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Emily Grossman

Sweet Tooth

August 18, 2012 at 5:31 PM

After lunch break, I came into the sanctuary to find Michael already seated in the first chair position. Wiping the pride off my shoes, I took my seat in second chair and tuned to match his strings. And then we went to work with the Mozart.

If I had ideas about Mozart, they floated out of the viola next to me; we were in happy agreement from the start. Immediately, I set about collaborating with him, aiming to match each entrance, nail each pitch, and taper each note exactly like his, so that we would sound like one instrument. How satisfying! This is what I crave--to be sitting next to a like-minded individual that inspires, elevates, and provides an ideal example to emulate. I couldn't think of the last time I experienced something like this. Not on this level.

As the rehearsal continued, I listened the unique sound that our violas brought to the ensemble. When playing the violin, it's easy to miss some of the wonderful finer details to the inner parts of good chamber music like Mozart. The violists aren't just plugging out a bunch of eighth notes, you know. In my imagination, they're "yum-yums"--lots of gooey, round, crisp yum-yums, like rows of perfectly baked cookies. (Some people might get bored after making a few, but I could go on all day, obsessing over just how good I could craft each one.) All those tasty eighth notes might make a violist fat, but we burn it off with all the extra work it takes to play them on such a large instrument--at least that's what I tell myself! Maybe violas are actually violins that overindulged on the good things in life, like cookies, chocolate, and bacon, and now are responsible for producing the fat, laid-back parts--the tasty Oreo filling of the orchestra repertoire, so to speak.

Whatever the case, we were definitely cooking up something good, and it hit a nerve with our conductor's sweet tooth: she had stars in her eyes! I was giddy. If I could just nail that tasty magical sound in every single phrase, we'd have our audience in heaven next week.

From Sue Porter
Posted on August 19, 2012 at 1:44 AM
Love that "wiping the pride off my shoes, . . ."! Sounds like you were rewarded for your (humble) efforts. Hope the concert is a real joy for you and your audience.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on August 19, 2012 at 3:49 AM
Ha, wasn't too hard. I felt like a goofball sitting first. It was more like, "oh, he took my seat--oh well."
From Barry Nelson
Posted on August 19, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Ive been thinking about trying Viola, after reading this, now Im sure. Great post !!
From Randy Walton
Posted on August 19, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Emily, if your playing equals your writing, then you are one fine player!
From Tom Holzman
Posted on August 19, 2012 at 3:07 PM
Great blog! It sounds as if you have found a really helpful violist who can mentor you on the finer points and make you as terrific a violist as you are on your other instruments. Your point about what the violinists can and cannot hear is right on the mark. During rehearsals, for the most part I cannot hear what the violas are playing, so it is difficult to ascertain what they are contributing. In part it is our accoustically lousy rehearsal space. But, I am not sure that is the whole story.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on August 19, 2012 at 4:49 PM
Thanks, Randy! Having an edit button helps. Don't we wish we had one for performances? :)
From Man Wong
Posted on August 20, 2012 at 8:36 AM

I'd been enjoying my own bit of dabbling w/ the viola as an adult beginner (though I really need to get back to it), and my son has also grown to love the viola while still playing the violin. He just turned 13 and will likely continue w/ both going forward until/unless he reaches a point where he might need to focus more on one than the other.

RE: being hard to hear from the violin section in orchestra, I suspect it has mostly to do w/ a combo of these issues (on top of the acoustics of the rehearsal space) though I'm sure most of these have probably occurred to others already:

1. The viola is generally considered too small for optimal power/projection for its range relative to other instruments. Nobody's playing a 20"-plus viola afterall. PLUS unless your orchestra is actually blessed w/ an unusually full/large viola section, it's likely out-numbered and/or out-powered by the other sections.

2. The viola is generally warm and mellow and tends to blend away between the violins and cellos among other sections anyway. And most of the music seems to be written w/ that in mind and toward that end.

3. You've got your own violin right under your ear (along w/ others surrounding you) and likely also separating between you and the viola section. And given how brilliant and attention-drawing the violin (and possibly other nearby sections) tends to be, kinda hard to notice the violas while you're busy playing, especially since they'd likely be working extra hard to be heard by the audience instead of other sections anyhow.

But yeah, I'm sure most of these issues have occurred to others now and then...

Anyhoo, thanks for another fine blog entry, Emily. It's been a while since I've visited your blog.


From Mikey Ziegltrum
Posted on August 20, 2012 at 9:35 AM
Your third paragraph was undoubtably the most beautiful thing I have read in a long time!!!!! "All those tasty eighth notes might make a violist fat..." Bwah ha ha!!! Thank you very much for all the beautiful imagery and smiles :D :D :D
From Emily Grossman
Posted on August 20, 2012 at 3:40 PM
Thanks for checking in, Man! My apologies for my absence over the summer.

Mikey, you must be a fan of bacon. I don't know, just a guess.

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