Thursday, November 29, 2007


Celloviolacracy? or, Being Nice to Violists.

Aren't violas really just miniature cellos, without endpins? [I guess you could say the opposite - that cellos are just giant violas, with endpins... but this is a cello blog after all.]

For our portion of our Christmas presentation in mid-December, Cellocracy has been working on a dozen or so assorted carols arranged for trios. Then the violist in our orchestra asked if she could join us to play a few quartets. We located several arrangements for four cellos and started working out parts for the viola.

I came across a post in the Cello Chat forum by Terry (known there as Chiddler), where he offered copies of his recent arrangement for four cellos, Carol of the Bells. I emailed him for a copy, mentioning that we were going to play it with three cellos and a viola. He kindly revised one part for the viola before sending it to me. I passed it around a few weeks ago and we all began working on our separate parts. The cellos tried it out a few times at our last few Cellocracy rehearsals, and we knew it was going to be good. But last night, with the viola finally able to join us, we finally got to play it as intended... in a word: WOW! Nice job Terry! After half a dozen run-throughs, it suddenly all came together. As we finished, we all sat there for a few moments savoring it. Again, thanks so much, Terry, from all of us.

Normally, with all our busy schedules, we usually can't find more than an hour or so to rehearse together. But last night, as we finished playing through the quartets, we realized we'd gone way past two hours. Although only a few pieces we play are in any way challenging technically, putting it all together is where the magic seems to come in. We come from all sorts of backgrounds and experience levels, but we seem to work quite well together. We'd divided up the pieces evenly, and whoever has the top part on a particular piece takes charge for its rehearsal.

I sure look forward to these evenings of relaxed music-making - this is exactly what I'd hoped would eventually happen when I first started playing the cello. I sure hope we can keep it up after Christmas.

At lesson #42 yesterday, we spent most of the hour on the Beethoven Minuet in G, working through it the way I normally practice it at home - first just pizzicato, then with the bow, and finally going back to the shifts and slurs. Since I tend to obsessively play scales each morning, my teacher suggested that this would be a good place to throw in bowing variations as I work through a scale - pick out some of the phrases from whatever piece I'm working on and apply that bowing pattern to that scale.

I've made quite a bit of progress since the last lesson, and (aside from the usual lesson jitters) I played through it fairly well. Good enough, it appears - because she then turned to the next piece, #6 in Suzuki 3, by Bach, a Gavotte in C Minor. We talked about its teaching points - the "lower" second position - and then spent some time practicing them. She played it through once, and we talked about how the piece was put together and the various moods in each section. This piece only uses quarter and eighth notes, and only a few slurs across shifts. Today, when I started it pizzicato, that first part came together pretty easily.

Aren't violas really just miniature cellos, without endpins?

According to my two and a half year old son, even violins are baby cellos. :)

Actually, he plays my knockabout viola like a cello. And somewhere on the Web I found a vague fleeting reference to very little cellists using a viola adapted as a cello by the addition of an endpin.

Sounds like you have a winning combination! And to have a violist ask you if they could play -- a dream come true for most quartets! Usually the problem is finding a violist in the first place.
Ooooo, I'm so excited that it worked out!

You wrote, "putting it all together is where the magic seems to come in." Indeed! That's why I was determined to learn enough music theory back to arrange in my high school days. Groups of us can make so much more magic than anyone of us, alone.
My cello teacher taught her very young children to play the cello using a viola, played as you would play a cello. The viola now hangs on the wall of her cello teaching studio, in cello position, of course.

I definitely agree with Terry, about how groups of us can make more magic than any one of us alone (except maybe for the Bach suites). :-)
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Today is Cellomania's Second Blogoversary

Two years ago today, after picking up a rental cello in Anchorage I sat down and tentatively scratched out those first few "sounds" - far from pleasant, but promising enough to convince me to keep trying. Today, I'm practicing/playing about 20 hours a week. Lately, I've been working on Beethoven's Minuet in G, with lots of shifts and slurs - even into 5th position. Today at lesson #42 I began working on Bach's Gavotte in C Minor. It looks like it might be a little easier than the Minuet... I'm playing two-octave scales of C, D, F, G, and A majors; and D and C minors; and one-octave scales of Bb and Eb majors. I'm working on one-string, one-octave scales of C, G, D, and A. Also, I'm playing in a string orchestra and a cello trio.

