Interview - Brenton Fyfield

August 2005: Brenton Fyfield (Vol.1 No.4)
Interview recorded by S.Kenan on 22/07/05

'The Violineri', is a quaint violin retail and repair shop situated along Bridge Road Richmond in the city of Melbourne. He works away sitting on a stool close to the front window. His white beard, long thinning hair and the pair of spectacles perched on his nose give him quite a distinguished appearance. "Playing he violin is a lifelong thing," Brenton says, "And it's good spiritually. You can be sad and go and play the violin and after ten minutes it's all gone, absorbed in the music; it's wonderful. And you can be happy, and you pick up the violin, and then you really fire." Brenton moved the business from Melbourne to Ballarat last year then returned to Melbourne six months ago.

I asked him how the move went.

A. The move went well. It was a lot of effort but it was a thing
I had to do. When I got there and took off my rose tinted glasses,
I found it was necessary for me to come back to Melbourne. Well, I started to miss Melbourne I guess. All the forces that were about in the universe seemed to be telling me, 'You are in the wrong spot.' It's working really well now. It's fabulous and I love it. People were very supportive when I returned, players, students and general public. The response I got from the local Richmond people was overwhelming. It was lovely. I am thrilled to be back.The Violineri Shop

Q. When Piatigorsky attempted to play the 'Baudiot' Stradivarius cello, a little voice came from the scroll. It said:" Who the hell do you think you are?" He never played it again. Have you ever felt a similar thing in the presence
of some instruments?

A. No. But let me elaborate on that. I find that with the violin that you play regularly yourself there may be some days when you think, "Golly, this is not going so well today. What's wrong with the 'thing.'" Usually it is not the 'thing ' at all, it is yourself. You are not, for want of a better word 'in tune' with the instrument, with the soul of the instrument. You are perhaps fighting against it. I think that is the time when you say, "We are not succeeding here," so you put the instrument back in it's case. You try again later and it usually works. The other thing you find is, the violin or any stringed instrument for that matter, likes to be and needs to be played in tune absolutely, absolutely impeccably because the vibrations work when everything is in tune. The quality of the sound is at it's optimum. If it's just slightly out of tune that all goes because all the overtones and everything have disappeared. The sound becomes thinner.

I think that's what happens when we get this little message, not quite so succinct as dear old Piatigorsky did, but we get this message from the instrument saying, "It's not me, it's you." Then you get the other side of that coin when you are completely ready to play and everything is just right and you're playing right in tune and the violin just jumps. It vibrates right through your being and it's the most amazing feeling and that's what we all aim for
I guess. It is a good thing to do.

Q. What are some of your favourite pieces of music and what do you play when you are working?

A I have the complete set of the Bach Cantatas and I always start the day by playing some cantatas. There are six discs in each set and there are ten sets so there are sixty CD's. It takes me ten weeks to go round the cycle. They just keep going around and around and around.

And after that, I listen mostly to chamber music I suppose. Quartets quintets, sonatas and not necessarily string music.
I have the Beethoven piano sonatas, which I love, the Mozart piano sonatas which I love, Beethoven and Mozart piano concertos complete which are gorgeous. Also a lot of Baroque music like Corelli, Vivaldi, all that sort of stuff and that goes on all day. I also burn frankincense in the morning while I'm having breakfast and that seems to waft off down into the shop and
I vaporise aromatic oils throughout the day and this is very therapeutic.

Q. The German's have a saying, "The longest way home is often the shortest". You must have horror stories about shortcuts performed on delicate instruments. I met a double bassist in Geelong who had taken the top off his instrument to insert a pick up then glued the top back with epoxy resin.

A. For most people the instrument is a part of them, I would like to think of it as being an extension of your soul. Incidentally, the European's refer to the sound post as the soul. I have had people come into the shop and say, "Could you adjust the 'soul'?" So they refer to the sound post as the soul of the instrument which is really beautiful I think.

With the instrument that you play, you unconsciously do or should think of it as part of your soul. Or certainly part of you so you take it to a recognised repairer. If anything goes wrong with yourself, you go to the doctor so if there is anything wrong with your instrument you should go to its doctor. It doesn't have to be a valuable instrument. I think the repairers in Melbourne would all go along with that idea that whatever the instrument that comes in whether it even be a cheap student instrument it is still part of that child's being and so it has to be treated accordingly and be cleaned and presented back to them in a lovely condition. You have to be conscious that it's not yours, it's somebody else's and they treasure it.

You should talk to Ben Puglisi, perhaps that is what double bass players do. I don't know but anyhow I think it's a shame when people do that sort of thing because when something serious goes wrong with it then it's really difficult to do a repair. In the long term, you don't really save anything. It's only that you can't claim the thing on Medicare.

Q. Do you play an instrument and how long have you
been playing?

A. Yes, The violin, which I have been playing for 65 years. I began at 9 years of age. Then I took on playing the viola about fifteen years ago because I thought by doing that I could be in a string quartet and not have to do as much practice because there weren't as many notes. But I discovered, much like the move to Ballarat, that doesn't happen. You have still got to be good so I play viola a lot also and I enjoy working on the Bach cello suites which have been transposed for the viola. Not only can I explore violin music, but now I can explore viola music and also some cello stuff. I have done some public recitals on the viola playing Bach.

At the moment, I am collating a programme, which will include violin and viola to perform next year. I have a pianist up in Mullumbimby, Ian Knowles. We will do a concerthere in Melbourne and also in Mansfield and Northern New South Wales. If you don't have some sort of a goal to set yourself, it's very easy to become a bit complacent about your playing or a bit complacent about your practice maybe. Whereas if you are going to do something and you are going to do it properly, you have to think about every aspect of your playing and build your technique up as well as you can and be as regular as you can and the rewards are there aren't they? The rewards just automatically follow because it's the practice. In my case it will be for twelve months, to get the thing to it's peak. That's where the excitement and the pleasure is. Not necessarily just going on and knocking off an hour and a half's concert. Well that is nice too.