Sunday, May 13, 2007


Although some of the scenes are disturbingly bloody, Kubrick’s “The Shining” is an incredibly well done horror film, considered by many the best ever. Even twenty-seven years later watching the movie sends chills up one’s spine. Hearing Heeeere is JOHNNY! and seeing the word ‘REDRUM’ still manage to evoke fear and anxiety in most of us. At the end, Jack Nicholson’s terrifying image blends in with the beauty of the frozen maze. ‘Frozen’ is a good example of the fact that things seldom are as they seem. In this case the studio decided to use crushed Styrofoam and salt, but all of us viewers sensed it as icy cold.

We in this country seem to like shiny things, even though we should know that not everything that glitters is gold. In movies where one is whisked back many decades, every old automobile looks like it has just been painstakingly carefully polished. Even after a chase scene the gangster’s car is so shiny one could use it as a mirror to comb his hair. I guess dirt and dust didn’t exist in the 1930s. American women love their big and bold golden ornaments, something most Europeans might see as tasteless and outright ugly. I myself have trouble finding gifts for any of my female family members in mainstream jewelry stores, whereas I would have plenty to choose from in any such shop abroad. Of course tastes and styles differ, and I can always do my shopping while traveling on the other side of the ocean.

I can’t think of a concert hall where they have a beautiful grand piano of any other finish than shiny black. Yet underneath that impressive paint job one might find material of vastly inferior quality, compared to a piano displaying beautifully selected wood, a true piece of art. I have often heard people admiring the magnificently beautiful ‘black wood’ of a Steinway concert grand! —One ‘shining’ I have trouble understanding is the common practice of making old string instruments, particularly violins, look like they have just been manufactured by a Chinese furniture factory, and polished to the max. Such glittering simply didn’t exist in the 17th and 18th centuries, and would have been impossible to achieve with oil-based varnishes. When we visit a museum that has furniture and other articles from two and three centuries ago, those items appear old and worn looking. It would be odd indeed to see an old chair resembling something in a modern showroom, or an El Greco painting glowing in modern, almost fluorescent colors.

One of the oddest chapters of old shiny violins continues to be the New Jersey Symphony’s decision to purchase a convicted tax evader’s instrument collection for 17 million dollars, but supposedly at a fraction of its real value. Now this orchestra is in financial trouble and wants to have the instruments sold. The problem is that many of them have forged or questionable papers, coming from the same source in New York. Also, these string instruments have received enough negative publicity in the press for them to be an easy sell. There is a web site by Fritz Reuter & Sons, originating in Chicago, in which a number of dealers of violins and their questionable selling practices are exposed. Few of us realize that there are a number of convicted felons doing big business with old instruments. And what is the background of these experts who are asking millions for some of their treasures? There is a lot of information on the site and it will take time to skim through it all, but it is quite eye-opening. You’ll learn that many of my colleagues, violin teachers, are in a business relationship with the dealers, and naturally push for expensive instruments to their pupils as it will mean more money in their bank accounts. How many students are brave enough to ask their respected mentor if and how much he or she is profiting from the sale of a violin that will put them or their parents in debt for a long time?

In principle, I couldn’t accept money resulting from recommending a certain instrument. There are plenty of excellent, relatively inexpensive instruments for even the best students. They sound just as good, and are often in healthier condition than others costing ten or twenty times as much. During this past year we helped more than ten students acquire new violins. All the buyers have been pleased and not a dime has ended up in our pockets as a result of these transactions. We did recieve a few bottles of wine but I don’t think that really counts as a commission. Are we stupid and without the famous American business sense? Perhaps, but we sleep well at night and hopefully so do our students and their parents.

Gold has fascinated people since the birth of civilization. For almost that long there have been alchemists trying to turn ordinary matter into that shiny metal, unsuccessfully of course. It is Mother’s Day and a good time to remember that like gold, a precious metal, there are precious people. In fact, the same word, kulta, is used for both gold and Darling, or Sweetheart, in my native Finnish. A majority of these golden people probably fall in the category of mothers. Then there are others, pretending to belong in the same class, but their glitter is like that of fool’s gold. Human nature is what it is. As the late wonderful Mr. Rogers once quoted someone is his beloved show: “Some people are fancy on the outside, some are fancy in the inside.”

ilkka talvi