I've finally found a string combination that I like (Jargar silvers on C and G, and Larsens on A and D). My wolf seems to have stabilized somewhat - I haven't had to adjust my wolf-eliminator for a few weeks now (prior to that I was fiddling with it daily) - either that or I've finally found an optimum location for it. I have a wonderful new bow that draws a smooth clean sound from the strings.

I'm not unhappy anymore with the sound from my cello. Of course there's a long way to go, but I feel - finally - as if I've made a good start. I still obsess too much over intonation but I'm hearing progress in my sounds from the upper positions. My ears tell me when I've missed a note, even by just a fraction.

I've adopted a process for learning new pieces that seems to be working - slow and steady - lots of repetitions on tricky passages. Interestingly, it's helping me pick up new pieces faster. I've usually memorized a piece way ahead of being able to play through it smoothly. I've finally begun counting in my head (especially in some of those orchestra pieces where the cello has a bunch of rests, or weird rhythms). I force myself to use that $#2*^%@ metronome almost all the time, and it helps.

For a few years, I had considered joining the world of blogging, but I didn't really have a theme or a focus - until that day I brought home the cello, and I decided to blog about my musical journey with my cello. The first hundred days saw 100 blog entries. But, then I ran out of topics and decided to slack off a little and aim for two or three posts per week. This is post #361. As I write this, my blog has had 21,315 hits (since April 2006). Most of those are probably google-bots doing their routine data gathering scans, but a few hits have come in from time to time from rather interesting sources.

About six months ago, in a fit of nostalgia, I wrote a couple entries (here and here) trying to describe what blogging means to me. That hasn't changed. Since then our list of blogging cellists has grown from 116 to 179. Way too many of them are inactive - and I've decided to prune those blogs that haven't been active in the past four (or maybe six) months. Cellobloggers has 80 members, even if it is rather quiet. The CelloHeaven forum has almost 500 members, now, and thankfully has been free of spam and porn attacks for more than a year (even though it, too, is somewhat inactive).

My Google Reader picks up feeds from all those cello blogs and about half of their comments, along with a couple dozen other music blogs - a total of 334 feeds, which produce an average of 110 entries per day. I just skim over several of these, but others I read with great interest.

I don't feel very profound, anymore. I used to believe I had something important to say. A lot of blogs I read are so fascinating because of all the interesting things the author is doing every day. Others seem to come up with curious topics. Several others are just so well written that I find myself reading through them twice just to enjoy the way the words are put together.

As for my cello, I've thought up some goals for Year 3 (and beyond), which are listed here in no specific order:

learn vibrato
finish Suzuki Book 3
improve bow hold
relax bowing arm
improve sight-reading skills
improve intonation
develop an awareness and control of breathing
start playing in the "upper" positions
learn thumb position
tenor clef
experiment more with the electronic cello

Playing Music
practice 1,000 hours in Year #3 (ever closer towards that 10,000-hour goal)
continued growth with the Central Peninsula Youth and Community (strings) Orchestra
continued growth with Cellocracy
join the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra (eventually)
join the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra (some day)

(Also, my granddaughter is 5 years old today.)

Congratulations! And keep up with the good work on the cello!
Congratulations on the double anniversary! You've obviously come a long way in those two years.

Defining goals can really help a lot. That's something I miss about no longer having a teacher. My goals tend to be things like "play this particular challenging sequence" and "practice more", the former coming with rehearsal and the latter being too vague to really help me actually work through the not-enough-time issue.

Here's to many more happy years of Cellomania, both the music and the blogging!
Wonderful, wonderful post, Guanaco! Congratulations on your blog anniversary and all of your accomplishments. Your achievements and goals are inspiring.

You most certainly do have something important to say. Your insights have been inspiring and motivating me ever since I "discovered" your blog. I'm sure many others feel the same way.
Congrats on a fantastic 2 years of moving and shaking and inspiring the blogging and adult cello world! Wishing you many more.
Congratulations on your cello and blogging anniversary and best wishes to your granddaughter!

