This is one of my favorite cards in the deck Inspiration for Violinists. Through shamanism, I have learned the meaning of playing music on an instrument in which animal products were used in its production. The caveat is that the instrument needs to be held sacred and used in ceremony. A great example would be drums used in shamanic ceremonies which are typically made from the skins of large mammals such as deer or bear. Perhaps not known to most violinists, there are several animal products used in the production of our instruments.
The production of violins and violin bows involves the use of hide glue from animal by-products, bow hair from a horse’s tail, bow frog jewels from abalone shells, and the leather thumb grip. Until fairly recently, ivory was used for the tip of the bow. There are still many violinists who play on strings with a “gut” core. These days there are synthetic options available which work fine, are cost effective and do not come with associated ethical issues. There are even “vegan” violins.1
I have written about my sensitivity in previous posts. I know that as a musician I am not alone in terms of my sensitivity. However, like many violinists, I could not fathom a way to avoid the use of animal products in my violin playing. I am thrilled to know that there is a growing movement of violinists and violin and bow makers who want to put an end to the suffering of animals for the exploitation of their biological materials. It is only recently that viable alternatives to horse hair for the bow have become available.
Like most violinists, I have been skeptical about how well these synthetic products will perform. During the four years when I was an ethical vegan, I lived the hypocrisy of avoiding the issue by side stepping it. Shamanism has presented a guide for me in many ways including how to view the ethical issues surrounding my instrument. In shamanism we learn that using an animal’s body parts in ceremony, holding it sacred, gives back the animal’s voice and honors its spirit.
In the midst of orchestral musicians returning to work and questioning working conditions like workers in many other fields, adding this spiritual dimension to your violin playing can offer a mission greater than performing yet another grueling symphonic program. It requires belief but not a religious practice. You only need to visualize a beautiful horse galloping with the wind flowing through its mane and tail strands. As you play your beautiful violin music, the horse’s spirit lives on. You are giving Horse’s spirit new life. Your violin music soothes, heals and inspires your audience and fulfills your own spirit so that you can pick up your violin to play, yet, another day.
I recently attended a horse medicine workshop led by shamanic practitioner, Joyce St. Germaine, farm owner Stacy vonRichthofen and professional counselor, Cindy Trifone. It took place at the Wake Robin Farm in Burlington, CT which specializes in horses in need of convalescent care and hospice. During this workshop, we meditated and journeyed on the healing ability of these horses as well as offering our own healing energy to them. Horses are capable of great empathy and can facilitate in the healing of trauma in humans.
From a shamanic point of view, when playing the violin, you are gifted with the medicine of Horse which is travel, power and freedom.2 As part of your regular violin practice, you could meditate on the role of horse medicine in your music and career. Likewise, you could include a spiritual practice dedicated to all of the animals that have offered their bodies in service to your music. You don’t need to feel bad or guilty. You only need to recognize the gift you have been given and honor it by playing your music often and passionately.
For more information about this card deck visit: InspirationForViolinists.com
1. Elizabeth Marshall. ‘The Search for the Vegan Violin’ (August 29, 2014). stringsmagazine.com. (Accessed: November 21 2021).
2. Michael Harner, The Way of the Shaman, New York, NY, HarperCollins Publishers, 1980, 1990, 281.