7 years ago

Volume 3 Issue 5 - February 1998

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  • Toronto
  • February
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BEHIND THE SCENES 2 Phillip Davis luthier, on bows BY DAWN LYONS 1 wait my turn. A small customer, 1/4 scale violin in hand, stands looking at small bows spread on the counter of luthier Phillip Davis's basement workshop, in his home at 67 Wolverleigh in what used to be East York. Further in is a worktable, neat racks of small tools, and tidy pigeon-holes of violins awaiting repair or sale. Bookshelves beyond hold mostly books, but also a jar full of drill bits and a candle in a complicated glass and metal tube. There are racks holding clamps, clamps and more clamps. Still further in, the dim shapes of 3 or 4 double basses. Phillip offers the young lady yet another bow from a case on the wall: Here is a Korean bow, a little stiff because it's new. but try that. lt'llfit your case- oops, no it won't. (Meanwhile, at the L-shaped worktable, Phillip's assistant Christina Y ankovich has a violin on a padded support that just. fits its curved back. She is snicking little bits off the bottom of a new bridge and checking the fit. Snick. Check. Snick. Check. Snick, snick. Check.) The young customer tries bow after bow. Finally a selection is made, thank-you's said. "You're very welcome, Barbara" Phillip replies. "We'll see you when you're a size bigger." "How did you get into this kind of work?" Barbara's mother wonders, while Phillip calculates the price, and Christina snicks and checks. (Oh good! that's one question I can cross off my list!) Phillip: 1J1ree years in England and three in Gemumy ... T1Je exchange rates were good in those days. It's even more now, in Germany, seven years- three in school, two as an apprentice, three back in school and then a masterpiece. Barbara and her mother leave. My turn to ask questions. (I am utterly ignorant of bowed instruments.) "What is a bow made of'?" Phillip: 1J1e wood is traditionally snakewood, 'amourette' in French, but this wood, pernambuco works as well. (He pulls out a billet of dark, fine-grained wood from a rack, like walnut soaked in methylated spirit.) It grows in the littoral areas of Brazil and was brought to the Old World as a dyestuff. Yields a lovely purple ... ve1y nice in handnuuie paper. Banza is also used. " Me: What did you mean "pernambuco works as well"; what is the work of a bow? Phillip: Well, it has to be the ideal balance of weight and strength ... An older man and a young woman with a violin case enter. "Hello, this is my dad. I'm looking for a new one--bow, I mean." Phillip takes the proffered bow. It's actually quite a good bow ... what don't you like? We can make yours fatter or thinner." "No," she says, "not that. It's just too heavy. I'm playing mostly klezmer now, lots of double stops in D and G, and even for classical I find it heavy." (Christina, satisfied with the fit of the bridge, stops snicking and checking, and is sanding the edge to taper it.) "I have some lighter bows, actually, quite good, they've just been left in the evolutionary dust. People are using heavier now, 82 to 86 grams, even 90 is not out of the ordinary." Phillip puts the bow on a small scale. "Yours is 58, maybe 59 with new hair." "People want heavier?" the customer wants to know. Phillip nods. "Bigger, thicker, and spongier to get the strength." "But with klezmer, it's rhythm, the lower end" the customer says. "The power comes from your hand 's work." (Christina files the edges of the bridge with a tiny round file, then cuts a tiny lozenge-shaped piece of some white material. "Parchment, for under the E-string," she informs me.) Phillip goes to one of his bow cabinets. "This is quite light, but I don't know how good it is. It's from that fellow in Bobcaygeon." Bow after bow. Names fly. Kun, Reid Hudson, Hill, Dod and "a couple of good bowmakers in Montreal." Phillip weighs each bow as he removes it from the cabinet. "Here's a 51. French, judging by the frog." They talk patterns of snakewood (garden snake and anaconda), balance, weight, the possible advantage of two bows "This one's not too expensive, about 0 ... " "Actually, I like th is one a lot. Can I try it for a little while?" (Christina has finished the violin, tuned it, and returned it to its case. Now she's working on a cello in a cello-shaped support. She slacks off the strings, selects a bridge blank from a cardboard box marked "CELLO BRIDGES". The blank is stamped "Aubert a Mirecourt". "End grain maple," she informs me.) The subject of discussion at the counter is now the old bow. Her dad says "We bought this one from Moshe Hammer." Phillip nods. "Professionals keep an eye out for good ones when they are travelling. A sort of pension scheme. Bows have become infernally collectible; a Hill's silvermounted pernambuco, 0 after the war, is ,500 now .... " At last they finalize the sale and depart, goodbye-ing cheerily. (Christina has selected a template and, using a tiny round file, is filing slots in the cello bridge blank for the strings.) It's my turn again. "Phillip, how do you make a bow?" Phillip: From a suitable-sized piece of wood, light and strong, you cut a blank. Straight, not curved (contrary to myth). Here's a template. 1J1e bow is narrow along its length, narrower at the throat and flares for the head or anvil. 1J1en you taper. Exactly how depends on what you ORONTO'S ONLY COMPREHENSIVE MONTHLY CLASSICAL & CONTEMPORARY CONCERT LISTING SOURCE