I am so impressed with and inspired by your dedication to both cello and blogging, and I thank you for rounding up the cello bloggers, which makes both the blogging and the celloing more enjoyable.
Congratulations!! I enjoy reading your posts...keep it up!
Just found an anniversary present for you:
Not only a guinea pig fancier, but another blogging cellist as well!

Thanks, Maricello!
Two years goes by so fast - but look how much you've accomplished.
Congratulations - nice to look back and reflect on all that you've accomplished. Quite often it doesn't feel like you're making progress from day to day, but when you take the time to look back over a longer period, wow! Here's to your next year of making music!
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Learning a new piece

Last night our conductor announced two more gigs for our string orchestra next month. We were originally setup as a "youth" orchestra, loosely affiliated with similar groups in Anchorage and Homer, with the idea that they'd eventually present a few joint concerts. Last year we became a "youth and community" orchestra, opening the door to a handful of interested adults (currently five of us).

But, since these other groups are chartered for kids only, the five adults in our group wouldn't have been able to play in the joint concerts. With an eye towards a possible joint christmas concert, the youth part of our orchestra has been working on a piece called Celtic Christmas since early September.

Last night the conductor asked the adult members if we'd be interested in joining the rest of the group on this piece. She then handed us a copy of the score and they began to play it through - at tempo (which gets pretty fast by the end). This piece isn't that difficult, but it is completely new, with several tempo and key changes, and some unfamiliar rhythms. As "we" played through it I tried to follow - pizz, but gave up after a handful of measures and just had to listen.

This morning, I picked out the tricky passages (some second position shifts, several groupings of dotted eighth-sixteenth slurs) and applied my learning method - slow pizz, lots of repeats on the shifts and rhythmic segments, etc. I was pretty surprised when I realized that I might actually be able to do it. I don't know if I'll get it up to tempo in time for the gig, but maybe...

For quite some time, I've seen many other cellobloggers write about having to learn new pieces seemingly overnight. At the time, I couldn't relate to it, since I have had to struggle with new pieces for several months before feeling remotely comfortable with them. I guess I hadn't really considered that the process of learning a new piece was something I was also learning how to do, and that in-time I'd start finding that easier as well.

I only started working on Beethoven's Minuet in G four weeks ago, and already I've memorized it enough to play it without looking at the score, my fingers "know" where to go on the fingerboard (although they don't always get to the exact spot, yet), I've got the bowing patterns sorted out, and I've worked through most of the tricky bowings (although the slurs across shifts are still quite a challenge). I've even begun planning bow placements in order to have enough room to carry out the four-note hooked upbows, for example. This piece has also led me to start working on full-octave scales on each string to practice the fifth position shifts.

It's one thing to work through the study pieces - I spend up to an hour a day on it, but it's another thing to get that new orchestra part ready in time, since this coming Monday they'll be rehearsing it at full tempo. We're sort of on our own to catch up.

learning processes do get faster over time! we spend a lot of time in college just talking about how to practice and what we need to do to learn certain things...I usually have so much music that I need to know at one time that there just isn't time to practice all of it...I have to take a lot of it for granted (the easy parts that I just know will be there no matter what) and only practice the tricky sections...for instance: I have no school this week so I need to learn a Carter Duet plus two new piece composed for me to play at my lesson on Tuesday when I get back to school...but I also have to perform the entire Carter Sonata on Monday night...yikes! There just isn't time to practice all of it slowly...
And the moral of the first comment is... don't let yourself get sucked into situations where there isn't time to start slowly, yet! Congratulations on your progress. It's fun to look back and see what kinds of things you can start less slowly, or move up to speed more quickly. Soon you'll have things that you won't need to start slowly at all... but I gotta warn you that the sight-readable stuff plateaus are the longest ones of all.
you've made a lot of progress and next year when you look back at some of the pieces you are playing now you will find them so much easier to play. I think I spend most of my practice time learning how to make most of the skills 'automatic' - that is getting so that you don't have to think about things like shifting or putting your fingers down in various positions so that you can start thinking about other things. My brain can't handle thinking about too many things at once so practicing is about burning things into your brain so you don't have to think about them...
Hi Guanaco, I tag your for 5 (or 7) Random Things about yourself. See my blog for more information.

