My Viola and I

This semester I am teaching a Viola Pedagogy class to two of my students. While not exactly a pedagogically-centered book, we are starting this semester by reading Lionel Tertis’ autobiography, My Viola and I. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read the book, so am now rectifying that oversight in my viola knowledge and taking my students along for the ride.

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I’m very much enjoying Tertis’ style of writing. “I consider that I learnt to play principally through listening to virtuosi; I lost no opportunity of attending concerts to hear great artists perform. I especially remember hearing Sarasate at the old St James’s Hall playing the Mendelssohn concerto most marvelously — every note a pearl.” (page 16) When I read this statement it made me smile widely. You see, when I was living in Indiana, I occasionally had the great fortune to play in the viola section of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. A few times I was blessed to sit with Amy Kniffin, who, in addition to being a fantastic violist, is one of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve ever met. After a particularly speedy run-through of some piece or another with lots and lots of notes (I do believe the first occurrence was during Strauss’ Alpine Symphony), Amy would lean over to me and whisper, “every note [dramatic pause] a pearl,” which I thought was quite funny and charming, as there was definitely a run or two that could have used a bit more practice. Did she know Tertis used that phrase? I’ll have to ask.

Every note a pearl: It’s definitely something towards which I aspire. In fact, earlier today I was working on the first movement of the Reger g minor solo suite, and got hung up on this one note that was sounding shrill every time I got to it (it’s the first high B-flat on the downbeat of measure 5, if you’re curious). Shrill does NOT a pearl make. I experimented with my bow speed, placement, and angle of the hair, and found a sweeter sound. I still have to work on finding the right sound within the context of the phrase (it sure is easier to figure things out when you take them completely out of the surrounding material), but I’m feeling better about it than I did before I experimented.

You can come to Viola Day on September 7th to find out whether or not I achieve a pearly high B-flat. The opening concert is at 11 AM, and I’ll perform that first movement. More on Viola Day in the next post. Until then,

Happy practicing!

Week 1 in Review

It’s a hot and sunny Friday afternoon here in Columbus, GA, and my heart is full. I’ve had a busy and productive week, but overall am feeling really happy.

On Friday afternoons, the Schwob School of Music has Convocation, which is where all of the students gather to hear a few students perform, or on occasion to hear a guest speaker/musician. But the first Convo is different: All of the faculty dress up in their regalia, there’s a procession, and inspiring words by University and Schwob personnel are interspersed with inspiring performances by Schwob students. It was a beautiful ceremony today, followed by a barbecue at which people laughed and sang and generally enjoyed the special community of which they’re a part.

Getting ready for Convo.

Getting ready for Convo.

And that’s the truth— we really are a community! Sitting on the stage (as the faculty do) and looking out at the audience, which was filled with students, I was struck by what a diverse group we are. We have people of all colors and backgrounds, and what binds us all together in this special place is our love of music. I am thankful to be a part of the Schwob School of Music, especially to be able to guide a strong and vibrant group of violists.

I have eleven wonderful students this semester, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for each of them. It was really fun this week talking about setup and bow hold, and (my favorite topic) rich viola sound, not to mention making recital and competition plans. Most of all, I’m enjoying getting to know the new people, and to continue guiding the continuing people. It’s going to be a great semester, and I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with all of you.

Nine of eleven wonderful viola students getting ready for sectionals.

Nine of eleven wonderful viola students getting ready for sectionals.

Happy practicing!

A New Year

Hello! It’s hard to believe that today was the first day of the new academic year, and the first day of my second year at the Schwob School of Music. I ended up being really really bad about blogging last year— I think with the excitement over the new position and being really gung-ho about all of it, I didn’t leave quite enough energy at the ends of my days to write about all of the cool things that were happening. And last year was really fantastic. Looking back at it now, I am sad that I didn’t make the time to document so many wonderful moments, but it has also inspired me to be better this year. SO— here we are, Day One of a new year.

My summer was unique in that I didn't have a single musical- or work-related obligation. I spent a LOT of time with my then-boyfriend, James, working on a project that has nothing to do with viola. At the end of July he and I ran off to the mountains, and last week we got married in Colorado, so now he’s my husband. I’m still getting used to that term, as well as the ring on my finger. I’d say that was easily the highlight of my summer. ;-)

But now that I’m back in Columbus, I’m busily working on Syllabi and taking care of other odds and ends that Just Need Doing. Likewise, I’ve started to practice again— I tend to take a big break during the summers. I play so much during the academic year that I often find myself somewhat burnt-out come May, and I recuperate with a few months of very light practicing (in fact, you might call it (GASP) playing— instead of working, I will play some music and maybe work on fingerings for a passage or two, but mostly I just enjoy the sound of my viola and don’t sweat the mistakes I would during concert preparation). But now I have performances looming, and while I haven’t gotten a practice schedule together yet, I have really been enjoying playing viola again. I’ll be honest— I’m a bit rusty. But I also find that polishing off the rusty bits is a fun challenge. It lets me explore the teacher in me and helps me come up with new ways of getting better (“Now, if my student had just played that, how would I help them to fix it?”).

