Strings Music Festval: What’s age got to do with it? | SteamboatToday.com
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Strings Music Festval: What’s age got to do with it?

Upcoming events

• Friday, June 26, 8 p.m. — “unReal” film premiere

• Saturday, June 27, 7 p.m. — Opening Night Orchestra

• Sunday, June 28, 7 p.m. — Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

• Tuesday, June 30, 11 a.m. — The Pop Ups (Youth)

• Wednesday, July 1, 6 p.m. — French Chamber Music Favorites

• Thursday, July 2, 12:15 p.m. — Catalyst Quartet (Music on the Green)

I wanted to write a column about how well-made string instruments improve in tone and musical quality as they age — about how, as an instrument passes through the hands of generations of skilled performers, the countless hours of practice, rehearsal and performance imbue a majesty and expressiveness into the instrument itself, available to be unleashed by the next player.

Upcoming events

• Friday, June 26, 8 p.m. — “unReal” film premiere

• Saturday, June 27, 7 p.m. — Opening Night Orchestra



• Sunday, June 28, 7 p.m. — Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

• Tuesday, June 30, 11 a.m. — The Pop Ups (Youth)



• Wednesday, July 1, 6 p.m. — French Chamber Music Favorites

• Thursday, July 2, 12:15 p.m. — Catalyst Quartet (Music on the Green)

But then I did a whole bunch of boring research and discovered that no one can agree that this is true.

Scientists come down firmly on the side of age means nothing, saying that a high-quality instrument made yesterday is musically indistinguishable from a high-quality instrument made 300 years ago. One group of scientists did a double-blind study with millions of dollars worth of violins and top-notch professional players; they discovered the players could not identify by sound or playing quality which instruments were 18th century Stradivarius and which were modern-era.

As far as science is concerned, this study (and others like it) proves instrument age should be irrelevant to musicians.

Fine, but ask just about any musician if he or she would rather play an instrument with history or one brand-new out of the wrapper. They’ll pick the old one every time, and they have lots of theories to back up that choice

Aged wood is lighter and more responsive than new wood. Each time an instrument is played, the vibrations soften it and improve its tone. Time mellows tightness, and flexibility is key to a rich sound. They say an instrument with a lot of music mileage on it has a certain gravitas that lends weight and dignity to every note it plays, and a musician lucky enough to play one of these exquisite grand dames can’t help but be enriched and inspired by the history carried inside his or her instrument case.

What scientists and musicians can agree on is that quality counts. The level of craftsmanship and attention to detail in the making of an instrument are what sets it apart.

A finely crafted instrument made with skill and care will have a pleasing tonal quality right from the beginning, so it will be passed with reverence from musician to musician and is likely to be well cared for throughout its life. A mass-produced instrument is unlikely to achieve the sound quality of one that is hand-crafted, and it’s more likely to end up tossed in the attic where the mice can nest in it, thus preventing it from becoming 300 years old to test the age-is-improvement theory.

But let’s be clear: Having a 1981 Chet Atkins CE doesn’t mean you’ll play guitar like Chet Atkins. And having a 1733 Domenico Montagnana cello won’t make you play like Yo-Yo Ma. True virtuosity comes from the musician, not the instrument. If you don’t believe me, Google “Vienna’s Vegetable Orchestra” sometime. Oh, it’s weird, but it proves my point — an instrument is as great as the musician playing it.

Ali Mignone is the Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley.


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