who had sold it to me.

Anyway, he’s going to straighten the bridge and maybe reshape the curve a wee bit to better match the fingerboard; adjust the soundpost to heighten the resonance in the lower register and gentle the higher register; adjust the tailpiece for a better length of string between it and the bridge (I had no idea that distance was part of the mathematical string proportion magic like length between the bridge and nut is); and clean it (thank you, Mr Violin Doctor; I do what I can, but there are certain solvents you have that I do not). Oh, and he is going to fish out the little cork piece that fell off the top end of the endpin way back when I was pregnant and had to extend it as far as it could go. Thank goodness; it’s been rattling around for seven years.

I expected a lot more (an entire new bridge, at the least). His list of prices are a decade out of date and he still quoted me underneath them, throwing a bunch of little extra work that he kept saying “I’m not going to charge you for that” about. I said I’d happily pay the listed prices, but he waved his hand absently. I’ve never had such a casual, personal experience with a luthier before. I learned so much.

And on top of all that, my cello should be ready tomorrow. Owlet’s violin should be ready early next week. I am used to dropping instruments off and not seeing them for at least two weeks, often longer. Hurray!

Meet Ginny

While Ginny was introduced on other social media, I should really include it here.

Hey world, meet Ginny… who weasled her way into our hearts and became a major foster fail. She’s about a year old and terribly sweet. I’ll be volunteering with the rescue organization in other ways, mostly chauffeuring and transporting stuff when I can.

Ginny, early March 2018

When she arrived in late February, named Bo Peep, she was our first foster cat. Fostering was a new endeavor for us, a form of community service where we chose to support those people who made rescuing, sterilizing, and rehoming cats their mission. HRH was off on a training exercise the day Jessica dropped her off. While we stood and chatted, Jiji spied the tiny cat in the carrier and fled. Owlet tried to carry him over to say hi, and he fled again. Jiji was afraid of the wee foster cat, which wickedly delighted me. After all, one of the reasons we had decided to foster was because Jiji was picking on Minerva and evidently needed distraction, someone to play with.

Bo was delightfully social after a couple of quiet hours in the master bedroom. The kids took turns to creep in and say hi, and she was very friendly with both of them. Everybody was getting snuggles and bumps and flops. And the purrs, oh my, the purrs.

The next evening HRH was home. When he went to bed, the little cat climbed onto his chest and fell asleep there. That was when I was pretty sure this was going to be a foster fail; this cat would never leave the house. It took a total of four days to confirm that yes, this was too good to destabilize. Bo was officially a foster fail. Then the game of trying to come up with a fitting name, taken from literature or a film as we always do, began.

Liam and Ginny, mid-March 2018

Seriously, I have never had a cat who acclimated to a household this quickly, and vice versa. During the first week, after she was introduced to the rest of the house, Jiji and Minerva were seen casually playing with her without looking like they were fully committing to the activity. This was obviously not the way fostering was supposed to go, but it’s how it played out. There are other reasons why we can’t foster again, mainly that the one room we can close off happens to be the master bedroom, where all the household cats come to sleep at night, and it’s unfair to them. But it will be good to be able to help in other ways.

Owlet Discovers Beethoven


Owlet started learning about Beethoven in music class at school just before March break. She ran to meet me at the school gate and this is the conversation we had:

OWLET: Mummy, do you know Beethoven?
ME: Not personally, but I know his music.
OWLET: Why not?
ME: Well, honey, he’s dead.
OWLET: WHAT. He can’t write any more music!?
ME: Trust me, we have LOTS of his music to listen to.

At home she shared the Beethoven’s Wig video with us, which led us to discover Beep Beep Beep and My Little Chicken. (Click on those links at your own risk; they are earworms. Hilarious and brilliantly done, but earworms.)

Her list of facts that she likes to share:
-Beethoven is famous because people like his music.
-His father taught him music.
-He was grumpy because he couldn’t hear his music very well.
-He was very messy.

I showed her the Beethoven Google Doodle game, and found the first track from Beethoven Lives Upstairs online for her to listen to, then we borrowed the whole CD from the library.

So next it was, “Mummy, can we listen to the Beethoven’s Wig music in the car?” Of course, my child. I own three different recordings of Beethoven’s fifth symphony that I know of. And this is a synthesis of the conversations we have about it, because now we listen to it daily with occasional breaks for Hamilton or Moana:

OWLET: Mummy, it started again!
ME: No, this is the repeat. In this kind of music, like I play at orchestra, the first part is usually repeated before playing the next section.
OWLET: Mummy, this part sounds like Beethoven’s Wig, but it’s different. Did Beethoven write this part, too?
ME: Yes, he did. It’s called the development section, which makes variations and new music based on the themes introduced in the first part.
OWLET: Beethoven wrote a lot! (And this is only the first movement of a Beethoven symphony she’s heard.) And he’s very good! I like this part!

