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Re: Closing up shop

Date sent: 25-JUL-1995
I find Larry Bowers response to my query on conservation quite well
balanced. Since Larry has asked for my opinion, I guess that I'll have
to give it.

.>I strongly adhere to the view that many fine old instruments have been
>seriously compromised by restorers with no intimate knowledge of
>approporiate techniques and/or styles.  i have also been in museum
>collections which have been damaged by artless restorers,
>unknowledgable collections managers, an  inappropriate use of
>historical instruments.

I don't deny that these abuses have occurred perhaps with high
frequency and that such abuses are unacceptable.  Ignorance and lack
of craft have been responsible for much irrepairable damage.  However,
the ultra-conservative view which I have heard expounded on some
occasions,  that repairs and restorations should not be made
under any circumstances, is equally if more slowly destructive. I
suppose that one cannot get around the paradox that you can destroy a
work of art in two ways, by restoring it and by not restoring it.
I hold to what I think may be a middle of the road approach, which is
that repairs and restorations should be kept to a minimum, be
historically informed, be done by skilled craftsmen and if a major
component of the instrument needs to be replaced that it be done
reluctantly or a reproduction be made to duplicate the entire

>If museums have any purpose, it is to provide a record of our cultural and
>material history.  For that reason they must rightfully protect the
>resources entrusted to their care.  It is perhaps because of the excesses
>ofthe past that curators and conservators now feel especially
>protective of their collections.  Once an instrument has been damaged
>or altered from the original,historical evidence is lost permanently,
>often at a cost we cannot appreciate until a later time.

To me, the artifacts at museums should be material resources available to
qualified investigators who can use these holdings for study and
analysis, in much the same way as scholars use libraries.  While
obviously not all are qualified to make use of these museum holdings, I
suspect that many collections are virtually inaccessable. Whatever the
intrinsic value of a book or musical instrument, it is useless unless
it is available to scholars.  Certainly today there is a plethora of
non-intrusive analytical techniques which should allow more
information to be generated on historical instruments than seems to be
the case.  Then again museums do have to cater to mere gawkers like
myself by appropriately displaying the jewels of their collection, if
only because it's the gawkers who pay the bills for many museums.  I
think that there should be some effort to keep instruments in playable
condition and available to qualified performs because such is
necessary if we are to have an adequate conception of the music which
was produced by these instruments.  Again I acknowledge that such
usage should be strictly controlled and that such usage is not
appropriate to all instruments, and that the instrument may not
actually sound the way that it did when it was in use.  Still I have
the feeling in the back of my head that a musical instrument which
can't be played is no longer a musical instrument any more than Pele
is a soccer star today.

>I am not a pedant.  I am very happy that fine violinists have available
>all the great instruments of the 17th and 18th centuries.  I love to
>hear music played on original instruments.  I am also aware that
>some instruments are less able to withstand the rigors of performance and
>that judgment has to be exercised if the historical evidence is to
>be preserved.

I wouldn't think of calling anyone a pedant. Pedantry implies an
overly strict adherence to rules.  The exercise of judgment is
critical.  As to hearing music played on original instruments of the
17th and 18th century, are there any?  How often do we hear an
unaltered Strad--if ever?

>The tone of your note indicates that you are feeling really down
>about the whole area of musical instrument conservation.  Ultimately,
>I think we all have to give a little more than we would ultimately

Actually the purpose of the note was to see what conservators thought
about the ultraconservative view that historical instruments should be
allowed to decay without repair or restoration.  Discussion of
conservation on the lute-list some months back was dominated by people
holding ultra-conservative views. (I think that the discussion spilled
over onto EarlyM-L also.) I do not know if any of these
people were conservators, but they seemed strong willed and single
minded and drove the opposition before them, and I also am aware of
collections which are neglected or hidden.

I suspect that more repair and restoration would be done if there was
more money available to conservation.  Public monies are in short
supply and minimal care is the low cost option. Minimal care also
limits the necessity of making decisions which may be wrong.
Thirty years in industry has impressed me with the human tendency
to avoid doing anything which might cause disapproval.  Research
and publication are similarly limited by lack of funds and lack of
time. And at times I think that there are collections in the hands of
organizations such as orchestras and universities which are not only
strapped for cash but for whom the instrument collections are of
secondary importance. In the end, perhaps benign neglect is the best
that can be done.

PS--As far as being 'really down about the subject of musical
instrument conservation', hey, at the moment, I am really down on just
about any subject you want to discuss.  I am an Equal Morosity
Grouser.  However, I have fewer complaints about musical instrument
conservation than about most other things and conservators at least
are for the most part rational.

Ed Margerum

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