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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Do you play the viola?

July 29, 2011 at 4:38 PM

This week we've enjoyed some stories from the viola world, with our interview with Primrose International Viola Competition winner Ayane Kozasa and also with Pauline Lerner's update on her own adventures with the viola.

At we are making it easier for people to talk specifically about issues related to the viola by starting a Discussion category called "Viola," so that any future discussion topics about viola can be categorized and easily found. (Go at it, violists!)

This brings me to our weekend vote: Do you play the viola? To be very honest, I don't, though my husband was a violist in high school. One of my students also just recently won a position in a youth orchestra on viola, so I just may be learning a lot more about the instrument this year as I help her!

The viola holds an allure with its dark, low sound, and also the way the music works in an ensemble, enhancing all other parts of the music. There are also a number of tasty viola solos, for the viola alone (the Walton, Stamitz) and also in orchestral repertoire (the one that come to mind is in Shostakovich Symphony 5, but there are many more). I like going to member Scott Slapin's website just to hear his lovely compositions.

Do you play the viola? Do you wish you played the viola? What are your favorite pieces for viola? Do you actually specialize in the viola?

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on July 29, 2011 at 7:48 PM

I have found all the viola postings intriguing and thought seriously about trying the viola.  But after studying all the evidence before and against the idea that playing viola also helps violin playing, I came to the conclusion that at this point in my violin study, taking time for the viola would be detrimental to violin progress.  That said, it seems that most people who are dedicated to something eventually branch out a bit, so maybe some day there will  be a viola in my life.  I'm keeping an open mind.

From marjory lange
Posted on July 29, 2011 at 8:38 PM

 I think it's a great idea to have a special thread for 'viola,'  especially since this is to recognize how many of us 'double-dippers' are out there; I started on violin, then did 35-40 years nearly exclusively viola, now have returned to about a 50-50 allotment.  And I am a very happy camper with that balance.

From Sue Porter
Posted on July 30, 2011 at 2:37 AM

I can't be completely happy w/ only one or the other--I love the delicate high sounds of The Lark Ascending, not that I play it myself, and the full low sounds the viola has, too.  So, I'm trying to learn both.  After trying something on the larger viola, the violin seems easy by comparison as far as reach goes.

From Barry Nelson
Posted on July 30, 2011 at 2:59 AM

The Viola section is a great addition


From Gene Wie
Posted on July 30, 2011 at 8:51 AM

Many top violinists have played viola at some point, either as part of their training or spending time on the instrument to play chamber music. I can think of Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree, Pinchas Zukerman, Janine Jansen, Maxim Vengerov...I know there are others, just don't remember right this moment.

I do notice that among my private students, there is a small percentage that have no issue going back and forth between violin and viola, and produce the appropriate characteristic tone quality for each, while they majority are comfortable on one and passable on the other.

Taking up the viola was one of the best things I could have done for my musical training, and it certainly improved my skills on violin and especially in chamber music!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 30, 2011 at 2:08 PM

I started the viola as an adult and I think it helped me rekindle a love of the violin, and it helped me become more comfortable with solo playing.  I took a break from violin when my kids were born and were babies and toddlers, and when I started again, I started up again on the viola first.  It was kind of like a fresh start, I didn't have any baggage and I had realistic expectations and goals.  I was pleased with my small steps and my progress and I enjoyed listening to myself practice.  I busked at a Farmers' Market on the viola for the first time and it was great fun.

Then, after about a year with the viola, I went back to violin because I thought orchestral violin parts were more interesting than orchestral viola parts, and I found that some of the newfound confidence I had on the viola transferred to the violin too.  I do have some trouble switching back and forth between the two instruments so I have not played the viola much for about a year now, and I miss it.  Someday when I have more time I'm sure I'll get out the viola again, I just have too many violin projects right at the moment.

From bill platt
Posted on July 30, 2011 at 3:16 PM

I wish I never sold my viola.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on July 30, 2011 at 4:59 PM

 I'm glad to see a "viola" topic!  Viola is my primary instrument and I've been playing it since I was very young.  Only recently have I started to dabble with the violin, but I always go back to the sound I love most.

