An HIP player becoming a Soundist virtuoso: Mission (Im)possible?



In a masterclass, Pinchas Zukerman demonstrates one of the basic principles of ideal sound production – the preparation of the sounding point before each bow stroke – and in the end he exclaims: ‘you need patience! Practice only scales and exercises and nothing else for six months and you will find it.’

We should bear in mind that this advice is aimed at highly accomplished violin adepts, not at beginners, and definitely not at HIP players, whom Zukerman deems as lost souls [1].

After experimenting with Zukerman’s principles for some years – although I did not have the luxury of playing 'nothing else than scales' for six consecutive months – I have made considerable progress in obtaining efficient control of sound production. The problem is, that in order to demonstrate the acquired sound control, an hour-long intensive routine of exercises with focus on sound producing movements is demanded. This feeling of 'being on top of things' with full control of the sound is intoxicating. I can understand the temptation to remain in the domain of sound and to construct the concept of musical style and interpretation as afforded by the pallet of sound colours.

But these moments of glory refuse to follow me out of my practice room. At rehearsals and concerts, my old embodied habits take over, and the fine sharp pencil of sound control gives way to the thicker 'gestural' paintbrush.

This is not to say that it was not worth trying. Even if I have not succeeded in changing my gestural habitus into that of a Soundist virtuoso [2], the Soundist explorations have paradoxically contributed to the Gesturist vocabulary by allowing a deeper awareness of the connection between body movement and sound. Yes, I do sound better, and the focus on sound production does not diminish the gestural impact. On the contrary, the focus on the sounding point enhances the audibility of the applied physical gestures in the resulting sound, by refining the connection and coordination between expressive gestures and dance movements on the one hand and the technical sound producing movements on the other. Being able 'to hear' what I feel when I 'move' provides a new quality of feedback which informs not only sound production, but my gestures as well [3].

At a hypothetical level, I expect a similar enhancement of the listening experience for the audience. Coherence between what one hears and what one sees enhances the comprehension of the musical interpretation and allows for a more direct communication between performer and listener (Mead, 1999).

In the following section I will explore some technical specifics of baroque violin technique and the influence of historically informed practice on traditional violin pedagogy.