By the time a half-dozen people told me to go see Roberta Zalkind about my viola set-up, I hadn’t played the instrument in two years as the physical contortion it demanded of me was, painful. Roberta is Associate Principal Viola for the Utah Symphony. She took up viola late for a string instrument (age 16!), and in her studies and career developed an interest in helping students find stress-free means of holding their instruments.
Roberta & her trade tools
We started by checking my violin, which uses a fairly flat side-mount chin rest, and a Mach One shoulder rest. My violin teacher and I experimented with several set-ups during our first year together and settled on this particular one. It leaves me feeling that a violin is the most natural thing to hold under your chin. Roberta confirmed what I felt: The set-up is ergonomic for me – level shoulders and head; secure placement; maximum freedom; minimum stress.
Which is the viola and which is the violin?
My viola was a different story. It is small, fitting in a violin case, yet the added thickness of the instrument (1/4 inch) is enough to push my head up and back, stressing the vertebrae and setting up conditions for pinched nerves or other horrific physical conditions. While explaining to me what she was looking for, and listening to my feedback, Roberta experimented with various combinations of shoulder-rests, feet, and chin-rests. She found a set that molded to my clavicle and fit between my shoulder and jaw/chin, providing stability for the viola, and preventing deformation of posture.
We agreed that I could possibly use an even flatter and lower chin rest, but that I should try this for a week before we talked again. In the process of testing set-up options, Roberta noticed that I have a tendency to tense and clamp my shoulders. She took time to help me understand more precisely what is happening, and led me through some bowing exercises that can help alleviate this problem.
According to the word-about-town, Roberta has a special knack for figuring out optimal set-ups for individuals. Based on my survey of one, I have to agree, and can now get back to playing viola.
Salt Lake City is a backwater where you can’t stop for a drink, even a cup of coffee, when traveling east on I-80, or so some people think. However, if you are driving through on a wintery Sunday, and the road up to Park City is slickery, or even if it isn’t, you ought to consider one of the concerts of the NOVA Chamber Music Series as a break from the road.
Artistic Director, Jason Hardink, is a master at combining works by living composers with those of old masters in such a way as to enhance the qualities of each. This afternoon's program interleaved works by Andrew Norman and Johannes Brahms. Brahms’ were beautiful, but Norman’s really caught my attention.
An Index of Particular Strokes, played by the Fry Street Quartet, with movements titled Release, Rebound, Scrape, Up, Skim, Down and Skip, is exactly what it says it is: Minimizing melodic and harmonic content while maximizing sonic landscape, attention focuses to how the bow is drawn. For someone used to tedious monochromatic bow stroke exercises, it was ear-opening. It takes a playful mind to imagine so much music from the bow alone, and Norman demonstrates just that.
Congratulations to virtuosi Kathryn Eberle, Claude Halter, Yuki MacQueen, Alex Martin, David Porter, Hanah Stuart,
Julie Wunderle & Karen Wyatt! No violinists were harmed in the performance of this octet.
Gran Turismo, scored for “Eight Virtuoso Violinists” at ¼ = 132 to 152+, played in 1/16th notes, was the piece I didn’t want to miss. This is crazy fast (528 to 608 bow strokes per minute, or 9 to 10 per second!), like a car race, and that is what the musicians were doing: racing. In and out of synch with each other, jockeying for position, I fully expected a pit stop for broken strings. Maybe even a smashed vehicle? Hopefully not!
So what did the Norman and the Brahms do for each other as they alternated in the program? The juxtaposition of old and new highlights their contrasts and makes the unfamiliar approachable. The interlacing of familiar and unfamiliar provides respite from challenging music, allowing it to percolate internally, gathering meaning for the listener. Or some such verbose nonsense. All I know is that I love Jason Hardink’s programming. I hear new stuff and it is cool and I like it. What more could one ask for? Please, next time you pass through Salt Lake, do stop for an afternoon NOVA.Tweet
Previous entries: October 2015
Kate Little is from Salt Lake City, Utah. Biography
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