What?! Isn't this heresy? Why ruin a perfectly good instrument?
Yes, it's true. I've painted dozens of violins, violas, cellos, and basses to great effect; maybe not in the art community (though I can proudly add that one of my instruments did hang in an art gallery showing), but in the field of educational inspiration and musical entertainment. Mind you, I don't necessarily recommend putting a coat of purple metal flake on your finest old hand carved acoustic concert instrument, but if you are not a classical soloist, or have a job in a symphony (which leaves probably 99.9% of all other violinists worldwide), and find yourself often playing amplified with a mic or pick-up, WHY NOT?
I've come to this point of view, by having a close affinity to the rock and roll rebel and renegade rule breakers of the world. Most likely it's in my DNA. I'm the son of the proverbial preacher's son. My dad; was a trained assassin, pre-Navy Seals "black Ops" guy from the Korean war, the first to grow his hair long and refuse to wear a tie to his 9-5 in the 60's (even though he was about 20 years older than most of the hippie generation). His dad, my grandfather, was a Free Methodist preacher, who curiously never had a church that I saw (I learned, in my adulthood, that he had, with one punch, knocked the head Bishop right off the front porch of the church for insulting my grandmother by calling her a cow for having 11 children!). Though I have never decked a head Bishop or assassinated anyone, maybe this is my 3rd generation, much quieter way of accepting that "that old apple" doesn't really fall all that far from that famous tree.
Enough about me. How can this idea benefit you or the world around you?
OK, OKů just a little more about me for the story's sake. The first musical thing I ever painted wasn't a fiddle, but an old ancient violin case, the curved wood kind popular a hundred years ago. It was pretty scuffed up, so I got out my wife's acrylic craft paints, picked out a few colors that I thought might look neat together, and just went at it. I was playing in a Cajun/zydeco band at the time, LeeRon Zydeco and the Hot Tamales (www.leeron.com ) and used thoughts of Mardi Gras as inspiration. It came out interesting enough. I thought that at least when I walked into a bar to play with that case, folks might be inclined to stay and hear what this guy with the interesting case had to play.
What I didn't really expect was the overwhelming response I got. "Awesome case dude!" etc.. On an airplane one fellow came up to me and said, "With advertising like that, I bet you play the hell out of that thing!" Score one for a splash of color. But what was really most encouraging about it was how my students responded to it. Kids were all of a sudden planning on painting their own cases, getting excited about it, talking it up with their friends at school, and, most importantly, were becoming "all about" playing their instruments in a new way. As a teacher I quickly realized that I had hit pay dirt, and that there was no turning back.
I painted the instrument in that old case to match, and the attention increased exponentially. Whenever I perform with that instrument, and cameras show up, they invariably zero in on that fiddle as the visual embodiment of the wild partying style that zydeco is. Local news, magazine articles, and advertisements, have all featured that fiddle in connection with something. It's even been on ESPN after I did one gig as the Buffalo Sabres' "Fiddleman!" a few years back. Even though that gig didn't pan out to be a long-term engagement as I had hoped, I noticed that the "powers that be" used shots of it to portray the excitement of the game in general in their spots. (Hmmm, I don't recall getting any royalties for that.)
Yes, painting a violin can be shocking to some, but the disgust and insult some classical purists might feel to such an idea is FAR outweighed, in my experience, by many more positive things, the most important being long term benefits to students.
Teachers and parents: we must do WHATEVER IT TAKES to keep our kids interested and involved in music as a lifelong pleasurable pursuit! This may be another subject and another soap-box for me to stand on, but it's a proven fact that kids who play music, especially kids who learn to improvise (as so many of the alternative-string, non-classical styles call for) are more well-adjusted, get better SAT scores, become better problem solvers, etc.. As they grow up doing these musical things, their brains become hardwired differently than those without such experience, and this is a permanent benefit to last the rest of their lives even if they don't become musical superstars and play only for their own enjoyment in adulthood! Don't you think that the world will be a better place if more folks play and enjoy music making? I do.
For you non-teachers: The other avenue for this "painting your fiddle" idea, as mentioned above, is aid in communicating a feeling from stage. Even if it is a rather weak human fact: folks listen to what they see and if that's what it takes to put you over the top, then PAINT ON MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS!
Geoffrey Fitzhugh Perry
PS: Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, or pics of your painted fiddles.
Navajo motif on a Perry-painted violin
[Next time, more details about the painting process. - Stacy]
About the Author
Multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Fitzhugh Perry currently plays violin in gypsy-jazz group "Babik" (bah-beek, see www.babikjazz.com ). Geoff does Fiddle Jam Clinics in schools nation-wide and is a frequent "alternative string" guest speaker at events and conferences. He also spent 8 years with the instrumental jazz-rock group "Gamalon" who's history includes a #8 Billboard Jazz Chart showing, recording and performied at the Newport Jazz Festival.