Thursday, October 17, 2013


This is not a check in as we ROWers know it to be. But this is the face, or rather the scroll of Wolf. Look at him carefully, for you will notice one or two rather odd things, that are shared with all Florenus stringed instruments; his two sides do not match up evenly and not one of them do. I was going to take picture of his f-holes, but he may have said we don't know each other that well yet, it only being 38 years out of his 176 years on this planet. Sigh, 2Shy. 

Anyway, the f-holes on these instruments are not elegantly cut, as they are on Stradivarius violins, and violas; they appear to be almost hacked out with chisels, as if the makers of the Florenus bench (Italian fiddle-makers went on for generations and are often referred to as "benches) couldn't wait to get inside to let the music out.

The bottom swoops out to a point, a "serif" before curving in to form the beginning of the neck. The work here, as like a bow maker's needs to be as smooth through the curve and sure as possible, so that no weakness exists. 

The reason is that when you put this whole contraption together (sorry, Wolf) body, neck, endpin, sides, bridge, fingerboard, nut and string it up, the pounds per square inch exerted in pressure, on a 16 and 7/8" viola (mine is 15 and 7/8", but he's fat and phat) are anywhere between 41 to 58. The problem with forgeries or fiddle-makers who try to make a great-sounding fiddle (this also applies to cellos, violas; string basses are made, or were made by cabinet makers) is they don't follow the laws of physics and finicky fiddles and are left with toothpicks, after the implosion.                                                                                                               
                     MY NEW PRACTICE AREA

This actually happened to a friend of mine up north, after he spent a great deal of money on a "2nd" viola. During an intermission during the concert, he laid it on on of the tables set out for that purpose and "ka-boom!" There went his new toy. I never felt the need for a 2nd viola, except for a junker if I was going to play out in something unusual. Then, 50.00 from the Rent-a-Wreck joint is fine for me. There's probably one or two in my storage unit.This actually happened to a friend of mine up north, after he spent a great deal of money on a "2nd" viola. During an intermission during the concert, he laid it on on of the tables set out for that purpose and "ka-boom!" There went his new toy. I never felt the need for a 2nd viola, except for a junker if I was going to play out in something unusual. Then, 50.00 from the Rent-a-Wreck joint is fine for me. There's probably one or two el-Cheapos in my storage unit.

My viola bow, made by a modern maker in Germany. name of Grunkë. At 72 grams, it is the heaviest of viola bows (I can't use a violin bow; I have a naturally "heavy" arm) but is so delicately balanced, it easily responds to light spiccato bowing to the heaviest, most brilliant passage work by Richard Straüss.

But you can't argue with physics. You can't change the way the bow exerts pressure on the string, nor the way the string resonates to that pressure. To get the best sound possible, there are no shortcuts and these old bastards from Italy figured it out. There are some good Chinese violins and some older Japanese ones from the early 1900s that are wonderful. Found gold, but the Italians; hands down, still the best. 


! am definitely not a pro photographer by any means, but if you look at the left hand photo, you can see by the definition of the light, how deep the front of the body is on Wolf. All of his fittings are in Rosewood, Chin rest. pegs, tail piece and only one tuner. All of his strings are perlon, with composite core and silver-wound. Thank God they last a while, because they're about a hundred bucks a set. As a working musician, you can write off 2 sets of strings per year.

I have a friend who owns an Ungarini (Cremona) viola; he flies to New York with her every 3 WEEKS to have her strings changed. Every 3 WEEKS! And yes, in care you're wondering, he buys her a seat next to him. Ungarinis are glorious. He asked me, "would you like to play her?" She's 17 and 1/4" with lightning bolt purfling; slim and elegant. We swapped. I played up-bow, noodle-noodle, down-bow, noodle-noodle and stopped. A message from God. I watched as my friend tore around on Wolf. He stopped; "Don't you like her?" I cleared my throat, "OhyesindeedyIdo." He just laughed. A truly awesome instrument, is the Ungarini viola.

