A journey with shamanic practitioner, Joyce St. Germaine, begins with “calling in” the directions. We turn to face each of the cardinal directions and appeal to the spirits of those directions. Some spirits assist with beginning a new endeavor while some spirits assist when it is at its greatest potential, ready to be born.
Prior to drawing this image, I had already determined the need for a bow direction card for my Inspiration for Violinists deck. Playing music on a violin involves math, physics and engineering. For example, the bow needs to move parallel to the bridge to produce a clear sound. Otherwise, some of the bow hairs will not engage in the string properly resulting in “noise” and a loss of sound.
In order to keep the bow parallel to the bridge, it must move in a circular path. We say “keep the bow straight” but what we really mean is move it in a semicircle. I recommend that my students watch the bow in a mirror to see how to adjust the way the bow arm is moving. Is the right shoulder relaxed? Is the violin on top of the shoulder with the scroll level to the floor? Muscles remember the feeling. The player then associates the sound with the way the bow is moving.
Does it matter what is happening with the bow stick? Yes! It should be slightly tilted towards the fingerboard. In so doing, the stick directs the bow hair into the string. “Contact” is established, creating more sound with depth and clarity. Furthermore, the player must ensure that contact is maintained when crossing strings.
The bow has aerodynamic qualities. As it moves through space, it matters what part of the bow is being utilized. The frog is heavy. The tip is light. The lower half of the bow is best for playing “off-the-string.” The upper half of the bow has a wobble that is great for special strokes such as ricochet, jeté, and sautillé. Violinists spend years studying and perfecting the use of the bow.
“Bow distribution” is the process by which violinists make all of the various bow strokes, articulations, dynamics, and phrasing and stylistic considerations work together. The precious real estate of bow hair is negotiated for each rhythm and note ingredient. It is a lot of work but a labor of love. It is the most creative part of violin playing, thus bringing the music to life.
Music starts as the composer’s inspiration with the energy of a thought or an idea. It is then notated, becoming something that can be seen on a piece of paper. The violinist then interprets what is seen on the page. Each note and rhythm is examined and ruminated over. Some notes get their own stroke while others are part of a group bowed together. Each bow stroke encapsulates the weight, speed and contact the violinist has determined will fulfill the composer’s desired outcome.
The spirits of the north are there before the music has even been heard, the composer looking at a blank staff. The spirits of the east are there when a composition first enters the imagination, the first sensation of sound. The spirits of the south are there to assist with the gathering of energy needed to synthesize and produce the sounds of music, the violinist practicing. The spirits of the west are there when the opus reaches its full potential, the violinist stepping on stage for the performance.
There are also spirits of the above, the below, and the within. Although this form of spirituality may seem foreign, the image of a compass superimposed on the cross section of bow and strings is profound. It demystifies how to produce a beautiful sound on the violin. For such a challenging instrument, isn’t it reassuring to know that getting a good sound can be as simple as creating a 90º angle?
The Inspiration for Violinists card deck
This “bow direction” card is part of a 50 card deck. Every card has a unique image and text inspiring musicianship, mindfulness and spirituality.