June 21, 2008 at 2:08 PMWe were having dinner at Grandma and Grandpa's this evening for Dad's birthday. Amid the clattering of cutlery on plates, complaints about the heat of chorizo and discussion of the latest Rudd blunder, I turned to Grandma and quietly told her I was learning a new instrument.
'Oh yes, and what are you learning?' she asked.
'The viola?' There were murmers of approval around the table. 'Well,' said Grandma, 'I've always liked the viola.'
Dad chimed in, 'I think it's a mellower sound than the violin. In fact, I prefer it more when Corey is playing viola. The violin is just...' and here he made a painful face. Huh, thanks Dad.
More comments on the richer, deeper tone followed and I'll concede that yes, I too happen to like the sound. Each practise session so far, I've been becoming familiar with Ging George, Ann, Dan and Egbert (and Corey of course, that's me on the Cing) and playing through some 20 simple pieces to learn the alto clef.
Of my favourites, I prefer 'Late for School', which uses my two favourite first finger notes, A and E, and sounds deliciously dark and murderous for something so simple. I can appreciate the force and power behind what the viola is saying when I play this piece.
Yet, when I break out the violin, and play 'Late for School' with the exact same notes, the result is less than impressive. Where is Egbert? Why does Ann sound like a bright but shallow ditz? My god, the violin's sound practically behaves , like it's dressed in a tight corset and steel brackets line its back to ensure it sits straight and isn't naughty. 'Late for School' is simply reduced to a nice-sounding tune on violin.
And this, I feel, is the difference between the sounds of violin and viola. While the violin brings forth a beautiful, clear tone reminiscent of any great soprano singer, the sound of the viola is of a wild child at an Australian Idol audition. The voice is raw, perhaps off in some places, but nonetheless deep, rich and above all, enthralling.
Despite the attraction to this more primordial sound, the violin is ever present.
'I've come to reassess my tone on viola, and I think if you play further away from the bridge, you can play it like violin,' Mike told me on Thursday.
'What's the point of playing viola if you play it like violin then?' I said.
'Well, I love the sound of viola, but I think I'm a violinist at heart.'
Exactly. I find as soon as I get back to my violin pieces, it's like meeting an old friend again. The love for the violin is there all the time, no matter how enjoyable the fling with viola is.
Like your experience with your dad, I was a little miffed at first, but I actually started playing the viola myself because I liked the sound under my ear. Even when I play the exact same piece on violin and viola (same piece, same player), I'll usually prefer it on the viola.
I'm lucky that I can play an instrument that I like the sound of and which other people in my house like too. It makes for happier practise sessions all round :D I just wish the same thing could be said for violin though!
What size viola do you play? I see that violin is like a toy compared to viola for both us ^^ I'd be interested to hear more of the differences you have experienced between the two instruments.
And to the fellow Queenslander, Jon: Neither ;p The Australian has dubbed him 'Captain Chaos', and my Dad and I have a bet on for whether this will be a one-term government. Where abouts are you in Queensland?
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