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Karen Allendoerfer

All viola all the time

February 26, 2009 at 2:34 PM

I signed up for a new challenge:  a viola recital at the Longy Music School where I take lessons.  It is a chance to play with a professional-quality pianist in a real venue with good acoustics.  

I am just going to play one piece, the Clarke Passacaglia on an Old English Tune for viola, about 5 minutes long.  I've already auditioned using this piece, and played it for an offertory in church, with one of the new co-music directors.  So I am hoping that the recital situation won't be too terrifying.  

So, at my lesson this week, I got re-acquainted with my viola.  He was peeved that I had not played him since Christmas break.  The D and G strings had slipped.  I was consistently flat playing on the C string.  And there was some weird uneven vibrating with the bow when I tried to draw it smoothly across the C string and make a sustained sound.  Still, after 15-20 minutes of scales and a new Fiorillo etude, I played the Clarke through and it wasn't too bad.  The 7th position sections are still out of tune (sharp), but I learned all that pre-tuner.  Maybe the tuner can help.  I know what I have to do.

The bigger issue is that switching back and forth between two instruments would drive me nuts, and I don't have time to practice two instruments on a regular basis anyway.  So now it's the violin's turn to sit in the case for a couple of months.  

I approached our orchestra conductor with my dilemma and asked to play viola for the next concert.  He was understanding about it, and last year's concertmaster has come back after sitting out a couple of concerts.  The first violins are just fine.

I, however, am back in the back of the viola section trying to sight-read alto clef.  Hoooo boy.

One of the pieces we are playing is a world premiere choral work, written by David Sears, who plays keyboard in the orchestra when we need a keyboard.  No recordings of this piece exist, professional or otherwise.  Fortunately, his music manuscript writing is quite legible, and there isn't much that goes over third position.  We are also playing the Mendelssohn violin concerto with a guest soloist.  I know that piece to listen to, almost by heart.  I even messed around with the solo part in high school.   It just lies nicely under the fingers, even when sight-reading alto clef.  

And then there is the Dvorak.  Carnival Overture. On first read-through, the first violins weren't have a much better time of it than I was.   What is it about Dvorak?  Last concert it was the Slavonic Dance #1 that gave me fits.  This concert Dvorak again owns the ledger line vertigo prize for "most screechy".  I think it'll all be be fine once I get a chance to practice.  In the several concerts I've played now with this orchestra, I've always been impressed with how it rises to the occasion.  The first rehearsal is often shaky (to be polite).  I fully contribute to that shakiness--while I've improved a lot since I started taking lessons again, one skill that still hasn't fully come back for me is sight-reading.  But over time, in and around families, work, and snow storms, we get the job done.


From Mendy Smith
Posted on February 27, 2009 at 5:32 AM

"And there was some weird uneven vibrating with the bow when I tried to draw it smoothly across the C string and make a sustained sound.  "

Yes, the C string is difficult.  Especially the higher you get on it.  Try playing in 7th position on the C string and see what the bow does - OUCH!!!!  Ever half step requires either a bit more speed, pressure or moving closer the bridge, even more so than on the other strings.  Be sure to condition yourself when switching back to viola.  It can cause a strain on your body. 

"I, however, am back in the back of the viola section trying to sight-read alto clef.  Hoooo boy."  What??? Alto clef is easy...  Treble clef on the other hand....

"What is it about Dvorak?" - Dvorak is a violists best friend.  If I recall correctly, he actually played viola from time to time.  His works give the lower voices something more interesting to do other than keep the rhythm or harmony.


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on February 27, 2009 at 11:42 AM

This was just a simple C-minor scale on the Cing in first position that brought out the weird vibrating.  (The 7th position stuff in the Clarke  is on the Aing).  It seemed to get better after I played up and down the scale a couple times.  My viola bow is carbon fiber (Coda aspire), whereas my violin bow is some kind of wood (maybe even pernambuco, but I got it so long ago I can't remember).  The difference is quite striking.  I hadn't noticed it to this extent before.  

When I first got it, I used to feel like my viola was so much richer and more beautiful-sounding, and more forgiving, than my violin.  And based on how much they both cost, my viola is a better instrument.   But now that I've been playing the violin more and using the tuner to improve my intonation and comfort in the nosebleed sections on that instrument, my respect for my old violin has increased.  It really sounds better when I play it in tune ;-)

Now my viola seems a little more alien, a little less friendly :-(  

My biggest problem with the Dvorak was that it went by too fast!  The conductor, who was a guest conductor, read through the piece at concert tempo, and left most of us in the dust (the strings anyway).  I'm glad to know there were some interesting parts in there.  I downloaded the piece from iTunes to listen to, and I think, once I learn it, it will be great fun to play.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 1, 2009 at 4:08 PM

The bigger issue is that switching back and forth between two instruments would drive me nuts, and I don't have time to practice two instruments on a regular basis anyway.

I would think this would be the problem. But still, sniff, sniff, your poor lonely violin now (it is the smaller sibling, after all, and I feel compelled to favor it).


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 1, 2009 at 7:11 PM

Well, my violin, she is actually not that lonely.  I still take her out to play with my daughter.  That's only ~20 minutes a day, or not at all when my daughter practices on her own, which I'm trying to get her to do more of.  She's 9 after all, and I know I was practicing on my own by that age (I had to be, because my parents weren't musicians).  Kids these days . . . ;-)

And I just ordered the Wohlfahrt beginner duets to play with my daughter based on Buri's recommendation in his blog.  I had noticed before that it helped her to play duets with me, both with intonation and rhythm, but I just didn't have that many duets.  I wrote a couple of B parts to go along with some simple fiddle tunes that she learned, but I needed something more directed.  I should be able to just pick those up and play them when I need to.

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