Then this morning:

OWLET: Mummy, are there any pictures of Beethoven?
ME: Not photos, because there weren’t any cameras when he was alive, but there are paintings.
OWLET: Can I have one in my room? One of his head? And then another one of him writing his music. In a frame? Like a real painting?

Yes, my child. You may have a framed portrait of Beethoven, your first musical crush.

General Music Roundup, December 2017 Edition

Sparky and I had our cello recital this past Sunday, and that went very well. It was a terrific programme. Sparky played a Bach minuet (which he crushed, a triumph after some rocky patches this fall) and I played a Kreisler Rondino that presented some stupid challenges that shouldn’t have been challenges, except my brain and fingers decided they were brick walls. But we each pulled it off. Our group pieces were lovely, too, and our studio mates all had excellent performances as well.

After an amazing fall concert with the Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra, I’ve had to decide to take the next concert off because of low energy levels, high workload, and insanely circuitous traffic rerouting while the Turcot interchange is being rebuilt. I can’t face a commute over ninety minutes long each way at the end of the day, plus a two-hour rehearsal in between; not in deep winter. This will be the first concert I have planned to miss since I started playing with the orchestra in the fall of 2001. (Dear gods, I have been playing with them for sixteen years. I had no idea till I did the math.) (Planned to miss is critical, here; I didn’t plan to miss the concert three weeks after Sparky was born, I just… had to.) (Third parenthetical interjection: That’s forty-seven orchestral concerts I have played!!! Not including the three I did with the Cantabile orchestra.)

I bought a new bow this fall, a high-end octagonal Brazilwood Knoll through The Sound Post in Toronto, because I could finally afford it (thank you, ridiculously busy freelance life). This bow has been overdue for about seven years; my previous wood bow had a cracked frog due to a toddler-related incident and had started to warp, so I was playing with the heavy German fibreglass bow that came with my new 7/8 in 2009. The Knoll is glorious. I have no idea how I played with the fibreglass for so long. It’s bouncy but strong, flexible but sturdy. I love it. And for something purchased online, with just the help from one of the specialists at the Sound Post… I feel so incredibly fortunate. They were technically out of stock, but he pulled this in from the Ottawa store where they weren’t using it and had it rehaired for me at no extra cost. He offered me the next level of bow at a price midway between this one and that (a very generous offer), but I wanted this specific bow for the faux whalebone wrapping; my fingers have been reacting badly to wire wrapping. So he made it happen.

Owlet began piano this fall, and is zooming along. It’s her thing, and I’m glad we encouraged her to do this instead of violin; the piano avoids frustrating intonation problems as long as you’re hitting the correct key. She’ll do her first recital in the spring, and is looking forward to it. Right now she can play a four-page version of Jingle Bells with relatively decent rhythm, and her teacher is delighted (and somewhat dazed, I think?) at how well she absorbs information and how quickly she’s progressing. It’s not from excess of practice, that’s for sure; we think she just has good musical memory. She’s the first non-Suzuki musician in the house, and as much as I like the Suzuki philosophy I think this teacher and this programme suit Owlet just fine.

On Christmas Concerts and School Music Programmes

Let’s talk about school concerts for a moment.

We joke about how they’re painful (oh, recorders; everyone has to go through that phase) and roll our eyes at the cheesiness, but you know what? They’re important. And I love them.

I just came home from Owlet’s holiday concert. It was smooth and energetic and well-organized; all the kids were focused and committed. It was terrific. They had multiple classes from different levels cooperating on their pieces, and it only lasted an hour as a result.

Those two music teachers, one from each branch of the school, worked ridiculously hard. It’s easy to teach an individual class something during their music block and have the kids perform it. It’s not so easy to coordinate three different classes from two different streams to do that.

These concerts — no, music classes in general — are important because kids learn stuff. Music is math. Music is following instructions. Music is learning how to take separate blocks of something and put them together to make something bigger. Music is learning to function as a larger group and co-operate toward a common goal. Music is problem-solving on a group level: how does my part fit in, how do I blend, how do I match my intonation to that of those around me? Music is focusing in a way that’s not quite the way you concentrate in an English or civics class. Music is taking turns. Music is respecting the people around you, listening when it’s someone else’s turn to play. Music is sharing with an audience.