Have fun, and good luck with the new pieces!
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Friday, November 16, 2007


This week's lesson

was quite focused - we only worked on the Beethoven Minuet in G. Since I revised my practice routine, I've been able to put a lot of extra time into this piece.

With the new positions (half, upper third, and fifth), the slurs across position shifts using both up and down bows, and lots of new bowing patterns, this has been one of the most complicated pieces yet. I've stuck to my practice pattern - separately working on the new positions, the shifts through the slurs, pizzicato fingerings, the rhythms, the different bowing sets, etc. I haven't yet put it all together.

So we stayed with the various practice parts. We dissected and discussed each of these points, playing them through several times each. We discussed lots of minor technique adjustments - "try it this way", "let your (hand/arm/fingers) relax, as you...", "maybe you should add this to your 'practice points' until it's comfortable", etc.

This approach to learning a new piece seems to be working out well. Waiting to put it all together has been hard; still, the anticipation of eventually playing it out makes me want to wait just a little longer until I've gotten better on some of the practice points.

All of a sudden the hour was up. She mentioned I should start listening to the next piece on the Suzuki CD - Bach's Gavotte in C Minor. Just listen for a couple weeks, and we'll talk about it at the next lesson.

Our orchestra has a gig in mid-December, and we're working through a couple carol medleys. Several members of our group have another concert at the same time, and won't be playing with us. That makes it an interesting challenge... Cellocracy will also be playing a bunch of traditional carols, and we might be adding a viola for a few other pieces. There's been some discussion about one or two other small concerts, but nothing solid yet.

"Focus" seems to be the key word for me when it comes to practice. Most of my practice sessions consist of playing "bits and pieces" of whatever I may be studying at the time. It's a rare occasion that I "put it all together."

Good luck with your gigs. Performance opportunities are great on so many levels. I especially like the social aspect, but they are great motivators as well.
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Sunday, November 11, 2007


I am not a veteran

Forty years after I might have served, I have to admit I'm somewhat ashamed that I didn't.

In the late 60s I, like most of my classmates, went on to college after high school - that kept me out of the draft. Then the national draft lottery was established and my birthday was drawn as #128 in that first lottery. Based on call-up projections, I fully expected to be drafted. I was ready to go. It was a long wait until the end of the year when my local draft board announced it was stopping at number 125. I had just skated by.

Lots of relatives, friends, classmates and acquaintances joined up (including two brothers) or were drafted during those years; some went to Viet Nam; almost everybody I knew came home. At the same time, lots of relatives, friends, classmates, and acquaintances opposed the war; some were pretty outspoken. In those times, passions were pretty high on all sides.

I started college as an ROTC cadet with every intention of joining the Air Force after four years. Somewhere in that time,though, the world changed around us, and eventually so did I. Most of the students at my school came from traditional deep south conservative families, and my school was slow to see the growing antiwar movement sweeping across the college campuses of the nation. For me, the turning point was Kent State. If you were around at the time, you'd understand what that meant to a 19 year-old college student in middle America. It fully undercut my faith in the government, and I started listening more carefully to what everybody else was hollering about. My hair grew long and my dress code changed to bell-bottoms, sandals, and tie-dyed tee shirts.

At first, I showed up at a few local rallies against the war, but these were half-hearted and seemed to be led by fanatics that I didn't trust or want to be around. Once I was free of the draft, I began to just let it all slide - like so many others seemed to be doing. The war became something to watch on the news and gripe about. After college I spent a few years teaching at a small high school in rural Jamaica and put the craziness of the US political scene behind me.

I returned to the US just before Nixon resigned. The war was soon over. I didn't go out and greet the returning soldiers. Nor did I protest and call them names. I just let it go. That's where my regret comes in. I knew those veterans coming home were being treated unfairly by the protesters and the media, yet I didn't do anything to make them welcome. I just watched it on TV and went on with my life.

Over the years, I've talked to veterans who served on the ground in Viet Nam. Most have put it behind them. I've read many of the books and published first-person stories of what they experienced. Because my father, his brothers, and a sister all served in World War II, I've always been interested in the experiences of the WWII vets. My father-in-law served in Korea. I can't say what I would be today, had I also served.

