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Canada Picspam Part Deux

There is an institution in Quebec -- I don't know if it exists in any other Canadian provinces, but they're all up and down Quebec -- called the Economuseum. These are workshops where traditional crafts are practiced, and the Canadian government gives them money to set up a little museum or showroom for visitors as well. The idea is to subsidize traditional crafts and let people see them being done.

The Economuseum in Montreal is a luthier, a violin-maker. As you can well imagine, I was very excited about going to see this place. It's only open for three hours in the afternoons, but I was totally there.

The luthier is a Hungarian immigrant who has Frenchified his name, and he and his daughter and a couple of other craftsmen run the shop. Here it is, from the street:

The ground floor is small, and consists of the workshop, a room where the luthier chats with customers, and the general reception area, which has all sorts of interesting instruments hung up on the wall. Most of them are string instruments, including a hurdy-gurdy, a lyre-guitar (a guitar shaped like a lyre), and a double guitar (which kind of looks like the guitar version of conjoined twins). There are also a couple of non-string instruments, including two mbiras. Upstairs, one of the craftsmen will tell you in great detail how a violin is made, and then accompany you and chat as you walk around the display cases of interesting string instruments.

This is a seventeenth-century pochette, or pocket violin. It's small enough that a dancing master could keep it in his pocket and pull it out when he needed to make instant music for a dance lesson in the days before recordings.

This is a collection of older string instruments including a 3,000-year-old erhu, a rabab, a rebec, and a viola d'amore.

This is a lute, descended from the Arabic 'oud.

This is a collection of antique violins. The craftsman told me about an interesting feature of antique instruments, especially violins: it's very hard to find a really old-fashioned Stradivarius, because many of them were altered in the nineteenth century. That was when people started liking the big fat sound that comes from bigger, stronger instruments, so they just altered and enlarged already extant instruments to make that sound. As you can imagine, this takes quite a bit of skill, and the showroom has a cello that's angled so you can see the places where wood was glued in to enlarge the instrument, if you know where to look. All of the violins in this case are pre-nineteenth-century models that were enlarged.

This is the result of a rather unfortunate mating between a violin and a bugle. The craftsman assured me that it doesn't have much of a voice.

Some violins are very weird-looking. And some were just built to look like guitars.

This is a case full of fully functional miniature string instruments. Or, in other words, this is the smallest string ensemble in the world, ready to play an arrangement of "My Heart Bleeds For You."

And this . . . well, even the craftsman wasn't quite sure what this is. It's half zither, half harp, and half guitar. And yes, that does come out to three halves.

Well, enough of the string instruments. I thank you for your indulgence. Finally, a few random photos of Montreal. Chinatown features this stage. I imagine that cultural performances are held here when it's not snowed in.

Every now and then, you run into random statues on the street. Mothers with babies seems to be a popular theme.

There was also this protest. It involved something about Sri Lanka, but I've forgotten exactly what. That's what happens when you protest in French. Anyway, it was large and dramatic.

The final fun thing I did in Montreal was to go to a piano recital at the Place-des-Artes by a very good pianist named Marc-Andre Hamelin. He played Haydn and Chopin, two of his own compositions, and two pieces by twentieth-century composers I'd never heard of. You can read a review of the concert here. I thought it was brilliant. Hamelin's technique is flawless, which is to be expected from a concert pianist, but he also has a wonderfully snarky sense of humor, and it really came through in his playing.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 28th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
oh! Wow! Yay! Oui!!!! ) jumps in happiness=

Hehehe. I was there when the idea was born fifteen years ago!!!! Well, not exactly but almost!

It is a Quebec province network, there are about 35, and they were a great invention in their time! The chocolate economuseum in Quebec city is wonderful!

But boy, that rabab and that lute! And the miniature ensemble! And the violins! I bet you enjoyed a great visit there! :-)
Mar. 28th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
I have to say, I like the idea of the economuseum, and going to one that made chocolate would be a mind-blowing experience indeed. If I'm ever in Quebec for a longer period of time, I might go and try to find the others.

I loved the luthier's shop. To give you some idea of what a total geek I am, the museum portion of this (where I took all the pictures) was a single room a little smaller than my apartment. Between that and the reception room downstairs, I spent an hour and a half in this place. It was glorious, and I'm not even a string player.
Mar. 28th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
¨Between that and the reception room downstairs, I spent an hour and a half in this place. It was glorious, and I'm not even a string player¨

LOLOL I was afraid to ask! but I was sure you had squeezed the most form the experience. BUt I udnerstand you. To see those enlarged instruments, for instance, and trying to see were the glued joints were would be such an experience!!!
Mar. 28th, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
One thing that's amazing is how resilient a violin is. A skilled luthier can break it down, put it back together, even crack it apart to enlarge it, and when it's put back together right, it still sounds beautiful.

I enjoyed chatting with the craftsman who showed me around the place, too. He had plenty of wonderful stories to tell, like the test of an apprentice luthier to see if he can fit the neck on a violin properly. The risk of failing the test is a broken or at least severely bashed nose!
Mar. 28th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
I know how strong violins are, because when I was a kid, both my brother and I used to play with my father's first violing and guitar, which he had built himself when he was young... Of course we did not exactly play music with them, and still they survived... :-)

But that story about risking your nose when fitting the neck of the violin is a hoot! :-)

Talking to a devoted artisan is always such a pleasure!
Mar. 28th, 2009 07:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, no question that they're strong. It's that they're so resilient to being taken apart and put back together again.

Apparently, the test of whether or not you've made the neck of a violin right is to fit it to the body without glue, and then tighten a set of strings over it. If you've made it correctly, it should sit perfectly in place, even under tension. If not, the strings pull it off and it leaps up and whaps you on the schnoz.
Mar. 28th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Oh wow. You must have been in your element! Did you have to be dragged from there at closing time?

I like the random statues.
Mar. 28th, 2009 07:55 pm (UTC)
Did you have to be dragged from there at closing time?

It isn't quite big enough for that. Another room, though, and I would have had to be extracted with a winch. It was so neat, to find a place like that! A workshop and a showroom of interesting instruments, all in one.
Mar. 29th, 2009 03:38 am (UTC)
I luff the idea of economuseums. Excellent!

I've never been a dedicated stringed instrument player, but I think I would have been almost as fascinated as you were by that place. I cannot fathom, however, why anyone would try to meld a bugle and a violin. The zither/harp/guitar contraption makes more sense!

Montreal looks very civilized. Thanks for sharing pix.
Mar. 29th, 2009 05:38 am (UTC)
Economuseums are a great idea, and such fun to be able to see.

I cannot fathom, however, why anyone would try to meld a bugle and a violin.

Boredom, perhaps?
Mar. 29th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
What a great museum! I love the old instruments. ...how does one play a bug-olin?
Mar. 29th, 2009 10:00 pm (UTC)
I think that you run the bow over the strings, which makes them vibrate, as with a regular violin. But instead of the violin's wooden soundbox, the vibrations go into the horn instead.

He did say that it didn't work all that well . . .
Apr. 1st, 2009 01:44 pm (UTC)
What an excellent idea for a museum. I would be all over those. Cool pics! (Sorry for the random lateness--just catching up). :-)
Apr. 1st, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
I would also be all over them, particularly if they were as totally awesome as the luthier shop.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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