Last Day of School…

Today is the last day of school… they had a wonderful last week at school.

On Wednesday, they went to the fresh market in town with their teacher and bought fruits and vegetables for an AperoĀ (a light snack-type thing) on Friday (today). Yesterday (Thursday), they (only the 2nd graders) were invited to lunch at their teacher’s home. i think it is so sweet that the teachers here do go to such efforts to express how much they do like the children and enjoy their job.

This also signals that Tobias will be moving onto 3rd grade next school year with a brand-new teacher. Fingers crossed and knees bended that his 3rd grade teacher would be as understanding and patient as this current one has been.

There is one teacher we are sure to see again for the next school year – his violin teacher, Herr Steiner. Yep, we will be carrying on with violin lessons for another year šŸ™‚ i remember how excited he was for his first violin lesson.

The week before we played at our last concert of this school year. We had played at the Christmas 2012 Concert and another small concert at the neighbouring village. This last one was in our own village and it went quite well. It has been exciting, nerve-wrecking (for me at least) and very humbling to be learning and getting such opportunities even when i’ve been out of school for so long.

Here are just a couple of photos:

It was a lovely venue at the local church.
It was a lovely venue at the local church.

After this rather long (12 weeks) term, we are very ready for a holiday šŸ˜€


Of Strings and Wood…

A little over 2 weeks ago, we had the unique opportunity to visit the only violin making school in Switzerland; the Swiss School of Violin Making in Brienz, Geigenbauschule Brienz. Thanks to our wonderful violin teacher who arranged the trip.

It is located in one of the most beautiful lakeside towns in Switzerland, in the region of Interlaken, the calm and ever quaint Brienz. i can’t think of a better place to have such a school. It’s neighbour is the Swiss School of Wood Sculpting/Carving, established in the late 1800s. So this place has a history of wood crafting.

Isn't the view amazing? Lake Brienz in the foreground, the mountains at the back.
Isn’t the view amazing? Lake Brienz in the foreground, the mountains at the back.

We got the grand tour from top down. They buy and store the wood used for violin-making in the attic. There were piles and piles of different wood; for violins’ bodies and necks, cellos’ bodies and necks,Ā Maple, Spruce, Ebony (used to make the necks and are naturally black), Boxwood, Willow and Rosewood. He explained in detail about the grain and the age of the wood (they have wood from 1960s even!), but in German, so i missed a lot of the details, not to mention i had an 8-year-old constantly wanting to talk to me.

It is wonderful to think simple wood slats can become such beautiful musical instruments.
It is wonderful to think that simple wood slats can become such beautiful musical instruments.

Then we went down to the workshop. The school only takes in a maximum of 10 students, roughly 2 or 3 for each school year. It takes 4 years to study to become a violin-maker. You have to know sounds, acoustics, understand wood, learn to play the instrument (if you don’t already), treating the wood, lacquer and more. They make their own lacquer at this school!

Students hard at work. It takes them about 6 months to make a violin/viola and a year to make a cello.
Students hard at work. It takes them about 6 months to make a violin/viola and a year to make a cello.

We were there for a little over 2 hours and it was one of the more interesting tours i have taken in a while. We enjoyed it very much.

Left to Right: forming the shape (1 of 2 methods), parts made, lacquer drying...
Left to Right: forming the shape (1 of 2 methods), parts made, lacquer drying…

Now i want to just talk a little bit about the second concert we were privileged to take part in. It is part of 3 concerts of the 3 schools in our school circle. So on 15 June 2013, Wednesday, we played as part of a strings group at the Oberdorf concert.

Getting ready for rehearsal.
Getting ready for rehearsal.

We had fun but it was quite a nervous time, at least for me. i made 2 mistakes during the 5-minute performance. Thank God we were in a group and no one really heard my mistakes, at least i hope not. It was also great that we were the first group to perform because we could then enjoy the rest of the concert without anxiety (again, i think it was just me.).

We have no pictures of ourselves performing as Walter was away and there was no one to take pictures of us. i did, however get pictures of us, doing silly faces waiting for the concert to start.

