Tag Archives: violin

Proper Playing Position Is Key to Comfort and Injury Prevention in Strings

by Claire Stefani

Playing any instrument means moving a lot. Musicians make a number of physical adjustments to play, often at the expense of optimal body mechanics. Given the asymmetric position of playing a violin or viola, properly fitted ergonomic solutions are critical to a healthy body and optimized posture. It is important to find the appropriate equipment for your body and periodically check that it’s still the best solution for you. Here are some tips from a chinrest fitting expert. 

Head Balance—Keeping the head balanced and free to move is critical. Chinrest height should permit the head to rest in a neutral position at the low point of nodding “yes,” but free to move laterally (shaking the head “no”). Some chinrests provide ergonomic benefits such as additional height or left/right tilt. Some custom models allow musicians to lower their instrument and rest it partly on the collarbone in a neutral head position.

Arm Balance—If not supported by the torso muscles, arms will hang and pull the instrument downward. If a musician is not keenly aware of back and shoulder muscles, especially in the development of arm support, any attempt to adjust the chin/shoulder rest setup to counterbalance this downward weight will only put more stress on the head and left shoulder. Also, work at allowing the shoulder blade to immediately follow the humerus while shifting and bowing—similar to how the femur swings freely from the hip joint when walking.

Instrument Position—Up or down, in or out, is an individual preference. The chinrests or shoulder rests should not dictate instrument position. By allowing the instrument to lean on the collarbone, instead of only on the left shoulder, you are less likely to clench, and will have more freedom in the left shoulder, as well as in the bow arm.

Shoulder Rests—Once the head is balanced, muscular work is redistributed throughout the torso to better support arm weight, and the left shoulder is relieved from its static role, you can determine what equipment, if any, to use under the instrument. A shoulder rest can result in overall stiffening of the entire left shoulder, but playing without one can lead to distress throughout the upper body. Changes may need to be progressive. Keep in mind:

  • If a shoulder rest is too squishy, it may encourage clenching.
  • Models designed to lean just below the contour of the collarbone prevent downward pressure over the left shoulder.
  • Anti-slip surfaces may add to comfort, especially when shifting to and from high positions.

Seating—Much of your playing is likely done sitting. Wedges, pads, and stools mounted on a convex base allow a slight pelvic tilt resulting in psoas muscle release. This pelvic tilt will improve awareness of balance around your lumbar core and address lower back pain linked to postural issues or ill-fitted chinrest/shoulder rest setups.

Listen to Your Body—Pain or fatigue often come from muscle tension. It is important to identify any postural imbalance in playing position (versus neutral position)—leading muscles to sustain a static position, instead of contributing to movement. Say “No!” to the mantra “no pain, no gain.” Pain only leads to injury!

Claire Stefani is a fitter for the Frisch and Denig chinrest line, she has helped more than 400 musicians with their setup. She is founder of Volute Service International and amateur chamber music violist and violinist in New York City, an affiliate Andover trainee, and an active member of the Performing Arts Medicine Association.

Rachel Barton Pine

Pilot Rejects Violin

violinOn March 6 of last year, following nearly three years of lobbying and negotiation between music stakeholders (represented by the AFM) and DOT officials, details of the rules for bringing musical instruments onboard US airlines were announced. Though musicians are experiencing less problems since the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the regulation is only effective if the airline crew is ready and willing to abide by its rules. Among those guidelines, US carriers are required to allow passengers to board with small musical instruments, like a violin, provided it could be stored in an overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you.

On April 17 internationally acclaimed violinist and Local 20-208 (Chicago, IL) member Rachel Barton Pine was denied boarding with her violin—a 1742 Joseph Guarneri “del Gesu” violin. The instrument, insured for $20 million, is on lifetime loan from an anonymous benefactor. Pine was the first person down the jetway to her American Airlines flight, and her only other carry-on was her purse. It was the pilot who eyed her violin and stated he would not allow it on his plane. She tried to explain that it would fit (as it had many times before) in the overhead compartment and tried to restate American Airline’s own policy, in line with the FAA Modernization and Reform Act.

The pilot simply stated: “It is not going on because I say so.” Pine was forced to take another flight in the morning where her violin was easily accommodated in the overhead compartment.

“The Department of Transportation and the airlines have established important policies to protect musical instruments. However, those policies are meaningless if they are not enforced, or if the airline staff and crews are not properly educated and trained,” she says.

Pablo Diemecke Playing with Heart: Violinist’s Versatile Career

Violinist and Local 247 (Victoria, BC) member Pablo Diemecke is frequently asked to give master classes in Canada, the US, and Mexico.

Violinist and Local 247 (Victoria, BC) member Pablo Diemecke is frequently asked to give master classes in Canada, the US, and Mexico.

Violinist Pablo Diemecke has a wide-ranging career that has taken him around the world, throughout Europe, North America, Asia, Russia, and Iceland. After two decades as concertmaster with the Victoria Symphony, he opened a private music studio, and founded his own group, the DieMahler String Ensemble.

“Since then, I have been teaching and training young performers in chamber music, in Canada and in Mexico,” says the Local 247 (Victoria, BC) member. He runs the academy in Canada, while his sister manages the family’s music academy in Mexico, both under the name Diemecke Music Academy.

Diemecke, who is affiliated with the Royal Conservatory of Toronto as a private teacher, was born into a family of classically trained musicians. His father, Emilio, was a cellist and a renowned conductor. His mother, Carmen, was a piano teacher. Together, they opened a music academy in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, during the 1960s.