To the right, is a Stradivarius viola, approximately 16 and 3/4" long, with a one-piece back. Wolf is 15 and 7/8" long and has a HUGE sound, most notable on his lower, or "C" string. The primary reason for this, is he's "tubby," not graceful nor slender like his more aristocratic Cremonese cousins. However, there are only 12 Strad violas in existence, and none of them are notable. However, Wolf is easy to play and is a beauty, otherwise.

Speaking of backs, fiddles have either one, or two piece backs. This Strad has a two-piece back, although it's hard to tell. Although it doesn't affect the sound one way or the other, there is an aesthetic preference as to one-piece back, or two-piece back and sometimes, I think it has to do with what we all started playing as little kids. I started on violin and switched to viola, when I reached the age of reason. My first nameless, lost to the ages, 3/4-sized rental violin had a 2-piece back. I've preferred them ever since. 

I did own a pretty okay violin, made in Germany in the 1700s, for a while, with a one-piece back, but it was nothing special, but for the fact that it ate E-strings at a ferocious rate. Once, during a Manhattan Transfer concert, it chewed one up. Right in front of an audience of 5,000 or so. I was off the stage at the end of that number, changed the string, tuned it, and back in my chair before the downbeat of the next number. Boy, was I pissed. 

Later on, the group's conductor and pianist, Yaron Gershovsky, said to me, "I've never seen cool like that; that's pro!" I said, "Thanks, ya want a fiddle, cheap? " We used to improvise on "Variations on a Theme of Paganini," by Rachmaninoff, which was a neat trick, because I'd never played it on violin, just the viola part, for orchestra, nor had I improvised much. Noodle, noodle.

This is Wolf's 2-piece back and his upper left shoulder. He has "tiger stripes," which many luthiers work very hard to match up, if the back is 2-piece, or set very dramatically, if the back is 1-piece to bring out the "flames" in the maple wood used. Again, this type of striping is typical to several luthiers, either running parallel, or convergent. Again, it's a matter of aesthetics. The luthiers have other ways to make the wood "sound" which I'll reveal in further posts.

Wolf is pretty blond for a viola, or a violin for that matter. My German E-string eater was dark brown and also, had a harder varnish. But, before I end this and bore everyone completely to death with my alter ego (one of many; I seem to be schizophrenic) I must point out the patina, or lack thereof on Wolf's upper left-hand shoulder. That has been caused by years and years upon years of the heel of my left hand as I play in the upper register on his fingerboard. 

Maxim Vengerov, playing his Stradivarius violin

Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor, Maxim Vengerov violin, Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony

This type of playing is referred to as "tessitura playing" and is used by string players to intensify the emotion of long passage-work, typically associated with romantic or tragic music. Mahler, Barber's "Adagio for Strings," and Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," are great examples of this. Because these instruments are non-fretted, playing in highers positions, higher on the finger board, shortens the string length, and intensifies the tone. It is up to the player to apply nuance, vibrato and turn the notes into art. It's awesome and I love playing this way. It takes tons of control. The best example of this is towards the end of the 1st movement. It's heaven.

Every so often, I know I do this, most musicians revisit past pieces, to refresh our skills and make sure we're still on top of things. Musicians tend to be long-lived; Mischa Mischakov played his last concert in Detroit at age 100. Although, he was no longer concertmaster, he wasn't ga-ga. 

I've started my rehabilitation, as it were. While it is no where near what I used to be, there is promise, by the end of the first 15 minutes, things were starting to gel. My "sight-reading" exercise is a trip, because I keep trying to get ahead of myself. Ha! All the moving parts are present and accounted for.

I will share more about what I know about the arcane world of luthiers and fiddles and their secrets. Having been a part of it for so long, I had forgotten how truly secretive and mysterious it all must seem to people who have never been around non-fretted, wooden instruments. So, I'll tell you about how luthiers "sound" wood, bow makers; a different breed of cat. The ones I've known up close and personal have all been aeronautics engineers, which is a clue as to what shape a violin, viola or cello bow is patterned after. Last, but not least, this is a new "trend" in augmentation for non-fretted strings. It sucks. 


Sunday, October 13, 2013


Well, shit. My viola playing goals are on hold right now, until I see the ER ophthalmologist tomorrow, Monday, 10/14/2013. I've been having some pain in my right eye and some of my vision has diminished. I'll check back in here, just as soon as I find out what's going on.

