By Megan Westberg
How many of you started working your way through your holiday lists, dutifully, in October? I see the precious few of you, raising your hands (trying not to look smug). For everyone else (scrambling to avoid my gaze), it’s going to be OK. One way or another, you’ll get there, too, and experience the satisfaction of a fully realized list, even if it is scrawled across the back of an old receipt that you found in a moment of enlightened panic (it’s November what?!). There are, no doubt, holiday gift gestures of various commitment levels on that list. How much is too much? How much is too little? Unfortunately, you’ll have to make those kinds of choices on your own, but here are a few ideas for the string players in your life that just might make this time of year a little easier to manage.
We all have things around the house that were given to us, but were it not for the guilt, we’d rather be immediately rid of. Don’t spend the holidays adding to a loved one’s burden of these items. If you don’t have an inventive, wildly thoughtful treasure in mind for someone, be practical. Even if you don’t get a dreamy “Oooohhhhh!” you will at least get an emphatic “Yes!”
With limitless options available, the challenge here is to pick something that your giftee would enjoy, and doesn’t already own. It could be something light and interesting for every day (like Clemency Burton-Hill’s Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day) or a deep dive into a particular composer’s life or work (like Jerome Carrington’s Trills in the Bach Cello Suites). But don’t ignore string-related historical fiction, memoir (Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri String Quartet might fit the bill), or violin-making history. The perfect book is out there: Part of the gift is sifting through it all to find just the right thing.
String players listen to music—and sometimes to themselves as they practice or review their own recordings. Thus, an investment in a quality set of headphones is both thoughtful and practical. Great headphones can range from hundreds of dollars up into the thousands, so make sure you evaluate your giftee’s needs, and your budget, before you head to the store.
Playing a stringed instrument requires a certain amount of gear, and a lot of it is a matter of particular preference. So, while it is always fun to throw a few things out there for the sake of experimentation, if you want to be the most practical of gift givers, find out what your gift recipient uses, and get more of that. It isn’t that he won’t appreciate an afternoon or two tooling around on gut strings, but if Pirastro Evah Pirazzi is his thing, he’d probably rather have his next set of those.
There’s still a lot to carry in this world. Music, books, groceries, e-devices . . . Why not make the experience of hauling around one’s things string-related with an attractive tote bag? Etsy offers a variety of styles, some of which you can personalize. Strings magazine, ahem, also offers its own tote, in addition to an eye-catching bag decorated with a wild-haired Beethoven. Which, given that we’re headed into his 250th-birthday year, might be an especially appropriate accessory.
It would seem, in this electronic world where everything is near instantaneous, there exists a distinct longing for a slower, less complicated past (even if watching a movie required a trip outside the house). For the people on your list who indulge with relish in the #throwbackthursday phenomenon, there are just so many options at varying levels of gift-giving investment.
String-Related Thank You Notes
There are people who would never consider whipping out a phone and tapping out a quick “U r the best. Thx!” over text. They find a pen and a seated position. Possibly a warm beverage. And then they proceed to write a thank-you note on an actual card. Old school? Possibly. But there’s still no better way to make someone feel appreciated than an attractive card and a flowing hand. So, for this person, a box of cards with a beautiful, string-related design would be much appreciated.
The Modern Mix Tape
Great music has never been so accessible, and it’s never been so easy to buy exactly the piece you’re looking for. Whereas in times past, you might have had to buy entire albums or record music you requested by calling into a radio station in order to compile a thoughtful mix of music you believed a fellow human might enjoy, now you can hop on the internet and select a personalized bouquet of tracks with very little hassle. Really feeling the throwback thing? Burn it onto a CD.
You’re entirely correct: There are metronome apps for your phone. Also digital metronomes. All highly effective, modern, and desirable, and perfect for the tech lover in your life. But there’s no denying that a mechanical metronome packs a solid throwback punch. How does it work? It’s all right there. This handsome musical item reveals its secrets as it tips side to side in a steady, somewhat mesmerizing motion. Wittner offers a variety of style and choices (mahogany? walnut?) if you feel ready to take your favorite string player’s time keeping to the next level.
There’s nothing more throwback than vinyl—and quite a few labels and artists are getting back into this game. For a big gesture, you could invest in a starter collection of modern and vintage vinyl, and a turntable to play it on. Go on, be a hero.
You’re all over that modern mixed tape idea, but want to do more. You want an astonished “Wow!” and are ready to invest the time and effort to earn it. We salute your dedication. If you pull off any of the following ideas, you are truly the most earnest of gift givers.
Organize a Musical Dinner Party
Dinner parties can be a treacherous business. You must choose the music. You must plan a menu and execute it properly. And you must know your giftee well enough to know his or her friends—which ones would appreciate being involved in such an evening, and would also blend together into a seamless, affable crowd. And if that all weren’t enough, to really make this evening awe inspiring, you really should arrange a house concert. But not to worry: There are people who can help with this particular element. Check out Groupmuse: It’s a service that can help you book the right professional chamber ensemble for your event and venue.
Make a Violin (from a Kit)
There is something a touch presumptuous about this, of course. Most string players are rather fond of the instruments they have, and are reluctant to just take what they’re handed. But if you think your loved one would appreciate an instrument made with your own hands just for him or her, and you have some woodworking knowledge, you can undertake the ultimate DIY initiative and make an instrument yourself as a gift. There are kits available to help you, but you may need to pick up some specialty tools along the way. In 2006, then–associate editor Heather K. Scott decided to make her own instrument from a kit, and wrote about it in a piece called “Patience and Band-Aids.” You can find it on StringsMagazine.com if you’re interested in hearing her take on the process. Best of luck!
Organize a Listening Club
This can operate like a book club, where everyone involved listens to the same album or playlist and gathers to discuss it (with drinks and snacks) on a regular schedule. How it works, exactly, is up to you, the organizer. How often do you meet? Do all the members take turns selecting an album or playlist to discuss? Is it only for new recordings? Vintage recordings? Albums or playlists of multiple interpretations of the same work, or themed playlists? Do members take turns hosting? There are a lot of decisions to make, but forming a new musical community inspired by the interests of the string player in your life may just be the most thoughtful gift of all.