Play with a Beautiful Sound by Daniel Wang

“Play with a beautiful sound.”

This is advice that wise, older violists often share with younger violists. People say this to me from time to time, and my first reaction is to think to myself technically: “Okay, I should probably use more vibrato here, make sure the ends of my phrases sound good, have more resonance to my sound . . . etc.”

But if you take a step back, what the heck does it really mean to “play with a beautiful sound”? The word “beautiful” is ambiguous, because people have different ideas of what “beautiful” is. What makes music beautiful?

My perception of “making a beautiful sound” changed during a master class at Schleswig Holstein Music Festival back in 2012. A very talented violist played parts of the Bartók Viola Concerto for a coach who specialized in mental practicing. After she played, she was asked what she was thinking about when playing the very first phrase, and like a good student, she answered, “I was thinking about making a beautiful sound.” Then the coach asked her to be more specific. The girl gave a great answer and talked about the technical things that she did, like vibrato and bow placement . . . but then to everyone’s surprise, the coach still wasn’t satisfied with the answer. She wanted the girl to somehow be even more specific! The girl paused for about thirty seconds and answered:

“My music is beautiful when I play from my heart.”

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