Thursday morning, our Group had a late rehearsal with Marin Alsop and the orchestra, so it gave me a chance to “lock in” on some advice I had received in a Wednesday morning lesson with Associate Concertmaster Madeline Adkins of the BSO.
Ever since I took up the violin again, I have not felt secure about my control over the bow. She looked at my grip, suggested a slight change, and then said, “I don’t feel secure unless I can feel the music in my index finger (of the right hand).” What she said immediately connected with me, and I gave it a try. But I couldn’t seem to get it.
Her ultimate diagnosis was simple.
“Allow your arm weight to rest on the bow. The violin can take it.” She was right. I had been holding the bow up and moving it across the strings, but not allowing my arm weight to rest on the bow and fully engage the instrument.
I relaxed, and let my arm weight settle on the bow. The change in sound was immediate, and my finger could “feel the music.” A few more bows across the string, and it felt “right.” I had regained the sense of control I had been missing.
That’s not to say that I have mastered the bow. It seems to be a constant struggle for everyone. The scales professional orchestra players do before each concert are as much about bow discipline as they are about fingering the notes correctly with the left hand. It is also said that Pablo Casals used to spend hours playing open strings on his cello, figuring out the nuances of bow control.
Nearly all of the orchestra members I talked with mentioned the importance of the bow, and that the bow needs to be “in charge”. I was frequently told that if the bow is doing the correct rhythm, the left hand fingers will eventually fall into line in difficult music.
I’m still figuring that one out, but in the meantime, I do know one immediate side effect of my lesson with Madeline: letting my arm weight rest on the bow, instead of holding the bow above the instrument, helped prevent the “knife in the back” pain I had been experiencing when playing for longer periods of time.
One simple change. Big change in sound. No more pain.
I’ll be writing about the interesting “musician’s body” stuff we learned at the Academy in future posts.