Aren't we silly?
Aren’t we silly? It was dark and i used the phone-camera, that’s why it’s so blurry.

And here you can see 3 of Tobias’ favourite groups.

Top to Bottom: Saxaphones, Electric Guitar and Drums.
Top to Bottom: Saxophones, Electric Guitar and Drums.

The Drums group was really interesting to watch. They played an original composition by their teacher. You can see four drum sets and a xylophone. The girl on the xylophone played the whole time, keeping the melody going. The 14 drum students rotated between the 4 drum sets and played some amazing beats! i wished i had thought to record a video of them, but i was enjoying the music too much šŸ˜›

We have another 2 concerts to go… ooooh…


PS: You can read about our very first recital before Christmas last year.

Rented and Collected…

Yep, we have rented our violin and even though mummy (who still can’t believe how trusting they are here) told him he won’t be able to bring it home till August when he does start lessons, the violin is now sitting in it’s case, lying next to the now unused child-sized guitar (mummy is still sad about that but hopeful that he will pick it up again).

That’s correct, you read right – we rented the violin and brought it home with us. Did we have to start paying from July, instead of August? Nope. And the contract for rental was also very simple; it just states what was rented, what’s the value of each item, name, address and contact number of renter (that’s us), how much is rental fees each month and that was it. There wasn’t even a start date or any long conditions of rental. There was just a few lines at the bottom of the A5 sheet (ya, not even an A4 official looking sheet) which states that if rental is for less than 3 months we have to pay for at least 3 months and if we return the violin after 3 months of use, we would have to pay for new strings to be fitted for the next renter. i asked her (the violin shop lady) how she knows when we start – she said she will just make a note, where i’m not sure. Also she did not say that we must pay our fees every month, she did not even note down how often we should or would be paying the fees. She just gave us a few payment slips and told us to pay regularly; how often is up to us. They trust us to pay regularly on our own accord, starting in August.

Where i come from, that’s just not the way things are done. If you did business this way, you would most definitely be taken advantage of and make a loss. But here things are soooo different – there is a trust between service/goods provider andĀ customer. People expect that you would be honest and civil and hold up your part of the deal. In German, i believe it is called “anstƤndig”, which translate to be fair, becoming, decent, honest, modest, proper, self-respecting, square. i don’t think there is a single word in English which fully describes what this German word means.

Anyhow, i’m getting carried away here. Back to the violin rental.

So we went with a friend whose little girl also chose to play the violin. It was a great time of trying out different violins (so many sizes and tones). i am so happy to have gone with someone who has a music background and get some help on picking a good violin and she also asked questions i would not have think to ask. Thanks my dear.

Here are a few photos:

Left: she is measuring him for length of arm. Right: she is letting him try playing.
We had to choose from all the ones hanging and finally narrowed it down to just 3, based on size. Can you point out the one he chose? He chose one with a more mellow tone.

For the last week or so, since we got the violin at home, he has been taking it out of its case and “playing” it (ok, so he is just running the bow over the strings at the moment – but still šŸ˜€ ). He is just as excited to start lesson as he was when he made his choice a month ago. i’m excited for him too.

i can’t get over how smugly happy he looks here šŸ˜‰

Now this is not a cheapĀ instrumentĀ so i wanted to be sure that we took good care of it. Where do i go for help on this? Well, the internet, of course šŸ˜‰

Isn’t it just a beautiful instrument?

There are so very many website and Youtube videos which teach everything from how to store your violin properly to caring for the strings and telling you about things likeĀ dampitsĀ (the use of which is debated among musicians). The one very important thing i have learnt is that the instrument must not be subjected to extremes of temperatures andĀ humidity. This can potientally causeĀ irreparableĀ damage to the very expensive wood body of your instrument. So we now are on a new journey to learn as much as we can. Hopefully the teacher will give us more guidance along the way.

i leave you with these 2 websites which i found helpful about the care and maintenance of violins; The Sound Post and ViolinOnline.