Other than that, I feel good and am looking forward to writing and playing, but I can't do that being completely blind. I've managed to function like this for nearly 10 years. 

In the meantime, look at these cute bobcats I found! 

I actually had a bobcat when I was a kid and lived in San Diego... will repost that here soon.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013



Meet a member of Wolf's family. I was just messing around the other day and thought I would go looking for some of Wolf's family members. For those of you who don't know, Wolf is my alter-ego. My viola in the real world. He came into my life when I was 19 and has been with me longer than any of my marriages and he's a great deal less fussier and much more reliant and makes me look good; like any great partner should. Well, I found at least one of Wolf's cousins and like his whole family, there is a great deal of controversy, shrouded in mist, wrapped in an enigma, inside a maze. But the non-fretted string world is like that and it has been ever thus. Wolf has been authenticated, has his bona fides and appraised and is insured. Yet, he too, is a mystery. Why? He was born in 1837, only 10 years after Beethoven's death, but 104 years after the violin you see above you was made. Both are authentic; Italian fiddle-makers went on for generations, so although my Johannes Guidantus Florenus is authentic, the one above was undoubtedly made by the original. Maybe, Wolf was made by Josephina. It's just one more layer into the mystery of the world of fine violin-makers and their arcane arts.

The reason? Forgeries and often, very, very artful forgeries. Also, there are loads upon loads of ego involved among the "appraisers" who, either think you've got a lemon, and will give you what you paid for it (! Wolf is not an 'it') and if they can pry precioussssss from your tiny paws, knowing that you're none the wiser, they will turn around and sell it for an arm and a leg and perhaps, a torso. Meanwhile, you'll be playing on something that was built just before the Cold War ended and it will, well, suck. Or, if made by a fine modern violin-maker, as is the case here, it will take longer than your lifetime for the instrument's wood to have really mellowed and come into it's, or hers, or his own voice. Trust me. I know these animals; both human and stringed.

The other problem with figuring out what is what and how old and if it's real or if it's Memorex (or real, for anyone under 40) is that every luthier, violin-maker, bow-maker and/or appraiser, or combination of all three loathe each other. There's so much loathing going on, they probably loathe themselves. It's a real pain in the ass if you have to get a 2nd appraisal from another house, so once you get the bona fides of your chosen stringfellow and pay the outrageous 10% fee of the instrument's worth, or more for the appraisal, treat it like gold, and put it in a safe or hide it.  

Anyway, this is the prelude to saying that I have an excellent viola, which I have not been able to play since 2009. I've been homeless, sick, not homeless and through a horrendous time and there was a time where I mourned the loss of what I thought I may have lost. Well, now that I have my E. T. (essential tremors) under control and am getting on top of my other health problems, which are nagging, and chronic, not life-threatening, I feel I owe it to myself and to this AWESOME instrument that I own to bring us both back to life.

In keeping with that, I'm prepared to establish some deliberate-ish-type goals here, as Andi-Roo would say. Here I am surrounded by all this excellence and I'm really not comfortable just rolling around in it and not participating. But, I have to do it on my own terms. 

So, to begin, To FWA and NaNoWriMo Regions USA :: Florida :: Tampa I won't be coming to meetings, or anything like that and I am terribly sorry. I'm legally blind and it's a hassle for me to get around. I WILL participate on forums and the like as much as possible and I do not want you to take this as a slight, because it is not meant to be. I think writers are some of the most generous people in the world and I appreciate all of the advice and kind criticism that I have been offered. People have been very kind and enthusiastic and this has so enriched my life. I just so hope you understand and I appreciate your forbearance. Thank you.

My goals are going to be simple but reading A New Theory of Elite Performance flipped a switch in my head; a very old switch. Persistence over time is nothing new. I am extremely gifted as a musician; I am also extremely lazy. When I kicked it in, I was already in college, or maybe I was in my first paying gig, I cannot remember, because I was always convinced I was supposed to be where I was; with my ass in a viola section somewhere. Keeping that in mind, I had to backtrack. There was a time I had tendinitis and had to go through a forced period of rest and rehab; that sucked, so I am going to fall back and punt and run some more metaphors up this here flag pole and list me some goals!

