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Introducing Eliza Ching, staff pianist for James Dunham’s studio

Eliza-Ching--color

Where are you from?

San Leandro, CA.

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

No, I’m not a current student, but I did get my undergraduate degree from Rice in Piano Performance.

Why did you choose to play piano?

I actually started on the violin at age four, but I’ve been told I refused to play anything in tune after the first time through a piece. So for everyone’s sake my parents switched me to piano when I was six.

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

Robert Roux, BM, Rice University
Sara Davis Buechner, MM, Manhattan School of Music
Rita Sloan, DMA in Collaborative Piano, University of Maryland, College Park

Where have you previously worked?

During the summers I’ve been staff pianist at either the Heifetz International Music Institute or Aspen Music Festival. I also spent a year as staff pianist at the North Carolina School of the Arts and a semester at The University of Texas at Austin.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

My recent favorite has been Hindemith’s 1939 Sonata, since it’s just such an awesome piece! It also doesn’t get played that often, which I’m sure violists can understand adds to the appeal.

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

The best thing about the Shepherd School is the people here. I couldn’t want more from the supportive community, the great faculty and students and administration, and the general vibe. It doesn’t hurt that everyone sounds great too!

Who are your favorite violists and why?

I really enjoyed working with Thomas Riebl for several weeks over the past few summers. His insight into music and life in general is inspiring to be around.

Best awkward performance experience?

The best awkward situation has to be once when I played a recital at a local high school. For the concert they provided me with a page-turner, which I thought was wonderful. After I walked out with the performer and bowed and sat down, I noticed the page-turner didn’t have a chair. I asked her quietly if she needed to get one and she said, “No, it’s ok,” so I thought she was happy to stand. It was already a bit awkward, but I wasn’t going to insist in front of an audience. We started playing the sonata, and after the first page turn I realized the page-turner had no intention of standing! She took a seat right next to me on the piano bench! I played the entire piece that way, with her perched on the back corner of my piano bench. I kept bumping into her but thought the whole thing was hysterical.

If you didn’t play the piano, what instrument would you play?

If I could do it all again, I would play the cello. Sorry violists!


Maurice Vieux

Maurice Vieux

Where was he born?

In northern France, but he lived most of his life in Paris, France.

Where was he educated?

Conservatoire de Paris, France

Who was his primary teacher?

Théophile Laforge 

Where did he work as a professional musician?

First he was principal violist of the Opéra National de Paris (1907–1949), and then in 1918 he replaced Laforge as Professor of Viola at Conservatoire de Paris

Notable compositions?

20 Études for viola solo (1927); Éditions Alphonse Leduc

10 Études sur des traits d’orchestre (1928); Éditions Alphonse Leduc

Scherzo for viola and piano (1928); Éditions Alphonse Leduc

6 Études de concert for viola and piano (1928–1932); Éditions Alphonse Leduc; Éditions Max Eschig; Associated Music Publishers

10 Études sur les intervalles for viola solo (1931); Éditions Alphonse Leduc

Competition

In 1983 the Maurice Vieux International Viola Competition (Le Concours International d’Alto Maurice Vieux) was established by the French Viola Society (Les Amis de l’Alto). In its inaugural year the first-prize winner was violist Tabea Zimmerman.

(Website for the viola society: http://amisdelalto.over-blog.fr/)

(Wikipedia page for competition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Vieux_International_Viola_Competition)

Interesting facts

Max Bruch dedicated his Romanze for viola and orchestra, op. 85 (1911) to Vieux. However, the premiere performance of the work was given by German violist Willy Hess, who taught with Bruch at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, due to the anti-French sentiment in imperial Berlin at the time.

Links to recordings of his 20 Études for viola solo:

Étude No. 6

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LCFY09WbSk

Étude No. 17

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tii3jC_K2Q

Étude No. 18

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvVVfgt8hWc

– Recording of Maurice Vieux himself:

http://www.pristineclassical.com/find-music-by-artist/v/vieux-maurice.html

Info gathered from above mentioned websites and: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Vieux

http://www.zoominfo.com/p/Maurice-Vieux/294762986

A note from Prof. Ivo-Jan van der Werff

I only came across these études relatively recently and have since given them to my students. I think they add another dimension to the usual etudes of Kreutzer, Rode, Campagnoli, etc. They are very difficult but manageable as they were written by a violist for violists. We all use violin études, transcribed, and they can be very useful, but how many times do we find an impossible double stop or an extension that doesn’t work. Frustrating and sometimes demoralizing!

Vieux offers many challenges to enhance viola technique, but, to my mind, one of the most important elements is the way they are written. Classical études are great for playing Classical music, but they don’t offer much help when it comes to reading music from Mahler onward. Vieux writes in horrendous keys: full of double sharps and flats; passages where we have to learn how to think enharmonically. When faced with a passage from Mahler, Strauss, Bartók, or Stravinsky, we have to be able to read complex harmonic passages. Studying Vieux helps enormously toward this end. The études require a dexterity of both hands that will help equip any aspiring violist with the technique to manage the often more complex writing of the last one hundred-plus years.

Comments about the Vieux études from Rice students:

For me, the biggest benefit of learning these études is how much easier they make learning other works, specifically new pieces. Before working on these études, I could easily get tripped up just coming across a B-sharp in a new piece of music. However, because the études are written enharmonically and ultimately performed at such a fast pace, the exercises really train your brain to quickly recognize and accurately execute those kinds of strange looking intervals. Whether you’re learning a modern composition or trying to sight read, that kind of security will always come in handy.

– Carey Skinner

I have worked through most of the intervals études book, and the études can be very daunting to learn, as they are very chromatic. The études have helped me with the process of learning difficult passages in solo and orchestral repertoire, because it’s impossible to learn the études without starting very slowly and working methodically through small sections at a time.

