Sheila Joynes's Musical Diary

On the Straight and Narrow


I’m not a violinist. Though I did pass Grade 5 in 1968, it took me another three years to reach grade 6 in 1971, a month after I started cello lessons. One year later I passed Grade 6 cello and, realising that doing both was not an option, there was no contest which to abandon.
So teaching violin, which I do at New College Worcester is hard for me. I have three violin pupils there, two had already started learning with the previous teacher, and a 6th form student who started learning only a few months ago. Demonstrating how to use the bow is very difficult with students who are unable to see what I am doing or watch themselves in a mirror. There has to be a certain amount of grabbing their elbows and physically pulling them into the right positions, though in this age of political correctness, a necessarily limited amount.

Just after I started teaching there, I talked to Stephen and one of my colleagues about the problem of keeping the bow at 90 degrees to the strings – I wanted a means of holding the bow in position while the pupil was playing and between us we came up with an ingenious concoction made of two chopsticks stuck to a chopstick rest, shaped to the belly of the violin and attached to the violin by devious means of a smearing of blu-tack. Young pupil K.C. was delighted with his “snake fangs” and they could be positioned either at the bridge or at the end of the fingerboard to stop the bow from sliding up or down.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a device properly thought out, designed, planned and manufactured for the job. It isn’t made from chopsticks – and it simultaneously stops the bow sliding up on to the bridge OR down on to the fingerboard. The college ordered two for me and this week they arrived.

The BOWZO was a huge success with both of my blind lads – K.C. asked if this was cheating and an enormous smile spread on C.S.G’s face instantly. “I don’t mind the neighbours hearing me practising now!” he said. I know how he feels – even I sound quite good!

I wrote to the people who make the Bowzo and asked if they make one for cello too as my partially sighted cellist has the same problem. They rang me back straight away to talk about it and have been in touch several times since. They hadn’t realised what a help to partially sighted and blind students this would be and are delighted to be able to help us. The college has now put them in touch with the music advisor at RNIB. Who knows where this may lead…