If you’re still stressing out about what to buy the music lover in your life for the holidays, relax. We’ve done the heavy-lifting for you—Strings tapped seven players and asked them about the best gift they have ever given to a beloved fellow string player. Instead of repeating the same gift every year (here’s looking at you, buying a fresh set of replacement strings again)—take a peek at some of these string stars’ favorite gifts from over the years.

—Stephanie Powell

Nathan Schram, violist in the Attacca Quartet1. What’s worse than starting your day off with sticky, crunchy, and stuck pegs?! So many of us put up with unresponsive pegs to the point of nearly injuring ourselves wrestling with those perfect fifths. So for my holiday season I make sure my colleagues celebrate the right way: the Peg Dope way. A few slicks of this bad boy on four of your favorite pegs will get you playing perfectly pitched Pärt in no time. Also, buy your friends a bottle of scotch—in case they already have some peg dope.

Nathan Schram, violist in the Attacca Quartet

Kian Soltani, cellist

Photo by Nikolaj Lund

2. Many years ago I gave the full score of Don Quixote by Strauss as a present to my cousin. He is my older cousin, also a cellist, and the one who kind of got me into cello in the first place. Finally, last year we actually played this piece together for the first time with the DIWAN orchestra—me as the soloist and him as the principal cellist. That was a very special moment for us and made the present back then so much more meaningful, as he brought that original score with him on tour.

Kian Soltani, cellist

Joshua Roman, cellist

Photo by Hayley Young

3. My girlfriend is one of those people who is difficult to get gifts for (let’s just say she’s quite active on Amazon Prime), so on her 40th birthday I decided to give her something very personal and interactive. Beginning on her 39th birthday, I recorded a short improvisation for her once each week for 40 weeks. In the remaining 12 weeks before

her next birthday, I composed a piece for her using her favorite three selections from the year. As of this writing, we are still a couple of weeks away from her birthday premiere, and I’m really looking forward to unveiling the finished composition after a year of building intrigue and enjoying the delightful reactions I got from her at each little nugget of this musical gift.

Forty weeks of improv (to match the 40th birthday) with 12 left over to compose is a pretty good ratio for this process, but it can be structured any number of ways. It ended up being a gift that has meant a lot to both of us, and is a great way for even a non-composer to find a personal connection to composition in a gradual, meaningful way.


Joshua Roman, cellist

Stefan Jackiw, violinist4. This isn’t a gift I gave, but one I received. For Christmas when I was seven years old, my parents took me to Vienna. I had just started learning Mozart’s G major violin concerto, and I was obsessed with the movie Amadeus—so visiting Vienna was my music-nerd version of going to Disneyland. Learning about Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert and visiting their homes and important musical sites, while munching on Mozartkugeln, fueled my passion for music and made for treasured memories.

Stefan Jackiw, violinist

Lara St. John, violinist

5. Some time ago, in an English summer festival, I met the lovely Annette Walther from the Signum Quartet, and she loaned me a WMute to play the Schnittke string trio. I had never had such a perfect and elegant mute before—one that changes timbre but not volume—and does not have to live elsewhere, like in a pocket, which women rarely have onstage.

These mutes live on an above-bridge-string and do not move (like those cheap rubber mutes that continually escape and float around). A fellow in Barcelona makes them by hand. So, I bought a few for my string- playing friends! The most fun was when I gave an engraved quartet set to the PubliQuartet and found out that they had been lusting after these mutes for a while! (I am PQ’s Fairy MuteMother now.) I have also given them to James Ehnes, Elena Urioste, and the Attacca Quartet for various celebratory moments.

Oh, and, I have never even gotten a slight discount from WMutes, lest anyone think I am a salesperson of any sort. I just really like the mutes.

Lara St. John, violinist

Christopher Otto, violinist in the JACK Quartet

6. JACK was working with a composition student at Columbia University on a peculiar extended technique that involved tying a bowhair around a string and, with copious amounts of rosin, pulling on it to make a terrifying squeal. The composer produced eight containers of pink-powdered bass rosin (using a cheese grater), and we’ve since been gifting these to our bass-playing friends with good will and cheer.

—Christopher Otto, violinist in the JACK Quartet

Paul Huang, violinist

Photo by Marco Borggreve

7. One of the most useful string-related gifts would probably be a magnetic pencil holder. I first came across the product in Japan at a Yamaha store in Tokyo. (Probably not surprising, as many of you know that Japan is known for stationary goods.) Basically you insert a pencil into this magnetic tube so parts of the pencil becomes magnetic. Since most music stands are metallic, it allows you to place the pencil anywhere on the stand and have it stick there! So instead of placing the pencil on the stand where often times the sheet music would cover the pencil, this magnetic pencil holder allows you to place the pencil at a more convenient place at different parts of the stand. I find it very useful in practice rooms and in rehearsals.

Paul Huang, violinist

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This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Strings magazine.