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Lefty volinists

Have you ever seen a lefty violinist? I’ve heard of a few, but in my whole life I’ve only met one string player who holds the bow in the left hand and the instrument in the right. I don’t  really know how the tradition of playing “righty” got started, but it hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. Why can’t lefties just reverse the strings and play the way they like? Well, it’s not that simple. 

A violin, for example, may look perfectly symmetrical from the outside, but on the inside it’s not symmetrical at all. There’s a strip of wood called the bass bar, for one, that’s glued inside the top of the instrument to the left of center, and a wooden post, the soundpost, wedged between the top and back to the right of center. Perhaps more importantly the top and back are carved to different thicknesses at different points, and the fine shadings of thickness are not precisely symmetrical from left to right. It’s hard to overcome tradition—and even harder to overcome asymmetry.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.