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crowley_greene
08-04-2007, 03:44 PM
This post is about a specific item -- violin chinrests -- but the idea may extend more universally.

I've been practicing some violin music for the upcoming Mill Springs event, and I have decided not to remove the chinrest from my instrument although there are those who have challenged me in the past that chinrests are not "period correct" on fiddles.

Well . . . that's true . . . there are even still a few modern-day fiddlers who choose not to use chinrests. But the earliest chinrest is credited as Louis Spohr's invention in 1820, in response to the need for a more relaxed left arm with the increasing difficulty of violin music as the instrument itself evolved. And in my research I am discerning that it was rather common for serious concert violinists to use chinrests in the first half of the 19th century.

But then on another occasion I was challenged by an expert that even if chinrests were around in the earlier 1800's, the model I used was not the true Louis Spohr model. No, as far as I can tell from my research, Spohr may have only created ONE chinrest, a truly unique piece. That led to experimentation that began the evolution that continues today. Experimentation would imply that perhaps MOST earlier chinrests were one-of-a-kind, crafted for individual players (which incidentally is still done today for some virtuoso players). I would daresay in the the early 1800's there was no "typical" model.

This is a specific case, about violin accessories. But in a broader sense, how do we defend some of our items if they are not "typical" of something that existed but was never "cookie-cutter typical" in our chosen period of history?

Murray Therrell

hanktrent
08-04-2007, 05:21 PM
One simple test to see if one is looking at the evidence objectively is:

Are you wanting to justify the unique item because it would be convenient, cheaper or easier to reenact with? Or because it would be typical, evocative, appropriate, etc. in the specific historical context being portrayed and therefore, regardless of its status in the 21st century, it should be included?

In other words, does the research lead you to it? Or does your modern motivation lead you to the research?

If the research leads you to it, there'll be plenty of evidence for the unique thing in context, even if the specific context is oddball. If it's something you want to justify, well, it's good to know the historic context but for peace of mind, you might as well admit to yourself that you're doing it for other reasons so the justification isn't really vital.

Here's an example of both.

I was researching women camping in the 1850s-1860s last year for an event. That in itself was because my modern motivation led me to it: a period pleasure-camping trip was convenient in the 21st century to portray, compared to the logistics of recreating a trip by steamboat, railroad, etc. So there was absolutely no doubt I was cherry-picking historic accounts to justify something unusual, that I would not have run across otherwise. It was a 21st century convenience.

However, once I came up with half a dozen examples of women camping in the period, something totally unexpected emerged. The accounts were all similar--primitive camping in the wilderness without luxuries, the men carried most of the gear, and... in virtually every account the women wore bloomer costumes! Total surprise. So despite the extra expense, my wife had made and wore a bloomer costume. It was an easily justifiable 19th century "unique" item in that context.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

crowley_greene
08-04-2007, 06:27 PM
Are you wanting to justify the unique item because it would be convenient, cheaper or easier to reenact with? Or because it would be typical, evocative, appropriate, etc. in the specific historical context being portrayed and therefore, regardless of its status in the 21st century, it should be included?

In other words, does the research lead you to it? Or does your modern motivation lead you to the research?

Thank you for your example of 1860's women camping. It goes very well with what I thought might be the universal aspect of unique items or practices.

In this case, I expect my motivation has led to the research. The music that has been sent to me is rather challenging in a classical sense in some places, and calls for a very loose and free left arm and hand, not tense from a cramped shoulder/chin hold on the instrument. But then, even though admittedly this has been motivation-based research, it has still led to my finding the reasons that Louis Spohr created the chinrest -- the same reasons I am confronted with in the repertoire.

Hmmm. Interestingly, all this seems to relate to a quote I read tonight in preparing for a college class I teach: "What we see depends mainly on what we look for." (John Lubbock)

Spinster
08-04-2007, 06:52 PM
And in my research I am discerning that it was rather common for serious concert violinists to use chinrests in the first half of the 19th century........

Experimentation would imply that perhaps MOST earlier chinrests were one-of-a-kind, crafted for individual players (which incidentally is still done today for some virtuoso players). I would daresay in the the early 1800's there was no "typical" model.