At this point, on this day, all I can say to those who survive (and to the families of those who didn't) is:

Thank You!

Hi Guanaco. I am a “young” one, so I cannot comment on the Vietnam era. However, I did serve with at least one Vietnam vet from 1992-1993 when I was over in Okinawa. Your post is very interesting. I always admire sincerity. Regardless of decisions made or opinions formed back then, there is always today and tomorrow for something positive to occur. Whether it be sending a care package or volunteering at a local USO – you would be surprised at how far so little can go. I served with Marines that are still in - that have done three tours in Iraq and at least one in Afghanistan. The last I heard, having previously served or political ideologies were not prerequisites for offering encouragement!
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Friday, November 09, 2007



From Mirriam-Webster :
1. feeling, displaying, or reflecting listlessness or discouragement;
2. having nothing likely to provide cheer, comfort, or interest; gloomy, dismal;
Etymology: Middle English drery, from Old English drēorig sad, bloody, from drēor gore; akin to Old High German trūrēn to be sad, Gothic driusan
to fall;
Date: before 12th century

Yeah, it's like that. We're currently losing more than 5 minutes of sunlight each day.

So the sun is supposed to come up around nine... it doesn't... the sky just morphs to a dark dull gray... snow, rain, wind, snow, more rain... about four-thirty the gray skies turn black again...

This has gone on all week; and they say next week it will be the same. Aw c'mon how about some real snow... or a few cold, clear days?

This type of slow, dragged-out winter onset is always the worst. Sure, February is also tough, but for other reasons.

Lately, I've been playing cello about three hours a day. I've cut way back on my warmup routines, and on the Book 1 and Book 2 reviews. I work through the first part of Book 3 and then spend most of my time working on the Beethoven Minuet, lately 45 minutes or more. I still start out plucking each section, slowly; with lots of repetitions. Then I come back and play through the tricky shifts. Now, I'm working on bowing each passage. The bowings are new and complicated, and it's useful to just play each group of notes over and over then add another group. After a short break, I work on some of Mooney's Position Pieces. Then a quick run-through of the orchestra pieces and finally a run-through of the Christmas carol trios.

I've been trying to monitor my right arm as I play - to consider my bow-hold, to try to feel the muscles in use, and to watch what the bow is doing on the strings. At the moment, I don't seem to have any major stumbling blocks to stress over. I'm pretty happy with the sound, even with my intonation. I've noticed too, that the older pieces "feel" cleaner, more like real music.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007


I'm sort of glad I didn't sign up for NaNoBloMo

I'm having a hard time coming up with material for my two or three posts per week. I think it's the time change. I just hate winter, and I really hate the darkness and now it's coming an hour earlier. I guess I wouldn't mind the darkness so much if it was 30 degrees warmer outside -- hello? algore?...

I saw a news segment this evening that talked about a bloggers convention in Las Vegas. It showed a lot of people sitting at those large round convention center tables writing in their blogs. Hmmm. To make it appear even more pathetic the "man-on-the-street" portion of the clip didn't show one person able to describe what a blog even is. I wonder if the attendees actually sat in the same room for all the speechifying, or did they just log on and read each other's blogs?

CAUTION Spoiler Alert!
So, Smallville, (I admit it, I've been hooked on this lame escapist show from the start): Tonight some of Clark's powers get transferred to Lana via some convoluted lightning-strike-while-she's-holding-kryptonite contrivance. Guess what they do first? Mini-earthquakes ensue. Then after their passions are sated, the superpower goes to her head and she goes on a tear after her ex, Lex Luthor. In the end, as expected Clark and Lana have a super fight and he somehow gets back her powers. Finally, this show has Jumped the Shark.

I really don't want to offend people, but am I the only one who thinks the writers' strike should be extended, like, permanently? Hollywood ought to take a page from Ronald Reagan's book on dealing with the air traffic controllers and fire them all. I'd like to believe there are plenty of talented writers out there who could develop story lines that don't imitate everybody else, who could develop multi-dimensional characters, or who could write dialogue that isn't predictable and so patronizing.

