I guess it all goes back to a violin-playing friend of ours, under whose influence I got serious about studying classical violin three years ago. My wife, under the same influence, took up the cello, even though she had never played anything before. We've had a lot of fun playing as a trio, and have even played at a couple of weddings.
I knew that the next step (aside from getting involved in an orchestra) was to play string quartets. We have a couple of other violin-playing friends - but who would play the viola? I had a sneaking suspicion that the task would someday fall to me. But I didn't give it much thought - we continued having fun with our Corelli trio sonatas and concerti grossi, along with bits and pieces of Bach, Brahms, and whatever.
About a month ago our violinist friend found out about a local orchestra, and decided that joining would help his musical development. The rest of us left him to it, feeling it was better not to distract him in his new and somewhat intimidating environment.
After a recent rehearsal our friend told us that the orchestra desperately needs a good violist. We met him, along with his violin teacher, at the local Gliga shop, and tried a number of instruments, eventually choosing a viola which he bought - and immediately handed to me with instructions to learn how to play it!
The last couple of days have been surreal. I don't have much trouble getting a decent sound out of the viola, but now I need material. I tried playing the violin part of our familiar Corelli trio sonata (opus 4, no. 12), but it took a lot of shifting to play the part which on violin can be done entirely in first position. Besides, it didn't sound right - I was trying to make the viola sound like a violin, and there is a wrongness to that which made me feel guilty for trying. Transposing the part down an octave wasn't much better - and besides, it made my brain hurt.
Digging through my sheet music, I found an arrangement of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" for string quartet. And there it was - the dreaded alto clef. All I knew was that middle C was on the center line, and that my open D string was the space above. Fortunately, the piece is simple and familiar enough that I was able to stumble through it. But it feels like a foreign language.
One of the people listening to us play commented that the viola gave us a more balanced sound, filling in the gap between the violin on the top and the cello on the bottom. I must have been doing something right at least part of the time, although I don't yet feel confident enough to make the instrument really speak.
Tomorrow night we're going to a concert by our friend's orchestra. His descriptions of the rehearsals and the other players make me think that he'll do fine. Since he's already asked me how long I think it will take to learn to read alto clef, he's probably going to introduce me to them as their future violist... ack!
I've decided that the best thing to do is just (ahem) face the music. I'm looking for simple pieces written in alto clef to build my skill and confidence.
It's amazing, isn't it, how things will sometimes find you even if you're not looking for them. Although I suspected that both viola and orchestral playing might be somewhere in my future, it still comes as a shock to see how suddenly it's all happening.
I have a violin lesson tonight - I wonder what my teacher is going to say about it.Tweet
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