Murray Therrell

And Murray, lets also look at your portrayal for this specific event---essentially a concert level violinist, but one fallen on rather hard times and associating with entertainers of the sort that would not have been in your normal professional circle.

Essentially, you've lowered yourself---and would thus certainly hold on to anything that smacked of the life you once knew---and this includes your custom made chinrest.

So, one of the things I'd consider 'tweaking' (if its an option with your instrument) is the appearance of the current chin rest. If it does not pass for the look of a custom made or experimental one, then consider what needs to happen for it to do so.

In other aspects of the protrayal, you may also wish to be picky about 'keeping up appearances'---brushing your worn coat, always having a clean pocket handkerchief, a polish on your shoes----anything to visibly separate you from the persons you are associated with.

crowley_greene
08-04-2007, 08:34 PM
Well hello, dear Mrs. Lawson, so good to hear from you again! :)

Thank you for those words for things I might want to be conscious of in my impression. I do plan to have my frock suit for my performances . . . now I kind of wish it looked a little seedier than it does.

I've been in pretty frequent contact with Bill Gay (Mockingbird Theatre Company) over the past weeks, both by phone and e-mail. He's quite an enjoyable fellow to know -- I'm looking forward to our time together at Mill Springs! I consider this quite a privilege to get to play with the show.

Murray Therrell

eric marten
08-06-2007, 01:55 PM
This subject keeps coming up - The chin-rest was NOT in common use at the time of the Civil War, not in Europe, not in America. Though Louis Spohr did develop one, a small block of wood over the tailpiece,(I have a copy of his Violin School) it was very slow in catching on in Europe, until towards the end of the century, and even later in America. Check out the evidence - hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of images, photos, drawings, paintings, and descriptions of violins, and none with chin-rests. Even if one were to find one isolated, rare, unique example of a European violinist having used one, that would not be reason enough to portray it as part of camp life, or even civilian life in America. If comfort and stability is the issue, it is well documented that it was common for a violinist/fiddler to use a small cushion, pad, or rolled-up handkershief UNDERNEATH the shirt or vest on the shoulder to lend additional support. (Francois Baillot - 1835;, Ferdinand David - 1845). Check out the over one dozen paintings portraying fiddlers by Stony Brook (Long Island) fiddler, painter and music historian William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) painted in great detail. Check out also his correspondence with his younger brother, Robert Nelson Mount who had moved to Georgia before the war to become a dancing master. (While you're at it, check out his beautiful painting, The Banjo Player, showing a beautiful fretless banjo with gut strings, as well as his painting of a Bones Player). Check out other artists' paintings, as well as drawings, of the instruments of the day. None of them show chin-rests on the fiddles. The appropriate way to show and use a fiddle from this time period is - no chin-rest, (even the greatest violinist of the century, playing the most difficult violin music ever written, Nicolo Paganini, played without chin-rest - it simply was not common place yet) In addition to no chin rest the strings should should be gut, uncovered except for the G string,wound with silver wire, and it should all be secured with a tailgut, a cord of dyed sheepgut stretched between the tailpiece and end button, instead of the modern twentieth century "tailpiece adjustor", sometimes referred to as a Sacconi (actually , a brand name) made from reinforced nylon and surrounding a steel wire, designed to withstand the increased tension of modern synthetic strings. It is actually very easy to equip, or de-farb a violin for portrayal of 19th century fiddling.

Eric Marten

eric marten
08-08-2007, 05:14 PM
Sorry for the typo on my last post. Musician/painter William Sidney Mount's years were 1807-1868.

Eric Marten

crowley_greene
08-08-2007, 07:03 PM
Point well taken, Eric. Before submitting the post that began this thread, I had researched on the Internet and *read* quite a few accounts of development of chinrests throughout the 1800's. I found quite a few Internet articles that made reference to how the device evolved throughout the century.

HOWEVER . . . when I reflect on how I did my search (with "chinrests" and "19th century" as a couple of the key terms), it is understandable that I would have found articles about . . . well . . . chinrests in the 19th century. :) And I expect that the pages I found reflected valid research.