School music class is often the only chance kids get to sing or dance or play an instrument. Our family is ridiculously fortunate in that we prioritize music and each kid gets lessons, but not all families have that opportunity or have a different priority. Investing in this at the school level offers students so much, and I am so grateful to the schools my kids attend for making sure music is still a focus among their other disciplines. With the cooperation of a local high school and by collecting freewill donations at the school concerts, Owlet’s school has acquired 60 alto recorders and a set of boomwhackers to add to the existing ukuleles, xylophones, and wind instruments since last year. I am thrilled that they continue to invest in their musical programme.

Fall Concert Announcement

Hey, it’s going to snow and be miserable. Distract yourself with lovely music!

The Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra’s 2017 fall concert will be presented at 7:30 PM Saturday 25 November, at our home base of Valois United Church (70 Belmont Ave. Pointe-Claire, between King and Queen). The theme of this concert is the 3Bs: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.

Beethoven: ‘Prometheus’ overture
Beethoven: ‘Coriolan’ overture
JS Bach: Piano Concerto in D major, with soloist
Brahms: Serenade no. 1

Our young keyboard soloist is the winner of a local competition, as usual. He’s brilliant. And I’m not going to tell you what kind of keyboard he’ll be playing, because the surprise will be fun.

Admission is $10, free for children 18 and under. The concerts usually last around two hours, including the refreshment break. The address and map are on the church website. Children of all ages are very welcome.

I hope we’ll see you there!

Rhinebeck 2017

What will stick in my mind about Rhinebeck 2017? The bloody roosters next door that started crowing at 2:30 the first night. The next they started at 11:30 PM. No more roosters.

And the fact that there were more wheels! We had so many more spinning wheels in the house this time. We are aspinnerating people, muah hah hah.

We were in a different house this year, which was somewhat uncomfortable. It slept more people, but it was oddly supplied. There were next to no chairs. Also, the heat wasn’t on despite it being late October, and the a/c units were duct-taped into the windows so bugs were crawling through. Some bedrooms didn’t even have curtains. A lot of people remarked on how hard the beds were, as well. We won’t return, I think. (We missed the Civil War-era house we’d been in the last year. I think it missed us, too. I hope we go back to it next year.)

One of the highlights of this Rhinebeck for me was visiting the Golding booth, which I had missed last year. I was just going to admire, but Ceri and Megan got me to sit down at one of the wheels to spin on it, just to have the experience of spinning on a Rolls Royce of wheels. It was incredible. And as a bonus, I spun longdraw, which is not only very relaxing but a good measure of how a wheel spins, since you need to be pretty synchronized with the wheel and its settings to accomplish it. Apart from how good it feels to spin that way, I enjoy sitting down at a wheel and spinning longdraw because it stops passersby. It looks effortless and is super impressive. I get more people interested in sitting down and trying to spin that way.

The festival itself was terrific. There were over 38,000 people on Saturday alone, and it felt like it. I wrenched my back first thing when we arrived while unloading a rigid heddle loom I’d brought to hand over to a buyer; that plus the unseasonably high temperatures and the crowds knocked me out by 2 pm. I ended up sitting on the hill in the sun and playing with a new spindle.

My list of things to look for was short: Hit Clemes & Clemes for a flicker brush; Into the Whirled for fibre; maybe a new spindle somewhere; and a shawl pin. Clemes & Clemes ended up having their own booth this year at the front of the building ITW was in. I got their last flicker brush (it was only 10:30 am!), and chose a new orifice hook for my Mazurka. Further down the row at ITW I grabbed a bag of odds & ends fibre and a braid of Falkland. Later that day I bought a Snyder Turkish-style spindle because it had f-holes in it (!!!), which is a bit on the heavy side for me at 36 grams… but f-holes!!! I decided against a Miss Marple Teacup from the same booth because I had just bought the Snyder spindle. (A decision which I regretted for two weeks, until I contacted Greensleeves Spindles and asked Elizabeth to make one for me. A delightful experience, and I highly recommend Greensleeves Spindles for all your spindling needs. Gorgeous to look at, gorgeous to spin with.) I found a pretty green ceramic shawl pin the next day at 50% off, to complete my Rhinebeck list.

Along the way I bought a bag of four different types of cotton sliver, two braids from Greenwood Fibreworks, an ounce of dyed longwool locks, a super-high-speed Kromski whorl, and a pretty pair of earrings. And I sold that 32″ rigid heddle loom, since warping it killed my back every time. I love weaving. I do not love the tedious setup.

Best of all, I got to hang out with my Ravelry mama group friends, whom I only see online most of the year. Great weather, excellent companionship, beautiful things to see. It was a wonderful trip.