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Ruth Kuefler

A tale of two instruments

May 16, 2009 at 1:31 AM

Whew. The semester is finally over. I'm officially a junior now, which is just weird. Except I have 3 more years technically, so what do you call me then? A Joshmore? A Sophnior? Eh, whatever. I'm in school. That should be enough.

I wish I could say that I ended the semester on a high note, but actually, I'm a little disappointed. The last thing I had was my violin jury, for which I played Wieniawski and Bach. It was so frustrating. I didn't feel overly nervous, but I just felt like it was a shoddy performance. My intonation was inconsistent, the technical passages weren't very accurate, and my bow distribution was kind of messy. I think what was most frustrating was noticing things that I could have fixed, that just had to do with planning and practicing. I can forgive myself for the nervous slips, but it wasn't just that. I feel like I haven't yet gotten back to where I was before my tendonitis. I must have lost something during that semester where I had to cut back on my playing and learn easier repertoire. I feel like when I'm nervous, the first thing to go is my intonation, and its frustrating. I don't know my fiddle like I used to. And the sad thing is I don't care for it as much either.

On the other hand, my viola jury this morning went great. I had no memory slips, which I had struggled with lately. My tone projected well, and I felt like everything was technically solid and musically expressive. I actually enjoyed this jury. I wonder if my less than stellar violin jury is an indirect result of playing viola. It's true that I'm spread more thin now that I split my practicing between the two instruments. Between my two juries today, I had 50 solid minutes of music prepared -— that's almost a recital. I guess its understandable if I'm not progressing quite as fast on violin as in the past. I feel like the more time goes by, the more comfortable I feel on viola than I violin. There's something about the depth of sound and solidness of the instrument that feels almost comforting. It's hard to describe. It's so strong and deep and beautiful. I love that feeling of drawing such a depth of sound from the instrument. Also, so far, I love the viola repertoire I've learned. I know there isn't nearly as much solo viola music as violin music, but there are some real gems, and a world of chamber and orchestral parts. I don't mean to sound defeated or to belittle technique, but I feel like a part of me is sick of the flashiness of violin. Maybe this is just a phase, a period of frustration. But still, there's something there. I feel more motivated to practice viola. I enjoy the sound itself better. I have long arms, which makes me feel less gangly on viola. I even feel more comfortable in the more accompanist role that the viola plays in most music. 

I don't quite know what to do. I've definitely considered finishing my violin degree and then pursuing viola for grad school. It's so hard to decide. On the one hand, I love viola, but on the other hand, I've played violin a while now, and am a decent fiddler. I certainly don't dislike it. Is it imprudent to throw that aside? Or do I even have to choose? I know it's difficult to keep up both, but its certainly possible. Maybe that's the solution. I guess I don't need to decide just yet. I'm looking forward to the summer, and having more time to practice. There is so much I want to learn. I just hope I can recharge my violin batteries, because no matter what happens, I have at least two more years of it ahead of me . . .

Posted on May 16, 2009 at 4:35 AM

You need not forsake either the violin or viola ...let Pinchas Zuckerman be just one example. There are others. I admire your hard work...


From Bonny Buckley
Posted on May 16, 2009 at 8:08 AM

I agree there is surely a place for both!  And the world certainly needs great violists; don't let all the bad jokes dissuade you.  I earned my violin performance degree but fell for the viola later when it just happened that I wanted to play a quartet in a concert with new friends and then they said, "do you play viola" to which I said (lying really) " you have a viola I could use?"   Now a student of mine who decided she wants to play cello bought a really resonant, gorgeous cello to learn on which makes me say to myself, why don't I go for it too in order to encourage her as well?  It is easier for me personally to choose a new stringed instrument to get fluent with than to choose which continent to live on.  My point is that following your intuition is sometimes the best way as long as there aren't any glaring red flags in the way.  Trust your feelings. 

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 16, 2009 at 8:30 AM


I second Bonney.Viola players are born not made. To me you actually sound like a viola player. But whatever you are will come out in the wash if you trust your instincts.

Cheers, Buri

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 16, 2009 at 1:49 PM

The instrument chooses its instrumentist and not the contrary! 


Good luck, it is really great that you can play two instruments!  Yes, the jokes about violisist are not appropriate because there is so many splendid violists! Perhaps, they come from jealous violinists! 

From Royce Faina
Posted on May 16, 2009 at 10:45 PM

"Two Songs"

"Torn between two lovers, Feeling like a fool..."  song from the '70's.

     If it were me.... I would hold on to what I have acquired with the violin playing for the fun of it, but my focus would be the viola.  Like a shaddow the violin can follow you and you can have fun.

     There may come a time though, when the going gets tougher and you feel that you are at the end of your rope.  That's when you need to keep your eyes on the prize, and realize that there is light at the end of the tunnel and keep pushing to complete the race.  For the times when you feel that you can not...another song;

"The Mission"

Hold your fire, keep it burning bright, hold the flame till the dream ignites, a spirit with a vission is a dream with a mission. ( Neil Peart...1987  from the album Hold Your Fire; by Rush)

You may want to down load this song.  It's helped me to keep my dreams a float and to keep persuing my musical endevors...... and I'm 44. 

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 16, 2009 at 11:23 PM

Ruth, I can really relate to this . . . my viola epiphany happened to me much later in life, and not in music school, but I feel like I could have almost written large parts of this blog too about a year ago. When I first thought about switching to viola, I auditioned for lessons at a music school (where I take lessons now), I played the violin, since I didn't have a viola, and the teacher said "you seem to know your way around the fiddle pretty well, are you sure you want to switch to viola when you're just starting back up playing again?" and I said, "yes, I do."  I had all those feelings you wrote about, about the depth of the sound, the comfort . . . for me it was also an increased confidence with playing solo repertoire at all on the viola. Unlike you, I never achieved a very high level of solo playing on the violin--and not that my viola playing is all that much better, necessarily, but I felt like I could see the way forward more clearly on the viola.  

And then, I was not prepared at all for what's been happening lately.  I haven't given up on viola, but I'm back to violin again.  I'm buying a violin that I'm really excited about taking out of its case and playing.  I've been making some peace with the Eing and high F's.  (in part, thanks to earplugs, Infeld Reds, and an electronic tuner).  Instead of the Clarke viola music I'd been listening to before, I've been listening to the Tamsin Little violin CD I won in the contest at night before I go to sleep.  

I'm not sure what, if anything, it means.  I think it just means I'm not going to give up on either instrument.  I quit the violin for long periods of time.  Twice.  But somehow the viola helped me find my way back.

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