Tonight I went in on Yahoo Images and keyed in "violin paintings." The results tend to support your discussion. From the two searches I did, I tend to infer that chinrests were likely being experimented with and developed "behind the scenes", but were not the norm.

I do have some reservations about skin oils and sweat on the finish of my rather pricey violin, but wiping it every little while with a cloth may resolve that problem (I wipe my instrument down after every playing anyway).
Murray Therrell

VA Soldier
08-08-2007, 09:20 PM
As people who portray people, events, customs, etc of the past, we are duty bound to try and make our portrayals as accurate as possible.

That being said, I think it is also worth mentioning that whether you are talking about chinrest on violins or any other aspect of equipment, clothing, etc.. the fact remains that we weren't there and the possibilty for something, even a one of a kind item to be made and used exist.

The only qualification I can see is that materials used existed and technology for whatever type of fabricating existed as well.
Who is to say what craftsman did or did not make what, even if he only made it once. By the 1860's the industrial revolution had not transformed the United States especially in the south and the west. It is not that difficult to believe in these isolated areas someone could have come up with their own design or something and made it, even if they made only one.

Also some people may not be willing to go through the process or willing to make changes to something for the sake of extreme historical accuracy and on the whole the mainstream public is willing to accept some concessions on that part. As long as the person does not maintain that the non-correct item is correct and is willing to explain, if teaching or questioned, about what was fact then it balances out. Something simple as "during the 1860's almost no fiddle or violin would have had a chinrest" if the issue comes up or you feel like explaining it. Same goes with strings if you don't feel like changing for gut.
Most people won't think twice about these things, and even less if you acknowledge that they aren't period. But thats my two-cents worth on it.

D. Jackson

hanktrent
08-09-2007, 06:18 AM
It is not that difficult to believe in these isolated areas someone could have come up with their own design or something and made it, even if they made only one.

Speaking in general, not necessary about chinrests now, that's true. But what are the odds the thing they designed would be exactly like something which would become wildly popular 100 or more years later?

I think that logic is more useful to justify something which a person in 2007 makes up completely on their own, following no modern pattern or influence, and if anything, influenced only by the norms and mindset of the 1860s. Ironically, that's so difficult to achieve, it's probably easier just to copy something period!


As long as the person does not maintain that the non-correct item is correct and is willing to explain, if teaching or questioned, about what was fact then it balances out.

Well, I totally agree that reenacting at all levels includes many, many compromises, some deliberate, some unavoidable. However, it's a matter of opinion whether being willing to explain something, balances it out so completely that one shouldn't even wish it could be improved.

What about all those who see something and just assume that's the way it was, so they never ask? The strength of living history is its visual, all-sensory, interactive teaching method. Sights and sounds have more power than words alone.

I'm not musically talented, so am a casual listener only. Until I heard period music played on gut strings with period arrangements, I never "got" what was anachronistic-sounding about clawhammer banjo on steel strings. It's all old-timey music, right? If someone had said, "These steel strings aren't period," or "this playing style isn't typical or well-documented" I never would have understood. Now I do, thanks to those who take it to the next level.

Hank Trent
hanktrent@voyager.net

Tarheel57
08-17-2007, 05:25 PM
As long as the person does not maintain that the non-correct item is correct and is willing to explain, if teaching or questioned, about what was fact then it balances out. Something simple as "during the 1860's almost no fiddle or violin would have had a chinrest" if the issue comes up or you feel like explaining it. Same goes with strings if you don't feel like changing for gut.
Most people won't think twice about these things, and even less if you acknowledge that they aren't period. But thats my two-cents worth on it.

