The Hippochette

[Originally posted on Goodreads 2016-03-10.] A couple of months ago [early 2016] my husband presented me with this beautiful musical instrument for our nineteenth wedding anniversary. It’s a pochette or pocket violin. He does wood carving and makes musical instruments as a hobby, and this took him four years to make. It was intended for an earlier anniversary, but he wanted it to be a surprise. Since I work from home, this made it rather tricky for him, so he was mostly restricted to working on it during wood-carving and musical-instrument-making lessons. He was also able to work on it at home during school half-terms and holidays when I take our son off on the train to visit relatives who all live too far away to meet more frequently.

For those of you who are wondering, a pocket violin was exactly as described: a violin short and narrow enough to fit into the deep coat pocket of the dancing masters who used them as accompaniment for their pupils. This one is based on the plans of Owen Morse-Brown but adapted to make it the length of a normal violin and the scroll replaced with a hippo’s head. Why a hippo? (I’m frequently asked.) There was once a trend for replacing scrolls with something fancy, such as a dragon’s head or a horse’s head, so why not a cute cheerful hippo? If you can’t guess, this is why my husband named this pochette “hippochette”.

Image of hippo headpiece (pegbox)

I used to play the violin a long time ago. I still have my violin, but the problem with not practising daily is that your playing starts to deteriorate. Whilst a well-played violin can sound great, a poorly-played violin can grate the nerves and drive people mad. I’m quite conscious of this, and it puts me off practising because I know I can’t play as well as I used to. The hippochette was my husband’s solution to the problem. It’s much quieter than a normal violin because the sound box is narrower and it doesn’t have any metal strings. It’s also too beautiful an instrument for me to ignore, which also encourages me to practice.

It’s actually quite a bit harder to play than a regular violin. I’ve made a shoulder pad from some scrap material, but the bridge is a lot shallower, which means that I need to hold the bow at just the right angle. My fingers are a lot stiffer than they used to be, but at least they seem to remember where they’re supposed to go.

Image of tailpiece

The interlocking inlaid hearts on the tail piece are holly. (If you strip off the outer green bark, holly is a white wood that’s often used as a substitute for ivory.) Even if I never become proficient, it’s an amazing work of art and a reminder of a four-year labour of love. I’m not usually one for excessive sentiment, but this is an exception.

Incidentally, I’m often asked what I got him in return. People seem quite disappointed when I tell them his present from me was a book. The hippochette was a surprise. I got him what we usually get each other. The closest I can do in return is give him one of my books, but he’s already got them, and they don’t really compare with something so gob-smackingly awesome.

Update 2019-10-22: The hippochette now has a case (made by Kingham) and a bow (made by David van Edwards).

Image of hippochette and its bow in a case lined with dark velvet.

For those who have asked what the hippochette sounds like, there are some videos available.