When Cardiff Violins told us about their new stock of vegan bows, I have to say I did think they'd gone barking mad. Why on earth would I need a vegan bow? The reptile skin used to lap the stick is a by product anyway, right?...
Well no actually. I was horrified to see the process of removing the reptile skin solely for the use of skins for handbags, shoes and bow lappings. Cruel beyond description and totally unnecessary as there are so many good synthetic substitutes now, there is no reason why any of us should use reptile skin next time we get a bow re-lapped.
The beautiful ivory which also adorns many exquisite bows comes at a price which is disproportionate beyond belief. If you are going to have an ivory slide or tip to your bow, understand first at what price it has arrived in the shop. If you take a look at these thousands of elephants slaughtered for their tusks you will have some comprehension of the phenomenal suffering of these animals all in the name of tradition.
Jump forward 20 years and I view the whole business very differently. When I played my first audition, all I thought about was not making mistakes, nailing the hard passages, playing the right speed despite the adrenalin coursing through my veins and above all giving the impression of a mixture of confidence and friendliness as I knew these musicians were looking for someone they would have to sit next to for potentially 40 years…
There is a superb array of synthetic and natural alternatives now so that there is no need to use these cruelly sourced substances anymore. Use synthetic or foam lapping, plastic/ebony/gold/silver tips and you can even get synthetic hair for the bow as well now. Although there is no need for a horse to be harmed in harvesting their tail hair for a bow, unethical practices are suspected in many parts of the world. Up until now there has not been a good enough substitute for horsehair and so musicians almost exclusively use horsehair, often the wonderful Siberian or Mongolian variety. But in the quest for a truly animal friendly bow, the Chamber Orchestra of Toulouse in partnership with a French textile manufacturer have created a rather exciting synthetic alternative- Coruss.
Lasting up to 3 times as long between rehairs as conventional horse hair, Coruss is easier on the purse strings and doesn't expand and contract when there are changes in heat and humidity, which of course is much better for your bow stick.
But does it cut the mustard musically? We asked violinist Braimah Kanneh-Mason, who will start his studies as a scholar at the Royal Academy of Music in London this year, to test drive Coruss Hair and give us the honest low down on this potentially groundbreaking product.
First he tried it out on some Shostakovich 'I found that not only does the bow produce a bigger sound for the same effort but can also be pushed harder without the bow feeling strained' he explained. 'It bites well into the string which makes a variety of techniques such as up bow staccato and flying spiccato much easier to perform with crisp and articulate results.
'Unlike horse hair the Coruss hairs don't react to sweat in the same unfortunate way and I found that I broke far fewer hairs than I normally would. So I imagine that it would also be cheaper to maintain with fewer rehairs necessary.'
One drawback to Coruss in that not all rosins work with it. There are several which are great though and for best results we recommend:
Violin : Evah Pirazzi Gold and Olive
Viola : Evah Pirazzi Gold, Andrea Solo and Andrea Orchestra
Cello : Andrea Solo, Andrea Orchestra and A Picaccere
Double-Bass : Nymans and Pops
'I did notice that rosining properly plays a far bigger part in the consistency of the sound produced.' admitted Braimah. 'The rosin does not stick to the hair and naturally slightly disperse in the same way as with natural hair. For example, with horse hair, a few thoughtless scrubs up and down the bow does the trick. However with the synthetic hair, I found I had to be more meticulous and do a series of short scrubs up and down to ensure the rosin is evenly spread.
'Generally I found that although produced a stronger sound, the sweet evenness of tone required for Mozart is sometimes more difficult to achieve, especially if the bow is not rosined correctly. However for the crisp attack of a Wieniawski Polonaise, the opening of Arvo Part's Fratres and for the simple catch and release, this hair is ideal. I thoroughly enjoyed playing on it!'
Musical Orbit's verdict? Have two bows and chose which one suits your current repertoire!