Wednesday, June 2, 2010

VSA-Oberlin Acoustics Workshop 2010

I will be at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (Ohio) next week for our ninth annual VSA-Oberlin Acoustics Workshop. Violin maker Joseph Curtin and I started this workshop in 2002 and this year, 50 people will gather for a week of violin acoustics presentations, demonstrations, and projects. I feel lucky to spend each summer with many of the world’s leading violin makers and acoustics researchers and would like to introduce some of them.

Joseph Curtin is a winner of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (popularly known as the “Genius” awards) and was the first musical instrument maker to be so honored. Faculty member Sam Zygmuntowicz’s instruments are played by many of the world’s leading soloists, including the Emerson Quartet. He recently completed the Strad3D DVD, which documents the Strad3D project that we did in 2006, measuring three of the world’s greatest violins, the 1715 “Titian” Stradivari, the 1735 “Plowden” Guarneri del Gesu, and the 1734 “Willemotte” Stradivari. This DVD contains high resolution photographs, videos, recordings, acoustic measurements, CT scans, instrument data, and essays by prominent researchers, and will provide many fascinating hours of browsing.

George Stoppani is a modern Renaissance man: in addition to making modern and baroque violins, violas, cellos and basses, he makes gut strings, and has written sophisticated software which we use at the workshop to analyze the vibrations of violins. Evan Davis is the head of Boeing Aircraft's Acoustics Laboratory and is applying his expertise in Statistical Energy Analysis, a technique used to predict the vibrational behavior of complex systems (for example, airplanes), to analyze the violin. Professor George Bissinger is the principal researcher in the Strad3D project, which was the first time a 3D laser vibration scanner was used to measure the vibrations of a violin. Professor Colin Gough has turned his attention to violin acoustics after his recent retirement from the University of Birmingham and a career researching high temperature superconductors. Claudia Fritz is a researcher at the Musical Instruments, Acoustics and Music Laboratory (LAM) in Paris. Her interest is in the psychoacoustics and the qualitative evaluation of violins and the work she did at the University of Cambridge can be found here.

Bill Scott is a VSA Hors Concours winner, which means means he can no longer compete in VSA competitions by virtue of winning three Gold Medals! Raymond Schryer has won several Gold and Silver Medals at the VSA and Triennale (Stradivari Cremona) Competitions. Feng Jiang has won a Gold and Silver medal at VSA Competitions. I love to play the violins and violas from all these makers. This summer, I look forward to meeting for the first time Marko Pennanen, a young Finnish maker who won First Prize at last year’s Triennale Competition in Cremona.

In addition to these prize winning makers, we have makers from other backgrounds who were bitten by the violin making bug. They bring different perspectives to violin making and acoustics. Doug Martin is a designer of rowing shells, and introduced the use of balsa as an ultralight violin construction material, along with his method of rapid prototyping to the workshop. Ted White is an ex-biology professor who spends most of his time now to making violins, and collaborated with Jim Ham to make an ultralight cello. Tom King is a retired economist who devotes most of his free time to violin making, when he is not busy as the treasurer of the Violin Society of America.

A new participant this year is Thomas Pinstrup, acoustic engineer and string designer at Larsen Strings. I am sure we will have some interesting conversations about strings! Another new participant I look forward to meeting is Zachary Moen, a lawyer who is studying to be a violin maker, and who plans to blog daily from the acoustics workshop.

There are five other VSA sponsored programs at Oberlin this summer: violin making, bow making, violin restoration, and bow restoration. A new program is the Bass Workshop, led by acoustic workshop alumni Jim Ham, David Gage, and Jay VandeKopple. Jim is one of the most innovative instrument makers in the world, and he has begun to apply his innovative approach from basses to violins, violas, and cellos. David Gage’s bass shop in New York City is a "must visit" shop for all bass players. The bass workshop will be held concurrently with the acoustics workshop, and there promises to be lots of cross-fertilization between the two programs and participants.

These are only a few of the fascinating people that will be at Oberlin next week. They all share a passion for instruments and music, and learning how bowed instruments work. It promises to be another exciting week!