Goal #1 Polish my playing skills (again!) to the point that I can pass an audition for one of several volunteer orchestras here in the Tampa Bay Area. I don't want to just be accepted for how I used to play; there are too many "geezer" orchestras. If I can see well and play well enough to pass an audition to play with retired members of the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in 2014, that will mean something to me.

Daily viola practice, scales, 3-octaves, "Vocalise" transcribed for viola, by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sibelius Symphony #2 - Sightreading

15 minutes , 4 times a day, for a total of one hour, for 2 weeks.  
30 minutes,  3 times a day, for a total of 90 minutes, for 2 weeks. 

October 9,2013 - 

Goal #2 Write something, anything that I can either publish, or get published or earn money with. I know that this is just nebulous as hell, but here's a fun fact: someone stole some of my posts and made money off of them and I've never earned a dime. So, to this end, instead of playing endless games of "Bejeweled" or "Candy Crush," see "Candy Crush is Stupid, You Guys,"  and just adding a bunch of one-liners to everyone else's funny and funnier posts than anything I can write, I think I'll actually read me a few guides about how to write or browse through some of the Critique Circle's material. I've been invited to write a story. I could submit some of my posts about my life, but then, they would probably think I'm just making shit up. Trust me, I'm not.

Daily writing - At least 750 words per day. I am also going to participate in NaNoWriMo again, this year, if nothing else to best my personal best of 1737 words for the entier month of November and NaNoWriMo 2012. Yeah, stellar.

October 9, 2013 -

Goal #3 - Physical care, eating and gasp! exercise This has become a major issue in my life, but I have to say this: I am a lucky bitch! After god knows how many years of slow-mo self-destruction, I have once again, risen from the dead, I believe. The Primodone has helped tremendously. I am also still taking my anti-depressant and that is straightened out for another year. I am on iron and my COPD is under control, at last. I quit smoking and drinking for good in September 2010 and feel so much better for it. I can honestly say that I'm where I am supposed to be. A little stint among the homeless did me no harm and actually broadened my horizons. I believe too, that it has given me a greater depth of compassion for people who are truly oppressed, and an appreciation for what I have. I am where I am supposed to be.

To stay here, I have to take: medication for depression, bipolar and now, Essential Tremor. I must also take montelukast for Asthma, Spiriva and Advair for COPD. 1 Pre-Natal (! my primary doctor rocks, it works) vitamin, 2 x 600mg calcium with vitamin 400 IU, 2 X Vitamin D3, 4000 IU, 1 capsule, Iron 150mg, 4 X Vitamin E, 1 X folic acid 800 mg, 2X cinnamon 1000 mg, 1 X niacin 500 mg non-flushing. 

Once a week, I inject intramuscular cyanocobalamin 250 mcg/mL, since I cannot absorb B-12 through my stomach; I had ulcers from the age of 9; they went undiagnosed until the age of 29, when they perforated a 3rd time. I didn't even know it the first 2 times. Anyway, eating healthy for me is:

Salads, whole wheat bread sandwiches, some fruit. I used to eat constantly and everything in sight and never had a problem with my weight. My sugar was fine and I've always had low cholesterol. I still do, but now, my sugar is out of control, partly due to my E.T. and partly due to the fact that I am the Carbohydrate lover of all time. Pasta, 8 days a week would be fine with me. No more. I had blinding headaches and my eyesight, bad enough to begin with, is suddenly worse, blurrier up close and at one point my sugar was as high as 335. EGAD!

My PCP (primary care physician) is on top of this and I see her on the 7th of November. At this point, I'm pretty confident I can control this with diet and exercise

Walk at least, 1/2 hour a day. This could be problematic. JC is still not as ambulatory as he once was when we met, but he needs the exercise as well. He has a class tomorrow, so I will be on my own.

October 9, 2013


I'll update daily and we'll see how this goes; I'm feeling well and ready to tackle some. . . thing. With that roaring endorsement, off we go!