Oberlin Workshop

Oberlin Workshop

The VSA-Oberlin Acoustics Workshop

The VSA-Oberlin Acoustics Workshop is a six-day intensive Summer workshop for violinmakers, and researchers. Talks, demonstrations, and hands-on experiments provide an introduction to violin science, an overview of current research, and numerous strategies for incorporating scientific method into workshop practice so as to produce better-sounding instruments. Over the past 20 years, the Acoustics Workshop has usually met concurrently with the Violin-making Workshop, to foster dialog between the two groups. Faculty and participants come from around the world.  Places are limited. If you wish to attend, please contact Fan Tao.

During the pandemic, the workshop established First-Friday Zoom presentations , and these are ongoing. free, and open to all. To register, please contact Fan Tao. The presentations are devoted to the science of violin-family instruments and feature an international group of researchers and instrument makers affiliated with the VSA Oberlin Acoustics Workshop. Some talks are fairly technical; others are informal and practical. All address topics in acoustics and psycho-acoustics that are relevant to makers, players, and anyone curious about the inner workings of the violin. Recordings of the presentations are posted at: Oberlin Acoustics Workshop – YouTube. Please subscribe to receive notifications.

Oberlin Workshop, Class of 2014

Class of 2014. Photo: Cristian Fatu

Faculty Bios

Joseph Curtin, co-director of the Workshop, is a violinmaker, researcher, and writer whose making interests extend from traditional instruments to experimental ones using alternative materials and architectures. Curtin has collaborated with many researchers, including Gabriel Weinreich, Claudia Fritz, and Charles Besnainou. He has delivered colloquia at the physics departments of Stanford, Princeton, and Cornell universities, and contributes regularly to The Strad. He is co-author with Claudia Fritz of three papers published in the Periodical of the National Academy of Sciences, and he co-wrote with Thomas Rossing the chapter on violin acoustics in the Springer textbook, “The Science of Musical Instruments.” In 2005, Curtin was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. He lives and works just outside Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Evan Davis was a Technical Fellow at the Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company, where he led their structural acoustics research group. He 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. 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/listener perceptions and measured acoustical properties. Her recent work with double-blind studies involving new and old violins has gained widespread international attention and the publication of three papers in the Periodical of the National Academy of Sciences.

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, he led the University’s Hayward String Quartet and many other local chamber and orchestral groups. Gough has enjoyed a long-term interest in violin acoustics and 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 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 studied Literature and Music at York University before turning to instrument making in the mid-seventies. His early work, mostly with period instruments, led to his fouding “Real Guts,” a quasi-cooperative gut string manufacturing venture, which he continues to run. Stoppani builds mainly modern violins, but has also made cellos and basses. His deep interest in the acoustics of violin-family instruments led him to write software for modal analysis and other sophisticated acoustical measurements. An invited speaker at the SMAC13 conference in Stockholm, he has given talks at numerous workshops and conferences in the United States and Europe, and has written for the Strad and the CAS journal. Stoppani is based in Manchester, England, but frequently collaborates with other makers and researchers in Europe and the USA.

Fan-Chia Tao, co-director of the Acoustics Workshop, is Director of Research and Development at D’Addario & Company, where he designs strings for bowed-string instruments and guitars. His deep interest in violin acoustics was fostered by his mentor Norman Pickering, who originally invited him to join D’Addario. Tao is an accomplished amateur violinist and violist with an abiding interest in chamber music. He holds electrical engineering degrees from Caltech and Princeton University, is a Trustee of the CAS Forum (formerly the Catgut Acoustical Society) and a past President of the Violin Society of America.

Jim Woodhouse, Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University, England, is a leading figure in violin research, and has done foundational work on the bowed-string and other aspects of violin acoustics. His first degree was in mathematics, but a hobby interest in building instruments led to a PhD in violin acoustics from Cambridge. He worked for an engineering consultancy on a variety of problems in structural vibration, then in 1985 he joined Cambridge’s University’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, first as Lecturer, then Reader, then Professor. His research interests all involve vibration, and musical instruments have been a major focus. Woodhouse lives in Cambridge, England, and though now retired, he continues to work on stringed instrument acoustics.

General Information

Where: Oberlin, Ohio, is a college town about 30 miles from Cleveland, a half-hour drive from the Cleveland International Airport. Shuttle service is available to and from the airport. Workshop activities and accommodations are in the air-conditioned Kahn Residence Hall.

Meals: Cold breakfasts are available at Kahn for a small additional fee. Lunches are on your own, with many restaurants in easy walking distance. Dinners are served next-door to Kahn at Stevenson dining hall.

Fees: $1,250 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