So, cheers to a new year and the adventures it’ll bring. I look forward to sharing my musical experiences with you.

Happy practicing!

1919 Presentation

I’m almost back home, waiting to board my flight to Atlanta after what was a surprisingly comfortable flight across the Atlantic. I was able to upgrade to an Economy Comfort seat (yay airline status!!), and was lucky enough to get an exit row window with tons of leg room, a wall to rest my head against, and a tiny neighbor. I slept a few hours and was pleasantly surprised when I woke up to learn we only had 2.5 hours left in the flight. I am definitely tired, but I feel somewhat human, which is more than I can say for how I felt when I woke up this morning!

The Viola Congress was really special. There were some really unique presentations and projects, and even though I am exhausted and viola-ed out, I am also invigorated and excited about new projects and the next Congress, which will be in Poznań, Poland at the end of September 2019. This works out REALLY well for the 1919 project on which I collaborated with Daphne Gerling, Hillary Herndon, Andrew Braddock, Bernadette Lo, and David Bynog. See, if you’re a violist, you probably know that the Rebecca Clarke Sonata and the Ernst Bloch Suite were tied for first place in a composition competition held in 1919. But do you know anything about that competition or why is came to pass?

Here’s a super watered-down version: The competition was the project of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a rich patroness of the arts. She held ten Berkshire Festivals between 1918 and 1938, through which many important works were composed. For the 1919 competition, entries were for Viola and Piano. Coolidge cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of Bloch’s Suite, thinking a man’s win would likely cause her competition to be taken more seriously than if a woman’s piece won. Sigh. But that was nearly 100 years ago, and the Clarke Sonata has certainly passed the test of time.

So, on September 25th, 1919, the Bloch and Clarke joined the viola repertoire. But what about the other entries to the competition? A total of 72 pieces were entered, and for the past several years, members of our team have been researching other possible entries (I have not done any of this research myself). All pieces were submitted anonymously, so there is some serious sleuthing required. At this point, a bunch of pieces have been discovered and added to the catalogue of possible entries, and what we did in Rotterdam (after talking about Coolidge and the Festival) is play excerpts of 11 of these entries. Some of the pieces are rather terrible, and some are really quite interesting.

I have enjoyed learning this forgotten music, and look forward to performing more (hopefully) on the exact 100-year anniversary of the competition in 1919 in Poznań.

In an interesting twist of fate, the number 1919 kept popping up while in Rotterdam, but I only took this one photo. Fun, huh?

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My flight is getting ready to board, so that’s it for now.

Happy practicing!

Viola Congress

It’s a grey, chilly afternoon in Rotterdam, and I am sitting in my Airbnb apartment on the 11th floor with huge, panoramic windows, overlooking a really cool city. I’m enjoying Rotterdam a lot, mostly because the International Viola Congress and its participants are so awesome!!

I was talking with my friend and colleague, Daphne Gerling, about IVCs, and she said one thing that makes each one really memorable is an event that can probably only happen in that year’s given location. Last night was such an event, titled “Music for Viola and Carillon.” The IVC Composer in Residence, Leo Samama, composed Cadenzas and Songs, which had its world premiere last night. The piece is written for amplified viola and church bells. It’s the coolest thing! I’ve definitely never heard anything like it. Here’s a short video clip I took.

Have you ever heard anything like that? Thanks, Rotterdam, for being so cool! I wish we could have seen the musicians while playing, but for obvious reasons that’s impossible with this instrumentation. But I kept looking up, half-hoping to see the amazing Karin Dolman perched near the top of the church tower, rocking out on her viola (it would have looked like a cross between the Batman light signal and the cover of Gil Shaham’s Devil’s Dance album).

But, alas, it was not to be. :-)

In addition to concerts, I’ve attended lectures, presentations, and a number of master classes so far this week. I was really impressed by Timothy Ridout, who at only 24, has already taken the viola world by storm. He taught a master class yesterday that was really special, especially because of his amazing demonstrations. The range of colors he’s able to achieve is stunning. Every stroke of his bow is special. It’s really something. If you haven’t heard him perform, please do. It is SO worth it.

I had my own master class this morning. The room was packed, which was really great, and I helped the three students who played for me sound better, and got a lot of positive feedback afterwards from friends and colleagues, and even strangers. That was really wonderful.

I was also incredibly happy to collaborate on a 1919 project with wonderful colleagues. We presented on Tuesday, but I’ll write more about that soon. I’m off to explore “Sound Images from Africa,” because I don’t know any viola repertoire from Africa, so of course I want to learn more. That’s really the best part about Viola Festivals and Congresses— all of the exposure to music I didn’t know existed. Whomever says there isn’t a lot of viola repertoire out there is misguided. There is SO much music! And I’m going to go hear some more of it now. :-)

I will write again soon, but in the meantime, here are some images from around Rotterdam and the IVC.

Happy practicing!