want. Here are some of my taper sticks. (fhe tapers are the length of the bow for which they are the model, about 3/4" wide, with measurements for height and width written along their length in ink -- 79mm, 99mm, on and on. Many have a maker's name and date to identify the original from which the measurements were taken.) Once the the tapering is done pretty exactly, I eight-side the bow. 17zen I bend it to shape using heat. An alcohol/amp, that's "the traditional way. · Next comes shaping. Another handful of templates· appears, each showing an outline of a curved bow. I recognize some of the same makers' names and dates. 17zen comes fluting. Optional, but the bow gets strength and a lower balance point which increases playing length .... My note-taking gets sketchy. There is the button, cut to fit, • which is attached to a slender threaded rod inserted in a hole though the first couple of inches of the lower end. And the ferrule holding the hair at the bottom end, with a tiny metal Performance Without Fear • with Elisabeth Pomes Learn how to deal with stage fright Workshop Part 1: Sat. Feb 14/98 2-Spm Releasing physical tension & mental blocks Workshop Part 11: Sat. Feb 21/98 2-Spin Mock Performance with individual coaching Cost each part or both Sutherland Chan Clinic - SpadinafBJoor bracket on its side, inserted into a hole in the side of the bow, Call Jo Stevenson at (905) 829-3437 so yqu can, somehow, raise or lower the ferrule by screwing ··t:=======~========::::::::::::::~ or unscrewing the button. High tech! I say. "The ferrule was ~ developed in · 1790 -1800 by Dodd in England; and Torte in France was arriving at the same idea about the same time," he says. · Last is the hair. Naturally white, from the tails of horse's, generally. Bleaching ruins the consis:tency. Maximum length is 34 ", so that limits the size of the bow, even a double-bass bow. 17zere have been blind tests ~f vmious colours reported. Salt and pepper, the cheapest, rated worst sounding. "Best white" was best. Black, if consistent in thickness, ranked right up there with "best white". Phillip produces a hank of long white hair, secured at one end by a greenish knot about 112" in diameter. The knot is inserted into a cavity in the anvil end, the hole plugged with a tiny wedge, leaving the hair coming out in a smooth layer. Put 'in one end and comb. Wrap and tie off the other end with linen thread, similar in weight to bookbinders.. thread. Singe the hair to make it flare and lock into the knotted thread. 11zen glue - J use crazy glue. The trick, he says is getting the length of the hair perfect. "I leave it longer in August, so that in September when the heat goes on the hair won't be· too short." The bows he makes range from 0 to ,200. To compare against "collectible'~ bows, you might get a Sartori, that's early 20th centwy, for ,000 if you were ve1y lucky, but ,000 to ,000 would be more usual. Among classical bows, a Pecat would fetch ,000, a Dodd or F. Tourt 0,000. As I leave, Christina is consulting with Phillip regarding the cello repair, "I left this one a little heavier because it's a school instrument. Is that OK?" Phillip examines the bridge. "No, that's good, leave it robust ...." ARCHIVAL AUDIO CONCERT AND RECITAL RECORDING AUDITION/DEMO TAPES DONE AT ANY LOCATION RECITAL HALL, C .HURCH OR LiVING ROOM POST-SESSION MIXING AND 91GITAL EDITING AFFORDABLE CO/ALB UM MASTERS CLIENTS INCLUDE CBC' S ON THE ARTS , BRAVO, CAST MEMBERS OF THE CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY ROBERTPOIZNER :416.466.4018 14CHRISf+ ~~CHURCH DEER PARK concert, Meeting Rooms and studio space Available 1570 Yonge St., N. of St. Clair at Heath St. * 36 rank Karl Wilhelm tracker organ and steinway gran.d piano * full wheelchair accessibility * close to Subway, adjacent to municipal parking * ...............,no. e (416) 920-5211 I FAX

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