D. Jackson

This is an excellent observation! I think in some cases it is a quite reasonable trade-off. An example of this kind of thing is with a Medieval high school group I co-sponsor. To participate in public events, the kids have to meet the minimum standards, and classes, workshops, etc are given all year to help them achieve it. Before public events, if someone does not pass muster they are not allowed to participate until they correct it. At a large event one year, we were placed in the hiking area of a park where the only accesses were trails covered with crushed rock larger and more irregular than the usual gravel. This was fine for hiking boots, but in authentic medieval footwear without soles, it was murder. The teacher and I reconned the site several weeks before, and told the kids "wear something with thick enough soles to protect your feet". The last thing we wanted was to kids to be in pain or injured at the event. But as part of my demo I always explained to the public "In medieval times footwear did not have modern soles. I am wearing modern soles due to the trails, which would not have existed in the Middle Ages, etc. etc." Most times this would lead off into discussions about the differences between medieval and modern clothes, some of them quite involved. Was my footwear authentic? No. But the environment was not authentic, either. For health and safety we had to adapt to the conditions. Was the public "cheated" or was history demeaned? Not in my book. We all knew what was authentic, why we were not doing it, and this was imparted to the public. This also turned out to be an excellent opportunity to "lead off" into other historical topics. Interestingly enough, a spectators did sometimes question fabrics and colors, but no one mentioned footwear.
I apologize for straying from the ACW period, but I just wanted to illustrate a case of the balancing out that Mr. Jackson mentioned. While maybe it's not a perfect solution, I feel sometimes it's acceptable. Interestingly enough, Blockade Runner offers thin rubber soles that can attached to Brogans and ACW era footwear for people in places where pegs and heels might damage floors, historical homes, etc.

eric marten
08-19-2007, 07:20 PM
A summary of some of the characteristics of 19th century musical instruments is contained in the text of a fact sheet handed out to visitors at Old Bethpage Village Restoration. This hopefully would also be of interest to living historians and re-enactors, as well. Here is the text:

19th CENTURY MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

All of the musical instruments you may encounter during your visit to Old Bethpage Village Restoration are typical of the mid-19th century, and they are sometimes referred to as "period" instruments. This includes the rotary valve cornets, alto and baritone horns, and tuba, and rope-tension drums of our brass band, an eight-keyed wooden tranverse flute, a melodian, a square grand piano, a parlor organ, and our violins (or fiddles - the words are interchangeable). All were produced in the mid-19th century and have been restored to the characteristics of that time period.

We currently have four 19th century violins in use at the museum, of both European and American manufacture. They differ from modern violins in several respects, the most obvious being their lack of a chin-rest (a later addition to the violin). However, of even more significance is the dramatic contrast in sound between the 19th century instrument and the modern one. The period violin sounds more mellow, with more overtones, and lacks the bright "metallic" edge and increased volume of the 20th century fiddle. Modern violins use strings made from synthetic materials, such as nylon and perlon - plastics developed by the DuPont Company in the 1930's - along with steel, aluminum, and other metal alloys. These materials came to be utilized during the 20th century in order to increase the volume and brilliance of the instruments, responding to the changing tastes of the listening public and the need to be heard in increasingly larger concert halls. Our 19th century fiddles, on the other hand, are quieter, with a more complex, less brilliant tone as they use natural sheepgut strings. Other string instruments, such as guitars and banjos also used gut strings at that time. The pitch of the period instruments is about a half tone lower than the standardized pitch adopted in the 20th century. Alternate tunings (scordaturas) were also more commonly used during the 19th century and are frequently employed on our fiddles as per the writings and transcriptions of William Sidney Mount, Stony Brook (Long Island) fiddler, painter and music historian (1807-1868).

You may also notice that our violins do not have fine tuners inserted onto the tailpiece, as these were only added during the 20th century in order to aid in tuning modern metal strings. The bridge, strings and tailpiece of the 19th century violins are all held in place by a tailgut, a cord of dyed sheepgut stretched between the tailpiece and the bottom of the instrument, while the modern violin uses a heavier attachment, a tailpiece adjustor, mad from metal and reinforced nylon - designed to withstand the increased tension of modern synthetic strings. Finally, the fiddles used at the museum are stored and carried in antique wooden violin cases with brass fittings, authentic to the time period.

We hope you enjoy the mellow sounds of the 19th century fiddles used at the village. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask any of the musicians during your visit.

Eric Marten