Things only cellists do, by Fred Raimi

I went on an errand this afternoon.  I needed to get my endpin sharpened.

An endpin (called a spike in England) is the rod that protrudes from the bottom of a cello to stick in the floor so the cello doesn’t slide.  It’s a fairly recent innovation; prior to the 20th century, cellists generally didn’t use an endpin (they supported the instrument between their knees, or used a pile of books for the purpose).  Interestingly, the end pin, made of high grade steel, weighs about as much as the instrument itself: cellos are very light, violins are only a few ounces.

Anyway, at a performance yesterday, my endpin slipped, and my cello went skittering across the floor.  I caught it, of course, but it was a disruption, one of those events that make chamber music such an exciting spectator sport.  This occurrence alerted me to the fact that I needed to have my spike sharpened.  Normally this is done by John Montgomery, the fine luthier in Raleigh, who does it during his annual inspection and cleaning of my instrument.  But this year, apparently, John had forgotten.  I didn’t want to drive all the way to Raleigh to get the job done, so I had the inspiration to check machine shops.  The Yellow Pages listed a couple of dozen in the area, and a few in Durham.  The first two shops I phoned laughed at me when I told them what I needed.  The third, in downtown Durham, also laughed, but said, “Bring it on.”

The listing for C and C Machine Shop showed their address on a street I knew, so I extracted the end pin from my cello (it slips right out), and drove downtown.  But when I arrived at what should have been 812 N. Mangum Street, there was nothing there.  There were buildings at both 810 and 814 N. Mangum, but nothing in between.  Flummoxed, I walked down the street, with the two-foot steel rod looking lethal in my hand (it was a rather rough neighborhood), until I came upon an old -fashioned hardware store.  Could this be the place?  I am quite capable of getting an address wrong.  But, no, they could not sharpen an endpin.  But to my enquiry about C and C, they lit up, and informed me that the shop had moved several years ago, and told me where to find it, and added that the guys at C and C were really good.

Thus reinvigorated, I drove to the new location, and found the shop.  I carried my rod in the door, and was greeted by the lady to whom I had spoken earlier.  She laughed at me (this was becoming thematic) and said that they hadn’t been on Mangum street for years.  The shop was wonderful: dingy and dusty, and full of machines which I had never seen and could never hope to be able to use.  An old man behind one of the machines took the endpin, and looked at me suspiciously.  “What do you do with this?” he asked.  “I’m a musician, I play the cello, and I stick this into floors so my cello won’t slip.”  He didn’t laugh.  But he didn’t like it.  “Do they let you stick this into their floors?” he asked.  “Well, usually they do, and what they don’t know won’t hurt them,” I answered.  It was a good question.  Cellists usually carry a device known as a rock-stop, usually a rubber disk which will adhere to most surfaces, into which the cellist puts the point of the endpin.  But whenever possible I try to avoid using a rock-stop: it rarely is completely secure, and it dulls the tip of the spike.  In this situation, I look for a doormat or some other strip of material, one end of which I’ll put under the front legs of my chair.

If you ever visit a stage on which an orchestra performs, look for the area where the cello section sits.  There you will find innumerable small marks in the floor where cellists have stuck their spikes.  I once performed in a beautiful small hall in Tel Aviv.  The stage manager there was a crusty old……..dare I say Jew?…….who knew all the ropes, and he wasn’t about to let me stick my spike into HIS beautifully burnished hardwood floor.  He gave me a rock-stop with explicit instructions: under no circumstances was I to make a mark in the floor.  And during our warm-up rehearsal he watched me like a hawk.  But I was up to the challenge.  Trusting that he was not such a fanatic that he would interrupt the concert, I put the rock-stop in position on the floor, but then stuck my spike discretely in the floor right next to it.  Perhaps the indelible mark I left caused the stage manager to change his policy, in which case all cellists who played in the hall afterwards owe me a debt of gratitude.  More likely, my friend in Tel Aviv is still battling it out with cellists who come to play music there, and who have the un-believeable temerity to want to stick……

Mission accomplished!  The old guy at C and C Machine Shop WAS really good.  My endpin will now stick in absolutely anything!  At least for a while.


Fred Raimi, June 11, 2012