On Saturday afternoon March 4th the workshop ‘Playing violin and viola without a shoulder-rest‘ will take place at the Amsterdam Uilenbergersjoel, organised by Mokum Symphony. This workshop will be lead by violinist and conductor Joan Berkhemer.
The shoulder-rest (which was developed after the second world war) seems to facilitate holding the violin, but in fact clamps the violin to the body using the head as a couterweight. The resulting lack of freedom of movement can cause all kinds of undesired tensions that can easily develop into problems with intonation and vibrato, injuries, and even disability.
Exponents of what is known as ‘the golden age of violin-playing’ (1860-1960) such as Heifetz, Elman, Milstein, Francescatti, Grumiaux and Szeryng all played without using a shoulder-rest and were in fact adamantly opposed to its use.
By the time Joan Berkhemer began playing the violin in 1963 the use of the shoulder-rest had become commonplace. He experienced discomfort using the shoulder-rest and, once he realised that all of his heroes played without one, made several unsuccessful attempts to liberate himself from it.
Only when he was 31, when he was concertmaster of the Netherlands Chamber-orchestra, did he meet a colleague who had a method to help him get rid of the shoulder-rest.
The demonstrable advantages that he experienced immediately were:
- a deeper and more free free sound
- the violin is held by the left hand, which relieves the burden of the neck and shoulders; the best remedy against typical violin-injuries
- the increased physical freedom and greater unity with the instrument lead to more enjoyment of playing
- it has been shown that at a high level of playing, older shoulder-rest-less violinist can continue to play for longer than shoulder-rest users
The workshop will begin with a 30 minute explanation in which Berkhemer will not only demonstrate these aspects ‘live’, but also using video examples.
Every participant will be able to experience by means of Berkhemer’s instructions how playing without a shoulder-rest works. Whether or not each participant will decide after the workshop to permanently discontinue the use of his or her shoulder-rest, the participants and audience will most certainly gain insight into the history of violin posture and pehaps become slightly more aware of unnecessary physical tension in playing.
Of 40 violin students and professional violinists, Berkhemer has helped 34 permanently rid themselves of the shoulder-rest. They play every day, as does Berkhemer, happily and injury-free!
location: Uilenburgersjoel, Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 91 Amsterdam
start: 14:00 hours
fees for participants: 40 Euro, students 25 euro, members of Mokum Symphony free
fees for audience: 10 euro