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Violinist.com Interviews: Vol. 1

Our exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today's best-known violinists, including Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maxim Vengerov, and others.


Mendy Smith

Musical Roots

November 29, 2012 at 5:45 AM

It was the early 1980's. I was in my tween years and had been studying viola for a scant few years. My parents signed me up for private lessons at the Cadek Conservatory at UTC. I remember being taught how to tune my viola, change strings, playing Wolfhart etudes and strange modern music written by some guy named Alfred Uhl.

I remember playing second chair in the community orchestra at UTC - Flight of the Bumble Bee. My stand partner, several decades my senior, taught me how to play harmonics as a fun "trick", and challenged me with who could play the fastest trills.

I remember playing some strange piece for someone's senior composition recital at the university, and then somehow ending up at the Suwanee Summer Music Festival later that same summer. I remember that I learned to play Eine Kleine at that festival and performing it on one of the staff's 16" viola. I was twelve. The viola was huge. I still have that picture in my viola case.

I barely remember quitting viola in the mid to late '80's when I was a "proper" teen. However, I do remember quite vividly that itch for the C string that re-developed two decades later.

I've been able to keep in touch with every viola teacher I had since I started back up again nearly a decade ago, but getting in touch with my very first private viola teacher was elusive.

Until a week ago.

I posted my one and only email on a violists group page seeing if anyone knew of her or her whereabouts. To my delight, an e-mail from her appeared in my inbox a week or so later. It was a pure joy to hear what's she's been up to since my last lesson with her over 30 years ago, and a struggle to let her know what's been going on with me without writing a novel (I'll leave that kind of writing to Karen or Terez!).

This past weekend, that old faded copy of Uhl was pulled out, dusted off, and played through for the first time in 30 years. What it was supposed to sound like was a faint memory, but somehow I was able drudge up those age old lessons and make it through the piece without having to stop too often.

After all this time, I now realize how I first developed a preference for modern music.

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