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Karen Allendoerfer

Giving up the viola (for a while)

March 25, 2010 at 1:14 PM

I didn't want to write this, and I didn't want to do this.  But I think that, for now, it's best.  

I am committed to a viola recital on April 11.  After that is over, I'm going to put the viola away for an indefinite period and focus on the violin only.

When I started playing again 3 years ago, I was really excited about the viola.  My daughter was picking up the violin, and I wanted to give her some space.  I also had some baggage from childhood about the violin, some bad memories and some bad choices that I wanted to leave behind.  The viola was a chance for a fresh start.

I found a voice on the viola that I didn't know I had.  I discovered that I enjoyed playing solo, and busking.  I transcribed a cello piece, and I found a little-known concerto that I'd once played for in the accompanying orchestra, back when I lived in Germany.  And I bought a viola, who I would come home to and play Bach on in the evenings while my husband listened and said, approvingly, "less screechy."

So why on earth would I give it up?  Well, I guess because the viola brought me back to my first instrument, the violin.  I bought a new violin last year, and since then the viola has lost some of its freshness and charm.  It's feeling big and unwieldy and sounds a bit nasal.  And I have to admit, 1st violin orchestral parts are just more fun.  I also am part of a chamber music community that has enough violists but needs violins!

And then there are all the inconveniences of switching back and forth.  I don't have time to practice two instruments, and I don't have time to keep getting used to one and then the other.  I also am more prone to back, neck, and elbow pain with the viola.  I only take lessons every other week, and I feel like I'm not making enough progress on either instrument.  

I've been in the process of paring down in other areas of my life:  I quit my church RE committee, I've decided that walk-to-school activities are on hold while the kids are in temporary units.  

It seems like this paring down process has to happen every so often, because if you aren't careful, everything expands to fill the time available.  Will it ever get any easier?

Posted on March 25, 2010 at 1:38 PM

I found a voice on the viola that I didn't know I had

if you aren't careful, everything expands to fill the time available

hiatus perhaps, but never say GIVING shall return


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 25, 2010 at 2:32 PM

 Yes, hiatus.  My husband asked if I wanted to sell the viola, and I was horrified.  No!  Absolutely not.  But it will probably spend a while at the back of a closet :(

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 25, 2010 at 5:09 PM

 I just talked it over with my teacher, and she agrees with my reasoning . . . that I have more opportunities right now to make progress on the violin that I'm not able to take advantage of.

 And it's hard for me to be doing two instruments less well than I would be doing one.  She wants me to keep playing and doesn't want me to burn out.

Posted on March 25, 2010 at 5:34 PM

Karen, just remember that a mothball or two in the viola case while it is taking its closet snooze will prevent bow baldness



animated gif

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 25, 2010 at 10:10 PM

will that work in my hat?

Posted on March 25, 2010 at 10:12 PM

Buri wrote "will that work in my hat"?

Doubtful, bats in the belfry are altogether different from bow bugs in the viola case

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on March 25, 2010 at 11:17 PM

Well, Karen, I am on the other end of the scale--I have to put away the violin for  one reason only, and that is my teacher quit coming to my area to teach due to familiy matter, so I ended up going to viola lessons every week. Though, I must say that I am enjoying the viola right now, I miss my violin so much. But for the meantime, I have to finish the semester for viola and find a new teacher for violin or go back to the previous one, and drive an hour away this summer, that is if she's giving violin lessons this summer, while I'm thinking about the viola for the fall term. As liittle background I have for violin, I progressed on viola quite fast because of that, and as stranged as it sound I miss the challenges that I used to have and having on the violin, don't get me wrong, the challenges on the viola are quite hard too, but I guess if violin is your first love, you keep coming back to it.

Well, goodluck on all your endeavours!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 26, 2010 at 12:51 AM

I don't see it as drammatic as Sam ; )   I'm a pretty exclusive person in terms of instrument. Having too at the same time would make me feel as if I'm half good on the too lol  (this is why I gave up the flute for the violin and I never regreted it since violin sticks better to my personnality)   I hate to split my energy between many things.  I even would have an hard time to have many violins!  (except a VSO if I would do outdoor gigs ; )  In fact, I more agree with the "be a specialist rather than a generalist" idea.

But other people are absoluntly trilled to do many things at the same time and some even have big talent in many things at the same time!   This is find too!

Do what you feel is right!

Good luck with your decision!


From Mendy Smith
Posted on March 26, 2010 at 1:47 AM


I hope that your stint on viola helped you in your violin playing techniques :)  I know what you are talking about though.  I played both cello and viola for a year awhile back, and ended up dropping cello for my love of viola.  I then got a violin, started to learn piano a bit, but still put more time and energy in my viola playing than any of the other instruments I have.

