The cello has a place in folk music. And by folk music, I mean the wide variety of European-derived folk music traditions that rely on the Violin to carry the melody. The cello has a nice baritone register that can provide a bass function in folk music in smaller ensembles. However, the cello is not well-suited for playing the melody lines that the violin plays because it lacks a high E string.
It is for this reason that I took up the mandolin. Being in the same tuning as a fiddle, the violin makes folk melodies very accessible. However, where a string player can easily play multiple notes with a single bow stroke, the mandolin player must pluck a string multiple times. I've long felt that the mandolin is just more physically taxing than a bowed instrument. After a long session, even if I take many breaks, my arms are just worn out and in pain. And, unless I'm amplified, I just can't project very loudly at all.
Some years ago I first learned about the Violin Octet
. The Violin Octet is the open-minded string player's wet dream. Eight instruments in slightly overlapping ranges all the way up from an octave above the tuning of the classical violin all the way down to two whole steps or even a full fourth below the contrabass. Eight instruments designed according to modern acoustic principles. Eight instruments, that, together, speak as one unified choir of pure violin sound. I've listened to recordings of an octet where I can swear that I'm actually hearing a pipe organ because of how full and unified the sound of these instruments is. Also, the bass registers on the baritone, small bass, and bass violins are huge and full and blend really nicely.
Watch Barber's Adagio for Strings
performed on the Violin Octet. For a description of each of the instruments, watch these three videos: Part One
, Part Two
, Part Three
. These videos are narrated by Robert Spear
, a luthier that is producing Violin Octet instruments (!).
One of the members of the Violin Octet is the Tenor Violin. This instrument is pitched just like a violin, except that it is tuned an octave down and, more importantly, is equipped with an endpin and is held in a manner similar to the cello. Finally, a bowed stringed instrument that will make folk melodies accessible to me! I don't expect it to have the nice warm low-end of my cello, but this is not a problem if I am backed up by a guitarist or two.
I've been communicating with Robert Spear about obtaining a Tenor Violin from him. I will be evaluating a Tenor Violin with parts machined in China and finished in his workshop. He makes two such instruments available and I will be evaluating both. These are the large tenor and a small tenor. They are tuned identically but the large tenor has a body length of 24.5" and the small tenor one of 23.25". According to Robert, the small tenor projects really well and I expect that this is the instrument I will eventually settle on since small size and maximum projection are qualities I am interested in. Small size for smaller hand movements and projection because if you can't be as loud as possible when you play music then what is the point? :]
I expect to receive my large tenor soon and will begin learning Irish repertoire on it right away. I also hope to learn Klezmer repertoire on it.
As far as bows go, Robert recommends 7/8 and 3/4 viola bows for this instrument. I find it interesting that even though the instrument is physically larger than the viola and tuned lower, it requires a lighter bow. I wonder why? I will find out soon :] By the way, Robert has been extremely responsive, helpful, and thorough in all of my email correspondence with him. It has been a pleasure working with him.
I'm getting ready to buy a used copy of the Fiddler's Fakebook and a good Klezmer book. I'm considering the Compleat Klezmer Book with CD