Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Violinist Sophia Hummell keeps a steady hand

Make a list of the requirements for playing the violin, and the first few items are pretty obvious. Love of music, a good ear, dedication - check, check, check.

What about two good arms? Now that's where you want to be careful about jumping to conclusions.

Sophia Hummell confounds any glib assumptions about what is and isn't possible on the musical front. The spirited 18-year-old San Francisco native was born without a full right arm, but she's been playing the violin since the fourth grade.

She makes it look easy, too. The key is a specially designed prosthetic - what Hummell calls her "violin arm" - that attaches to the short stub of her arm with a suction device, while a mechanical grip on the other end is attached to the bow.

The result is an apparatus that has allowed Hummell to keep pace with her fiddling peers. She plays in string quartets and in the chamber orchestra of the Villa Sinfonia Foundation, a nonprofit run by violinists Lynn and Roy Oakley. With the orchestra, she's performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and played the national anthem for a Giants game, and just last month she was the soloist in one movement of a Vivaldi concerto at the orchestra's annual concert.

To spend any time with Hummell is to encounter a young woman who seems to simply breeze past whatever obstacles life may throw her way. Though she has a variety of prosthetic arms for different activities, she says she feels most at home without any of them - using one hand, along with the occasional teeth and toes, to negotiate the world.
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