I will say though that learning to play these other instruments to some degree or another has helped me in my music-making, and makes me appreciate my chosen instrument all the more.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on March 26, 2010 at 5:24 AM

Karen, Thanks for writing that.  After your blogs about buying the viola and a lot of other peoples' postings about the viola, I was interested in trying it, to see if its voice "clicked" with me.  But in the end I decided that I didn't have time to do both the viola and violin justice.  Sometimes people don't have time to do everything they want, and then they boil down their life to the essentials.  When you have young childen, sometimes you even have to fight for the time you need to do the things that are important to YOU.  I was always amazed by how many things you were doing in such depth.  I'm glad you could figure out what is important to you, and that you have figured out how to "let go" of the things that aren't as important to you with such grace.   And we'll all look forward to your future blogs, whatever they're about!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 26, 2010 at 9:25 AM

Karen, I think your reasoning for what you're doing is very sound.  Don't feel guilty about putting the viola away in the closet.  It will always be there for you if you want to play it again.  I respect people who can play more than one instrument, but I've never felt the need to learn another instrument, aside from some dabbling now and then.  The violin has so many capabilities that playing it is almost like playing several different instruments.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 26, 2010 at 1:44 PM

Karen - What Pauline said.  Don't say goodbye to the viola, just auf wiedersehn.   You are lucky to be good at both instruments, and you can adjust the relative concentration on them as circumstances warrant.  However, we violinists are delighted to welcome you back as a full-time member of our coterie. 

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 26, 2010 at 7:09 PM

 Playing the viola definitely helped.  It helped me be more flexible in terms of music reading. It reminded me of learning German, which is not my mother tongue.   Having to learn another clef made me less scared of ledger lines.  

It also affected the way I hear intonation.  For a while I could hear out of tune notes better in the viola register.  That may still be true--but I think it was the new violin, inspired by the viola, that really made a difference.  When I first got my viola I was amazed practically every day I played it by how much richer and fuller it sounded than the violin.  I could play the same music on the two instruments--same piece, same player--and it was *so* different.  Then I bought a new violin last year, for which my first impression of its sound was "like my viola, only smaller."  

Owning that violin was a similar experience to the viola:  it sounded so much better than the previous one.  It was, again, richer and more satisfying.  The contrast with the viola wasn't so heartbreaking anymore.  I even enjoyed hearing myself play it, and I enjoyed how it felt to play it. I started being able to hear intonation on the Eing better than I had.  It's not that my intonation in that range (or any range) is perfect now--far from it.  It's just that I'm better able to know what's wrong with it. 

I wouldn't have  thought that a new violin would have made that much of a difference, but it really did.  I am really impressed by how much better of a violin you can get these days for a reasonable price, than was the case 30 years ago.  And I don't think I would have necessarily gone in that direction if I hadn't first bought the new viola and gotten to know it.

From Paul Grant
Posted on March 28, 2010 at 10:40 AM

Music will always be with you regardless if you're playing violin or viola. Believe it or not I could relate to your exact feelings. I was a viola major at San Diego State University, I played viola in symphony for years, I studied a lot of the major repertoire like Walton, Stamitz, and Telemann...however as much as I loved the instrument it I felt something was missing. So I started violin about 6 years ago and with time I have begun tackling alot of the pieces by Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, and Sarasate. It seems there is so much more to explore and learn on the violin...with viola much of it is modern which isn't my taste in music. Violin also just seems to feel more natural and as you've said can have more exciting parts. I seem to enjoy violin more in symphony, solo, however viola will always hold a special place in my hard for chamber music. I've been playing violin so much the past year or two that people are beginning to call me a violinist now which makes sense but still feels weird after so many years of identifying as a violist. Never thought I'd see the day where I would identify as both. Your viola will always be there waiting for you to pick it up. As long as you're musically fulfilled then that is what I find important.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 28, 2010 at 12:54 PM

 Paul, that's interesting what you say about a lot of viola music being modern.  I hadn't realized that yet, although e.g. the Walton concerto is beyond me (so I never tried it), and I was finding Clarke to be an acquired taste.  

What I really love(d) about the viola is its solo voice.  I never have enjoyed solo playing on the violin, I just wanted to play in an orchestra or chamber group.  But when I started playing the viola, pieces like the Bach suites made me love just playing by myself.  It was a joy just to practice, and to listen to myself practice.  I don't know why I didn't feel that way about the Bach S&P for violin--and honestly, I still don't.  

I'm still doing this viola recital in April--my last big thing on the viola--because I felt so much more comfortable and at home playing the A. Stamitz 1st movement than I did playing any of the violin solo pieces I had been working on.  That is probably going to be my biggest challenge moving forward as a violinist--finding the same enjoyment and comfort in solo playing on the violin that I did on viola.

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