Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rene Morel, 1932-2011.

There's a really excellent obituary in today's "New York Times" which tells the story of Rene Morel, a master restorer of rare violins, violas and cellos.

For whatever reason, perhaps it's the DayQuil I'm od'ing on as a fight a virulent head cold, I found some wisdom in Morel's life and work. Morel worked on the rare and expensive instruments of Pablo Casals, Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman and Isaac Stern among others. The centuries old instruments of these masters are touchy things. The Times notes:

"Violins, and their siblings, violas and cellos, are temperamental creatures. With tops of spruce and backs and sides of harder wood — often maple — they are fundamentally trees, reconfigured in strange and glorious ways that nature never intended.

"For these instruments, every bump and jostle, every change in temperature or humidity, is occasion for protest. Wood shrinks and swells and strains against itself. Cracks can appear. Their sonorous voices can be reduced to growls and grumbles."

Morel was a master at adjusting these instruments, using his hands and his ears to achieve perfection.

A musician would enter Morel's shop and play. Morel would listen, then go to work adjusting the instrument's vital organs. The player played some more, and Morel adjusted more.

Here's the part I especially liked, Morel's "failsafe way" of knowing when an instrument is right.

As Itzhak Perlman said, "He would put up his sleeve and say, ‘You see the goose bumps,’ ” Mr. Perlman recalled. “He said as long as he didn’t get the goose bumps, it was not properly adjusted.”

Machines, computers, experts, apps and so on can do a lot of great things. We cannot ignore the magic of modernity. The glory of technology.

The question is, however, will it produce goose bumps.

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