During an orchestra concert last week, my bow broke! On the second to last page of the Grieg piano concerto, I felt a little snap and my bow hair went slack. As principal violist, I had to lead my section and basically air-bowed to the end of the piece. When the conductor and soloist bowed and left the stage, I quickly exited the other side and returned with my spare bow to play the rest of the concert.
I assumed at first that the eyelet in my bow’s frog had stripped again (it had happened during a concert a few years earlier), but instead it was much worse. Widely considered “the kiss of death” for resale value, when the bow breaks at the tip, it’s a BAD break. It is fixable, but renders the bow completely without value and may never function as well as it used to.
Under pressure of upcoming big auditions, I am now searching a suitable bow to borrow. Bows are as different as violas, in a much more subtle way. To the casual eye, they look fairly similar; true, some may have fancier frogs and windings, but they all look like “fiddle sticks” in the end. But due to the unique qualities of each wood piece and the craftsmanship of each carved bow, any player can instantly distinguish bows.
Some liken finding a bow match to selecting a magic wand in the Harry Potter books. It’s a deeply personal selection process involving trying dozens of bows to find the perfect personal match of clarity, bounciness, strength, weight, and sound color which compliments best their instrument. I played hundreds of bows over a search period of a couple of years to find my current bow. With it out of commission, it’s absence is acutely felt.
My bow has been smacked on music stands hundreds of times over the years – through clumsiness, yes, but also in the routine knocks of being a professional musician, and during the concert – prior to no obvious blow – my bow broke! Situations like this certainly underline the importance of having a spare bow, and perhaps using it more often for routine rehearsals or teaching, to shield my better bow from day-to-day knocks.
Looking back over my lifetime as a musician, I have experienced a range of musical mishaps which comes from playing so much and in so many situations. I’ve had strings break during concerts, tailpieces break, bridges fall over (luckily, not break – yet!), bow frog eyelets strip, and now this. Believe me, a musician’s life is always exciting!
Here is information about caring for your bow through Peter Zaret and Sons.