Bow Envy

I’ve been watching the bows of my string colleagues this week, and I’ve realized I’m jealous.  I have bow envy.

I have always loved wind instruments.  There is something so beautifully, terribly intimate about having to generate sound and music with your own personal air, the air you use to breathe and to live.  It’s natural to make big phrases that match the shape of the breath, and it’s natural to drive those phrases forward to their conclusions, and to the next breath.

When I am following and matching my string colleagues in their elegant, light baroque style, I can imitate the lift that their bows have.  The weight and speed of their bows, and the way they don’t force phrases to be longer than the bow itself – these are characteristics of the style we are working in and I can mimic and match this with no problem.  It makes the long long arias and choruses feel easier if I can lift with the strings in all of the tiny rests that occur all the time.  I’m not trying to drive long phrases, I’m playing infinitely many tiny micro phrases to make a big picture phrase, and it’s a pleasure to do – but it’s a trick made for strings and bows.  I imitate it but it originates from them.

Here’s the thing I can’t do, though. I can’t be truly patient. I can’t take a movement of a solo cello suite and let it slowly, endlessly play out, spooling through infinitely long phrases, and building to a place of enormous intensity with no one note or phrase noticeably changed from the one before.  This is not something I can do with my air.  I would have to drive those phrases, and surge up and down, and choose places for a real – not micro – breath. I could still arrive at that peak, and come away from it again, but there’s no way I could have the patience of a bow.  Air is more urgent.

I attended an amazing solo string recital yesterday, can you tell?  There’s a tremendous amount of talent down here at the Peoria Bach Festival this week.  Tonight was our last concert, and I can’t wait to get home and see my family tomorrow – but I always learn and grow at this festival.

This week I’d like to grow a bow.

2 thoughts on “Bow Envy”

  1. You can always buy one, and along with it you can buy the instrument of your choice. Even an instrument that reads in the bass clef. It won't hurt your oboe playing (it eventually will help it). I recall that the oboe professor at Oberlin played gamba. My bow envy turned me into a string player, but I still play winds (my modern flute is getting an overhaul as I write, and my baroque flute is getting her daily workout. My recorders are my trusty pals). Go for it. (Bow for it!)

  2. Elaine, you're the second person to make this very salient point. It's on my list. My long list – but yes, I could see me taking a year of cello lessons and blossoming into a whole new me…

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