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August 15, 2010

'The Boy and His Bow'

Special thanks to Andrew Mitchell for his illustration. To see more of his work, visit

August 15, 2010|By Colin Johnson

"Zander William Pruette!" Mrs. Pruette roared. "You stop that racket right now!"

"I'm not doing anything!" 9-year-old Zander squealed. "I'm just practicing my violin!"

"Well, it sounds like a sick cat!! Play it with your heart."

Zander chucked his bow at the wall. Whew! Snap! Thwang!

"What was that noise?!" Mrs. Pruette exploded.

"Mom? I think my bow broke."

Later that day.

"Well, little Zander, you seem to have quite the arm," chuckled the artisan bow maker, old Mr. Runkley. Zander hung his head.

"Can you fix it?" asked Mrs. Pruette anxiously. "It was his grandfather's."

Old Mr. Runkley gazed at Zander with thoughtful eyes. "Do you know that this happens to be one of the finest bows made in the world today? That is because the wood is pernambuco."

"What's poonumbocoo?" questioned Zander quietly.

"Pernambuco is the wood that kindles the soul of classical music," Mr. Runkley whispered.

"Personally I prefer rap," Zander grumbled.

Mrs. Pruette put her handbag over her head as Mr. Runkley laughed. "Mrs. Pruette, I like your son. May I keep him for a while?"

Mrs. Pruette nodded. She trusted Mr. Runkley — he had been her father's friend for 40 years. He was one of the family.

Old Mr. Runkley picked up a violin that looked almost as ancient as he was and began to sweep the feathery horsehairs across the golden strings. Golden Q-tips swirled within Zander's gunked-up ears, cleaning out all the accumulated rock 'n' rap residue, and allowing only the purest notes to sing in his ears. Zander saw a young fawn with its mother in a glowing forest, gently tugging on a tuft of sweet grass. A stream tickled the earth as it glugged its way over rocks and through valleys, all the way to the sea.

"I see the deer and the stream," Zander's eyes glazed in bewilderment. "How did you do that?"

"Classical music can take you on a journey," Mr. Runkley smiled. "And playing it can even make you better at math."

"How does playing classical music make you better at math?"

"There is this thing called the Golden Ratio, and everything that looks and sounds beautiful fits it. For instance, did you know that the Golden Ratio can be found in the Parthenon, the Mona Lisa, and the Great Pyramids of Giza? The ratio of the scales of music also sounds beautiful if it is in the Golden Ratio, and listening to this pattern makes you better at math."

"So what's so special about my bow?" Zander asked curiously.

"Your bow is from a tree that changed music. In the late 18th century, a watchmaker named François Xavier Tourte discovered that pernambuco wood creates an even tone that is the foundation of classical music."

"So how do you know which wood creates a good bow?"

"Pernambuco only grows bow quality wood if it struggles for light, twisting and turning to thrust a few leaves into the sunshine. Pernambuco needs a struggle. This is like many things in life, for often, good things only come with a struggle."

Zander imagined a tree struggling for light in the forest, and the lovely music that had come out of the struggle.

"Okay, let's practice!" Together, bows in hand, the boy and the old man created worlds of music, and as the notes floated into the sky, Zander's heart followed them.

Special thanks to Andrew Mitchell for his illustration. To see more of his work, visit

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