Hearing and believing
Scott Laird also sees an improvement in his students’ musicianship as a result of electric instruments’ tonality and interface abilities. “When you’re amplified, your mistakes do not get covered up,” he said. “Your inconsistencies from a technique standpoint are obvious. Kids can plug an electric violin straight into a laptop and record themselves playing a Bach Partita, and hear the subtle inconsistencies in their bow technique and intonation.”
Yvette Devereaux, a Los Angeles-based violinist, conductor, composer and educator, who performs on an NS CR-5, attributes a similar advantage to the electric violin. But she says that, in addition to offering students a clearer technical picture of their playing, electric violins empower students on an emotional level. As a teacher of younger students, Devereaux has a first-hand view of how playing amplified can help students overcome their insecurities.
“When a student tries an electric violin plugged into an amp, you get instant gratification,” she said. “Students hear all these undertones and overtones that they can’t get right away on an acoustic violin. The violin becomes not just a violin anymore.” Playing amplified also allows some students to understand their playing in a wider musical context. “Right away they feel like they’re part of a current situation,” she said. “They say, ‘oh wow, I can play this anywhere!’”
Inspiring from the Stage
Outside the classroom, a number of performers and organizations have used NS instruments to reach out to young audiences in performance settings. One such group, the Los Angeles-based Elevation Orchestra, is an ensemble that includes 17 string players (including several NS players) as well as a rhythm section of bass, drums, and keyboards. Targeting underserved urban audiences, the group strives to expand its listeners’ musical palates by applying classical string instrumentation to contemporary, pop-inspired compositions.
“The elevation orchestra was created to let everybody know that string instruments are not just for classical music, but are actually behind a lot of the big groups in pop music that you hear today,” said Ryan Cross, the group’s founder. “NS instruments help us kick that goal.”
The group has commissioned work from arrangers who have written for Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Earth Wind and Fire, and Stevie Wonder, among others. Cross and members Chris and Adrienne Woods performed at NS Design’s exhibit at the 2011 Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, California—one of three annual international trade shows for music products, and the largest of its kind in the U.S.
NS Design has also worked with motivated performers to make instruments available for special events with significant educational impact. In 2010, the company loaned a quartet of instruments to the Colorado Symphony for a performance of George Crumb’s piece “Black Angels” at the Denver School of the Arts. Violinist Erik Peterson organized the performance and, with help from NS endorser Dr. Gregory T. S. Walker, arranged to let students try the instruments hands-on. Peterson said that the experience revealed the value of pursuing approaches to string education that might have seemed radical even in the recent past.
“To have that exposure was very good for them,” he said. “They were excited to hear the piece and excited to try the instruments. We can’t just approach string instruments in the way they were approached a hundred years ago. There are musicians and audiences for all different types of music.”
Catch the WAV
As part of an initiative to encourage the adoption of electric stringed instruments, NS Design has launched a pilot program, called “Catch the WAV”, to make its four-string WAV Series electric violin available through participating retailers at a special pricing to schools and educators. Educators who are interested in taking advantage of this program should contact their local NS Design dealer for assistance in finding a dealer contact. (To find a participating dealer, contact email@example.com .)