Focus on Ken Weisz
Luthier Extraordinaire, CBSO Cellist
Written by Ken Weisz
Have you ever wondered what it takes to make a good cello? It’s easy, just chop down a tree and carve away everything that is not a cello.
Sorry, that’s an old luthier’s joke. I first heard it when I was taking a course in violin making at the Violin Craftsmanship Institute in Durham, New Hampshire, not long after I’d taken up instrument making.
It all started when one of my sons brought home a cello bow he’d broken during his junior high school music class.Fortunately, I was able to repair it.
As a string player with a background in mechanical engineering and physics I’d always been interested in musical acoustics and thought it would be great if I could make my own cello to play. I also realized instrument making would be a wonderful thing to do in retirement. It started as a hobby but kind of got out of control and became an obsession.
I heard about a course in violin making at the Ontario College of Art that was held in their basement shop. That’s where I made my first violin, but I soon realized I needed a lot more instruction. A friend who played in the North York Symphony had attended that course in Durham, New Hampshire, so I enrolled and spent several summers at the Institute with master craftsman Karl Roy, who was the director of the Bavarian State School of Violin Making in Mittenwald, Germany, and came to teach in Durham each summer.
I have made about a dozen violins, three violas, two cellos and one guitar. My wife, Esther, plays one of my violins in the seconds at CBSO. I have also restored several instruments, bringing them back to life.
So, what does it really take to make a good cello, or violin, or viola?
After choosing good wood, the most important thing is carving the top and back of the instrument properly.This is called graduating the plates and requires that you carve them thickest in the middle, gradually thinning out towards the edges. Our master, Karl Roy,would suspend the top plate between his thumb and forefinger, bring it close to his ear, tap it with his knuckle and listen to the sound or “ring tone.” Then he would repeat with the back plate and say, “These plates like each other” or “Take more wood off here or there.”
Nowadays, we can perform this “plate tuning” using electronic technology. I can now take a plate and mount it above a loudspeaker which can vibrate the plate at any desired frequency. In this way you can make the ring tone visible so you can see what Karl Roy was hearing. But since Roy wanted us to use the tools and techniques that Antonio Stradivari used long ago, he was not an advocate of these modern techniques and when we were with him, we had to use the old methods.
Rib bending, varnish cooking, scroll carving,
neck setting, etc., are all for the next chapter.
CBSO Board members have been meeting weekly to discuss plans for re-opening with exciting repertoire programming for the 2021/2022 season.
Also for the new season, we still have very enthusiastic Conductor Candidates who are ready to take on the continuation of the Music Director’s search process starting in the Fall. We look forward to seeing them again and working on some of our most well-loved orchestral music with them.
Be sure to read our monthly newsletters for more information regarding the 2021/22 season!
Online rehearsals on Monday evenings have been going well with members sharpening their playing skills in preparation for future in-person rehearsals. Repertoire readings have included Holst’s Planets Suite, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade and Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Despite the limitations of technology, members have found that rehearsals initiate practice as well as offer a way to socialize with fellow musicians on a regular basis. In the coming weeks, we will be reading through Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Prokofiev!
Your Support is Greatly Appreciated!
We want to reassure our CBSO patrons and community that our CBSO Board and administrators are meeting weekly and working hard to make sure that we will be able to bring music to you in Scarborough and beyond. Thankfully our government has not forgotten about the Arts, so there are opportunities out there. Even so, we need your help to keep things running so that we can open up again in the near future.
To all of our dear patrons: please consider making a donation this month in order to help us continue to be able to bring quality music to your community!
The orchestra is a registered non-profit charitable organization and provides tax receipts for donations of any amount (Charity # 89036 4573 RR0001).
Thank you for your support!
Click on the CanadaHelps.org logo below to be redirected to the orchestra’s Canada Helps page, where you can make a one-time or recurring donation via credit card.