Oberlin Workshop

Oberlin Workshop

The VSA-Oberlin Acoustics Workshop

The VSA-Oberlin Acoustics workshop brings together violin-makers and researchers for a week of hands-on projects, talks, and demonstrations. Now in its 18th year, the 2019 session will run concurrently with the first week of the violin and bow making workshops, allowing opportunities for joint projects. Places are limited. If you wish to attend, please contact Fan Tao.

2018 Workshop Brochure

Expanding our vision of integrating high-level musical performance into the workshop, violinist Nathan Giem (concertmaster of the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) will return as music director, along with Cristian Fatu (assistant concertmaster of the West Virginia Symphony orchestra), and other artists to be announced. All will take part in blind tests, give feedback on participant instruments, and celebrate the player-maker relationship in recitals performed on violins, violas, and cellos from the workshop.

Space in the workshop is limited. If you are interested, please contact Fan Tao as soon as possible to reserve a place.

2014 Oberlin workshop

Photo: Cristian Fatu

Below are four projects we are considering for the upcoming session. Please let us know which interest you most, or if you have a project of your own you would like to pursue.

Bridge Optimization

In 2017, Joseph Curtin led an intensive investigation into the violin bridge, including reviewing its historical evolution, revisiting the 2004 Oberlin bridge experiment, designing bridges, and experimenting with the effects of baroque versus modern bridges. This year, Curtin will introduce a new approach to measuring a bridge’s effective mass. Participants will then use the method in a bridge-tuning experiment. We also hope to look at viola bridges, with reference to data from the Obie Alto project.

Joseph Curtin in the measurement room

Joseph Curtin in the measurement room. Photo: Cristian Fatu

Effects of changing soundpost length

The Anima Nova carbon fiber adjustable soundpost provides the ideal tool for measuring the effects of changing soundpost length, and the manufacturer has generously offered to make a number available for this experiment. We will start with five or six violins set up with traditional posts, measure sound radiation and/or bridge admittance, then install Anima Nova posts of the same length, and measure again. The next step is to incrementally vary post length on each instrument, taking measurements after each change. Violinists will work along side makers to give subjective evaluations. Time permitting, we could also add small amounts of mass to the posts to see what difference that makes.

Bassbar Project

How high should a bassbar be? Can we predict the tonal effects of lowering it? Very little research has been done in this area – meaning a lot can be learned from a well-controlled experiment. Participants are asked to bring a violin which they are prepared to open and close one or more times during the session.

Measuring Cellos

We now have well-developed methods for measuring violin and viola sound radiation using an Impact Hammer Rig. During the past two sessions a group led by Evan Davis, Chris Dungey, and Colin Gough began developing a rig for measuring cellos. The work continues this summer.

Oberlin Workshop, Class of 2014

Class of 2014. Photo: Cristian Fatu

Faculty Bios

This year’s faculty includes Joseph Curtin, Evan Davis, Claudia Fritz, Colin Gough, George Stoppani, and Fan-Chia Tao. We hope to have Jim Woodhouse and Gabriel Weinreich joining us via Skype.

Joseph Curtin, co-director of the Workshop, is a violinmaker, writer, and researcher whose interests range from traditional violins to experimental instruments using alternative materials and architectures. Curtin has collaborated with many researchers, including Gabriel Weinreich, Claudia Fritz, and Charles Besnainou. He lectures frequently on violin acoustics, is a regular contributor to The Strad, and wrote (with co-author Thomas Rossing) the chapter on violin acoustics in the textbook published by Springer, “The Science of Musical Instruments.” In 2005 Curtin was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

Evan Davis was a Technical Fellow at the Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company, where he led their structural acoustics research group. Davis is a recognized expert in the field of Statistical Energy Analysis, a method for modeling and analyzing complex structural acoustic responses in the mid-to-high audio frequency range. His early fascination with guitars led to the construction of several instruments, and to a PhD in guitar acoustics from the University of Washington. He joined the Catgut Acoustical Society in 1976, and is on the Editorial Board of the VSA Journal: Proceedings. Davis has worked with some of world’s leading guitar builders on ‘out of the box’ projects. He performs with several bands as a jazz drummer and a gypsy jazz guitarist.

