Tools of the Trade

Who was that masked violinist?

After all these years of renting, today we bought our son a violin of his very own to bring to college in a few weeks.

We have rented various violins over the years. Sometimes there was a rent-to-own clause. That’s fine for a student who isn’t serious about continuing with the instrument. If you become a serious musician, it is unlikely that the instrument you rent when you’re 12 is the one you’ll want to be using at 18. So we upgraded to a better rental every few years, as his skills increased, but we never bought him his own violin. His final rental instrument was a good quality one, but, it turned out, not good enough for a college music major.

Because of the pandemic, the violin shop is open by appointment only, with only two customers allowed per group. First I waited in the car (in 90 degree heat) while Bob and Jon Morgan went inside to narrow down the violin choices, and then Bob and I switched places so I could oversee the selection of various violin accessories. And pay for it all. We all had to wear masks, had our temperatures taken on the way in, and were required to stop at the sink near the entrance to wash our hands.

When I called to set up the appointment and told the manager our son would be playing in several strings groups at college and is a music major but not a violin major, he said the appropriate quality violin would be in the range of $5000 – $20,000. That’s not a typo. I shudder to think of what would be recommended for a student who was actually a violin major! My son is majoring in Music Composition, but he’s in a string orchestra and a string ensemble his first semester, and I’m assuming will perform with many more groups in the next four years. I told the manager to stick with the bottom of that price range.

Jon Morgan tried nine different violins today, and there was one that both he and Bob liked best. Then Bob came out to the car, and I took his place in the store to hear Jon Morgan play the Chosen One. It was made in Germany in 1913, and it really does sound great. As little as my son has practiced since school came so abruptly to a close in March and all his concerts were canceled, I was impressed with how well he performed on it; he was rusty, but not as rusty as I thought he would be.

So we had our violin. But wait, there’s more. I’d assumed we wouldn’t need a new bow. A couple years ago, we wanted to upgrade to a better violin but were already at the top level of what could be rented. We couldn’t afford to buy a higher quality one at the time, so we upped his game by getting him a new bow instead. That was a $600 bow. But apparently it just isn’t good enough for the new violin, so we had to buy him a new bow too, for way more money that I’d dreamed it could cost.

Then we needed a case. The case he’s been lugging around for years as part of his rental agreement is actually a viola case; it’s all that was available at the time. And, like most rental cases for students, it’s kind of flimsy. He wanted a sturdier, hard-sided one. We looked at three, and I could tell this was the only one that really interested him. It’s a silvery gray polycarbonate case with a pouch on the outside to carry music, and much, much nicer looking and more practical than his old one.

While we were there, we picked him up a set of replacement strings. And a mute. And now he should be good to go — or will be, as soon as we get the new violin insured. I’m still floored by the amount of money we spent today.

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