Trouble is, the writers probably just crank out what the directors, and producers, and advertisers demand of them. The dumbing down of television isn't new, but wouldn't you think that with the hundreds of cable channels out there, the extra competition would have led to some creativity, somewhere? Maybe they (we?) should just fire the lot of them.

Firing the lot of them is a problematic solution in two different ways. In the first place, from the labor relations angle, they are striking to get a fairer share of earnings from DVD etc sales of the shows they work on, which seems fair to me. Second, from the quality of writing side of things, my first reaction would be, simply, to kill them, not fire them, because if fired they might find similar work somewhere else. Moreover, if they are simply writing what is demanded by producers, audience, etc, then it's neither their fault, nor would eliminating them solve the problem, because the same demands would then be made of someone else. What would solve the Hollywood bad writing problem, I think, would be this: hire ten year old children to vet all the scripts. If the scripts are stupid, they get to taser the writers, who then get to taser the producers who demanded them.
hahaa. My man writes the music for Smallville.
Er...Emily, I actually like Smallville's music; that has always been a strong point of the show... :)

So, in deference to Emily's man, let's let the music writers off the hook, this time. Yeah, and then we'll have the producers taser the studio execs and we'd all get to taser the advertisers.

BTW, I fully support the writers' rights to their fair share of the royalties from DVDs and online content. I meant to include that disclaimer up front, but I got so carried away by Smallville and Super-Lana that it slipped my mind.
Ooooh... Somebody's cranky. Can't wait to "see" you in February!
Being sort of glad that you didn't sign up seems to me that more of you is sorry you didn't sign up. :-)

Here's a blogging idea: Maybe you could review The Spanish Bow. I started reading it, then put it aside to read The Maytrees (got up to the part about the cellist), which I put aside to read books on how to write novels.

I'd love to hear what you thought of either one.
All I have to say is "Whoa! Those are some BIG nostrils!"
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Saturday, November 03, 2007


A decision

After two weeks of testing, I finally selected the darker bow and sent the others back to Cellos2Go. I'd gone back and forth between it and the lighter colored one from the first day. But something one of the (anonymous) commenters said this morning helped me sort it out: "consider the one that 'sinks' into the string best". That described my first reaction to the dark bow. It not only felt right (as did the light one), but it seemed to be smoother on the strings, drawing a cleaner sound with less apparent effort.

Whew. So now: the cello is in good shape; the bow is new and good quality; the strings are relatively new and seem to be the right match. No more excuses, it's all up to me, now.

Another 45 minutes on the Beethoven Minuet today. After several pizzicato repetitions, I began using the bow - one segment at at time.

I bet it's refreshing in a way to play a cello that's completely "up-to-date"! You know, you probably won't have to worry about more repairs for a while... Happy practicing!
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Friday, November 02, 2007


Oops, a slight revision

Hortense turned out to be Horace (my bad), which meant that we had to exchange poor Penelope for her brother Henry.

Several days after settling them into their cage we noticed some unexpected behavior by Hortense that suggested we had misjudged the gender. After an internet search, and some bright lighting we confirmed that this piglet was indeed a male. We immediately separated the two and called the previous owner to see if she had any piglets left. They still had one left, but she wasn't sure of the gender. So, I brought them both back, and armed with my new-found gender-determination skills we learned that the leftover piglet was a male. So, sadly I had to say goodbye to Penelope, and I brought home Henry.

Horace was not happy to see another male in his turf, and there was initially quite a bit of dissension in the hutch. This afternoon, the bickering seems to have eased off a bit...


My new practice regimen is working out great. I was able to spend almost 30 minutes today on the Beethoven Minuet, mostly focusing on the shifts. It's coming along nicely. Another 2,500 repetitions or so and I might actually be able to play it.

I'm going to have to decide on a bow by Monday. Today I found myself favoring the darker one again, but only just slightly. Both of them sound so nice.

Very amusing! Maybe some cello music would soothe them. Good luck on the bow choice. Sounds like either one would be good. I still haven't bought a new bow for my new cello, but keep trying bows whenever I work at the violin shop, in part so I can say something more useful than, "Here, try this one" when people come bow-shopping. :-)
consider the bow that "sinks " into the string best. These tend to require less effort to play, and often can provide a more colorful tone. good luck
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