“The house was always filled with music. We listened to recordings of famous violinists and orchestra music,” Diemecke says. And the number of children—eight in all—was perfect for competing quartets. “I was first violin and concertmaster of my father’s orchestra,” he remembers.

Diemecke’s father first bought a violin for his younger brother. “My father was teaching Enrique how to hold the instrument and I was watching. My father asked if I wanted to try—and that was the beginning. Once I held the violin, I knew I wanted to become a violinist,” he says. Enrique, a member of Local 542 (Flint, MI) is now conductor of the Flint Symphony Orchestra, the Bogotá Philharmonic, Politécnico Orchestra in México, and music director of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra. His brother Augusto Diemecke of Local 380 (Binghamton, NY) is violinist and concertmaster of the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes.

Other generations have also secured a place in the family’s legacy: Pablo Diemecke’s daughter, Jeanette Bernal-Singh of Local 145 (Vancouver, BC) is assistant principal violinist in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and his son is a violinist and violist in Australia, with the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra.

Success came quickly for Diemecke, who made his professional solo debut at 17 years old, and began studying under renowned violinist Henryk Szeryng at the State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra, in Toluca. He became concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico at just 26 years old.

In the US, he studied with Hungarian virtuoso Robert Gerle and with Daniel H. Majeske, the celebrated concertmaster of The Cleveland Orchestra. In 1980, he became assistant concertmaster of the Washington Chamber Orchestra, and would occasionally play with the National Symphony, then under the direction of Mstislav Rostropovich.

Diemecke credits the AFM Showcase in Washington, DC, with presenting further opportunities to perform, meet other musicians, and acquire contracts.

Diemecke’s 1994 recording of the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra was nominated for a Grammy. In 2002, he received a Gold Medal Grammy Award for his live recording of the Carlos Chavez Concerto for Violin, with the National Symphony of Mexico. He was also presented the Lira de Oro (Golden Lyre) award from the Musicians Union in Mexico.

The dynamic of living in a large musical family taught Diemecke to balance solo and ensemble performances. “A soloist has achieved the highest level in an instrument. You transmit all your emotions to the audience. In chamber music, you share the responsibility with the other instruments and musicians,” he says. To communicate that emotion, Diemecke encourages students to come into their own, drawing on his father’s advice to play from the heart.   

Whether it is in Canada, an international venue, or in his hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, Diemecke makes time at least once a year to perform with his siblings. “I just played ‘Ginastera Concerto’ in January in Mexico and will be performing it again in Argentina, with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, where Enrique is the music director,” he says. At 65 years old, he says he is playing better than ever.

Yamaha Electric Violins

Yamaha Electric Violins

yamaha YEV104 Natural frontYamaha Electric Violins (YEV) offer the beauty and character of wood, combined with outstanding sound and electronic performance. Available in four- and five-string models that are priced under $800, YEV includes the same integrated bridge and pickup design found in the higher-end Yamaha Silent Violin Pro series. The graceful solid center body is crafted from maple, mahogany, and spruce, while the frame is constructed of rich, resonant walnut. The maple neck is capped with a solid ebony fingerboard and ebony tuning pegs. Both models are available with a natural wood body, or a modern transparent black finish.


Rachel Pine Performs for Homeless Shelter


The largest homeless shelter in Washington D.C. the D.C. Community for Creative Non Violence, which feeds over a thousand homeless people, experienced a world renowned guest – professional violinist Rachel Barton Pine of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). She has played around the world and is internationally known, but she decided to play for only a dozen people this time.

Pine says she was not so different from those in the shelter. “We were always getting our electricity and phone cut off, and were one missed payment from losing the roof over our heads.” She goes on to say, “My father had left the family by that point and, sure enough, he became homeless.”

Pine says it was a shelter like the Community for Creative Non Violence that helped her father get back on his feet. It’s an inspirational story that Pine wanted to share, and a story that many people took to heart.

Kenneth Price, a man staying at the shelter, said, “Her story is almost like mine. Her father was homeless, me, my girlfriend passed away, then that’s how I got homeless.”

David Basnight, another resident of the shelter, was also inspired. “It gives me the motivation when I leave here today to go try to get me an apartment or something because if she did what she did and got as far as she got, I know I can do the same thing.”

It goes without saying what Pine has done is more than simply play a few songs. She has inspired and motivated, all while staying extremely humble.

“Music is coming from a higher power and I’m a conduit for that.”

Other Interesting News Items

Instrument Carry-on Rule for Flights Pleases Musicians 

DOT Harmonizes Rules for Musical Instruments on Flights 

Musicians Get Approval to Carry on Instruments When Flying 

DOT Final Rule on Musical Instruments in the Cabin 

DOT Updates Rules for Musical Instruments on Planes 

U.S. DoT Issues Final Rule – Air Travel with Musical Instruments 

Hey, Rockstars, You Can Now Legally Bring Your Instrument as a Carry On

Violinist Fined $120K for Not Declaring Instruments

According to the CBC, Canadian musician Yosuke Kawasaki of Local 180 (Ottawa, ON) was fined $120,000 Can, plus PST, for not declaring his instruments—a $385,000 violin and three bows worth $90,000, $6,800, and $2,000. Born and trained in New York, Kawasaki is concertmaster of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. The instruments were initially seized, but he was able to regain custody by making a $20,000 partial payment. Court documents indicate that he is asking to have that deposit refunded.