Claudia Fritz is a CNRS-researcher in Paris, and a member of the Lutherie-Acoustics-Music team at the University Pierre & Marie Curie. Following her post-doctoral work at the University of Cambridge (UK), she has been investigating the correlations between player and listener perceptions and measured acoustical properties. Her recent work with double-blind studies involving new and old violins has gained widespread international attention.

Nathan Giem is currently first concertmaster of the Hungarian Radio Orchestra, and has served as concertmaster of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and as guest concertmaster of the Los Angeles Camerata Orchestra for its 2004 tour of China. A student of Franco Gulli and Alexander Kerr (among others), he received a 2005 Fulbright Scholarship to study Orchestral Leadership in the Netherlands. Giem has since performed as a soloist, chamber musician and concertmaster across Europe, Japan and the United States.

Colin Gough is an Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham, England, where he headed the UK’s largest interdisciplinary research group on superconductivity. An avid amateur violinist, Gough led the University’s Hayward String Quartet and many other local chamber and orchestral groups. He has enjoyed a long-term interest in violin acoustics, and in the factors determining sound quality. In addition to teaching Musical Acoustics, he has published major research articles on vibrating strings, the wolf note, and vibrato, from both the scientific and the player/listener’s points of view. In 2001, Gough received the annual Science Writing Award for Professionals in Acoustics for an article about violin acoustics. He wrote the Musical Acoustics section of a major Handbook on Acoustics published by Springer, and has recently published several important papers describing and explaining the vibrations and sounds of the violin and related instruments.

George Stoppani started out studying Literature and Music at York University before turning to instrument making in the mid-seventies. At first most of his work was with period instruments but currently it is mostly modern violins. He has also built many cellos and basses. An off-shoot of the period instruments is “Real Guts” strings, which is a quasi-cooperative making strings for historic instruments. Stoppani has been deeply involved with acoustic research with the development of software specifically for modal analysis and other measurements of string instruments. This led to him being an invited speaker at the SMAC13 conference in Stockholm. He has also given talks at numerous workshops and conferences in the United States and Europe and has written for a number of publications including the Strad and the CAS journal. In addition he takes part
in many collaborative projects with other instrument makers.

Fan-Chia Tao, co-director, is Director of Research and Development at D’Addario & Company, where he works on bowed-instrument and guitar strings. His interest in violin acoustics was fostered by his mentor Norman Pickering. An accomplished violinist and violist, Tao is an avid chamber music player. He holds electrical engineering degrees from Caltech and Princeton University. He is a Trustee of the CAS Forum (formerly Catgut Acoustical Society) and is the President of the Violin Society of America.

General Information

When: Plan to arrive Saturday June 16th for a 6 PM welcome dinner and an introductory meeting. Full activities begin Sunday morning. The session finishes with a wrap-up lunch on Friday June 22nd. Departure is Friday afternoon or Saturday.

Downtown Oberlin Ohio

Downtown Oberlin, Ohio

When: The optional Introductory Lectures will take place Saturday afternoon June 16th from 1-5pm. Friday night housing at Oberlin is available for those arriving early. Others should plan to arrive Saturday June 16th for a 6 PM welcome dinner and an introductory meeting. Full activities begin Sunday morning. The session finishes with a wrap-up lunch on Friday June 22nd. Departure is Friday afternoon or Saturday.

Where: Oberlin, Ohio, a college town about 30 miles from Cleveland, and a half-hour drive from the Cleveland International Airport. Shuttle service is available to and from the airport. Workshop activities (lectures, projects, sleeping) take place in the air-conditioned Kahn Residence Hall.
Meals: Participants share dinner every night (Sat-Thu) at the next-door Stevenson dining hall. An optional cold breakfast is provided for a small additional fee. Nearby restaurants are available for breakfast and lunch.

Fees: $1,150 includes tuition, an air-conditioned single dorm room, and six dinners. Participants must be current members of the Violin Society of America. Contact the VSA at www.vsaweb.org or call (972) 233-9107, ext. 224 for membership information. A $400 deposit is due by April 10th, and the $750 balance by May 10th. Credit credits accepted. Oberlin College will contact accepted participants with payment instructions. Some financial aid is available for qualified applicants. Please contact Fan Tao with inquiries.

Fan Tao
R&D Director
D’Addario & Company, Inc.
595 Smith Street
Farmingdale, NY 11735
T: 631.439.3270