I haven't found a piece of viola music I don't like yet.  However, I love Bloch's Suite Hebraique, Bruch's Romanze, the Bach Cello Suites, and Rebecca Clarke's Sonatas.  Viola Zombies by Daughtery is a fun challenge for two violas.  Other multiple viola ensembles I like are Frank Bridge's Lament, Brandy #6, and Michael Kimber's Reflection for 3 violas.  

Now back to converting the violinist of the world to the dark side ;)

From Jim Hastings
Posted on July 30, 2011 at 7:51 PM

I don't play viola, although I'm hooked on the sound and can get a definite viola tone on D-G with the right string combo on two vintage fiddles.  When I'm using these instruments, I often spend time on sul G passages and improv's.

I won't say I wish I played viola.  I'd have to read alto clef faster and more fluently than I do, and I'd have to learn how to stretch my size M hand even farther than the 1st position violin sul G stretches call for.

Some notable viola orchestral parts that come to mind right away are in Tchaikovsky 6 and the Sibelius VC.

From Kay Pech
Posted on July 30, 2011 at 8:55 PM

Long ago I found that my violin students who had become acquainted with III position and could vibrate were able to spend 5 minutes in each lesson learning to read alto clef and borrowing whatever size was needed (I had 13", 14" and 15" lying nearby for them to try). As they improvised and also learned to read the clef, some found they really preferred viola and dropped the violin completely, others stayed with BOTH instruments and we began alternating lessons (violin one week, viola the next). The smaller (petite?) players stayed with violin and I didn't push viola for them. It is great to have a whole studio of violin players who can play viola as well.

From Aaron Krosnick
Posted on July 31, 2011 at 1:13 AM

 I am retired from university teaching after some 40 years but continue playing and teaching both violin and viola.  In the last few years I have developed an age-related "essential tremor" which makes bowing on the violin rather unreliable.  However, the extended position and heavier bow of the viola makes this larger instrument more comfortable.  I am now learning more viola repertoire and enjoying the comfort of this larger instrument, which I have always played, but just not this much.  It was wonderful recently  to play the Brahms f minor Sonata and to once again enjoy playing a duo performance  with my wife,  a Juilliard student of Rosina Lhevinne and my beloved sonata partner for almost 50 years.

From Peter Kent
Posted on July 31, 2011 at 3:04 PM

Years ago in Wellsville NY, there was a gentleman named Adelbert Purga that was an outstanding player and teacher....His string section was impeccable...During one of his demonstration concerts for our county music teachers' association, after dazzling us with numerous examples of musicianship, he stopped to mention that the entire viola section was made up of seniors....and to show that his 1st violin section of juniors weren't really that weak, he gave a swift thrust of his baton and the whole section played the last movt. of the Mendelsshohn concerto....I became great friends with him and did lots of judging and listening/learning from him....However, this is perhaps a worthy plan, if your string section is of similar strength.  Del, as his friends called him, taught most of them privately himself....and during a question/answer period, when asked how to develop a string section like his, the response (back in 1963 !) was," When driving your students home after school, make sure the last one you drop off is a boy". 

From Bonnie Savage
Posted on August 1, 2011 at 1:30 AM

I have been teaching viola for the past ten years and really enjoy playing the instrumentent, but play violin most of the time. 

From Bonnie Savage
Posted on August 1, 2011 at 1:30 AM

I have been teaching viola for the past ten years and really enjoy playing the instrumentent, but play violin most of the time. 

From Leslie Stolzenberger
Posted on August 2, 2011 at 1:46 AM

I am so thrilled that you have included the viola in your discussions category. I find it

frustratingly difficult to find any sources on the internet. I hunger for any and all

references to the viola. I a 61 years of age and started self learning the violin 3 years

past. Three months ago I switched to the viola basically because of the sound.( also my

ears could not take the high frequency of the violin e string anymore ). I am so glad that

I made the switch as I find that I am progressing much faster on the viola than I ever did

on the violin. My knew found love has increased my enthusiasm and inspired me to

work harder and longer. So all you violists ( and violinists ) out there...don't let this forum

die out like on other web sites..send in your questions and ideas and helpful

suggestions.......Viola rules!

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