August 18, 2012 at 5:31 PMAfter 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.
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.
Mikey, you must be a fan of bacon. I don't know, just a guess.
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