– Meredith Kufchak


My Previous Life as a Dual Degree Student by Jarita Ng

College was a blast. I started off college at the University of Michigan majoring in music performance. I declared my second degree in biology in my junior year. For the remainder of undergraduate I took 20–22 credits worth of classes each semester in order to graduate in five years. Pursuing a dual degree was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

There is so much in so many disciplines that is worth knowing! Luckily University of Michigan is a great school, and there are a huge variety of classes to choose from. For my biology degree I took evolution, ecology, microbiology, genetics, animal physiology, biology of mammals, biochemistry, organic and inorganic chemistry, and physics as well as all their lab classes where we did experiments. My favorite experiment was when we brewed beer in microbiology lab and “tested” the product in class (I “tested” the beer for my groupmates, because they were underage). It was done as a daily life example of the usage of microbes, i.e., yeast in beer for fermentation. My classes were all really informative and fun. I see biology as an explanation to the mechanism of life and studying biology as taking a step toward understanding living things. As much as I loved the classes and the labs, I still wanted to do well as a music student. That is where the fun comes in.

My schedule was a little busy, as you can imagine. I had an average of five and a half hours of sleep throughout the semesters. Classes, orchestras, and labs took the time period of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or sometimes to 7:00 p.m. Then I would have rehearsals—quartet, for my friends’ recitals, or regional orchestras. Homework and studying were a constant. There would be days that I didn’t get to practice. I would consider myself to be lucky if I could get a total of an hour or two of practicing in a day. This leads to . . .

How to do things efficiently to get through dual degree (or in other desperate situations where you constantly run out of time):

1. Prioritize

a. At the beginning of the day, I numbered the tasks that needed to be done that day, with the most important things first, to those that could possibly be done another day. It worked really well for me and was actually fun, as I loved crossing things off the list!

b. In the practice room: I worked on the pieces that needed to be worked on the most. And I practiced only the sections that absolutely needed to be physically practiced first. Nothing tired me out more (and wasted more time) than mindlessly running through sections that I could already play. Note: of course, when time allowed I worked on the whole piece. I used this method for the chunks of thirty minutes of practicing that I could squeeze in between classes/rehearsals to make sure that every minute of my practicing counted.

2. Stay focused

Be in the moment! I only focused on the one thing that I was working on, at that time. It is not a smart use of time and energy to think about what there is to do next. The priority list of the day helped me stay focused—it helped ensure that I didn’t need to worry about having forgotten to do anything.

3. Overlap tasks

This may sound ridiculous: My showers are seven and a half minutes long. I put a kettle of water for tea on the stove, turn on the burner, and hop into the shower. By the time I get out of the shower, the water starts to boil.

Okay, that might be an extreme example. But overlapping can be done in a lot of ways to help save time (I developed this so that I could have more time to practice and/or sleep): studying or mental-practicing while riding on the bus, doing homework in class while waiting for others to finish with in-class examples or quizzes, doing homework during practice or orchestra breaks, studying while food cooks on the stove . . . you name it. When I was taking auditions for graduate schools and was flying frequently I did practice exams for biology and chemistry midterms while waiting to board and when I was on the plane. Kill two birds with one stone.

4. Have fun

Things become a chore only if you make them one! With a packed schedule and a little too many things on the plate, anybody can easily become overwhelmed. As scientific as my undergraduate was, I can provide no citation for this statement: I believe that being frustrated takes up energy. Whenever we get upset about being busy, not being able to play something, or feel exhausted and not spirited, just remember to take a step back and realize that we are doing what we love! (And for me, that included doing homework. I love doing homework. Especially organic chemistry, they are just like puzzles.) Life would be boring without some challenges!! (and microbiology and organic chemistry).

I would live the exact same college life again if I could! It was busy because I decided that I wanted to learn. It was a blast!


Introducing Sergein Yap

Sergein YapWhere are you from?

Born and raised in Miami, Florida.

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

Current Rice MM student.

Why did you choose to play viola?

I came to the decision of playing the viola because my eldest brother played viola, and I wanted to take after him. I remember playing on his viola one day when he brought it home from school. I accidentally broke a string, and eventually my parents decided it would be good for me to start as well.

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

Miami – Richard Fleischman and Viera Borisova

CIM – Jeffrey Irvine and Lynne Ramsey

Briefly at NEC with Martha Katz

Rice – James Dunham and now currently with Ivo van der Werff

What or whom are your most important musical influences?

Richard Fleischman, Jeffrey Irvine & Lynne Ramsey, Martha Katz, Ivo van der Werff, and Thomas Riebl

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

Vaughan Williams’s Romance

Brahms’s Two Songs, Op. 91

Schumann’s Märchenbilder

Hindemith’s Sonata, op. 31, no. 4

Ideally where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I used to be set on trying to make a chamber music career, but I think it’s important to be well rounded and open to anything and everything. I enjoy teaching very much, and I like to say that chamber music is why I still play the viola. A combination of teaching, performing in chamber music ensembles or a full-time orchestra, and perhaps continuing my endeavors in arts administration would make for a balanced and diverse career.

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

The orchestra program under Larry Rachleff is definitely one of the highlights of the Shepherd School of Music.

How committed all the teachers are to their students and teaching.

Feeling connected to the university and not just confined to a conservatory environment.

The complimentary student tickets to the Houston Friends of Chamber Music concerts.

Who are your favorite violists and why?

Lynne Ramsey: Aside from being able to play and teach everything under the sun, Ms. Ramsey is one of the most generous and kind persons I know.

Martha Katz: Her recordings with the Cleveland Quartet and her amazingly kind and intuitive nature. During my undergraduate days I studied with her for a few summers, and she constantly inspired me to be a better musician and person.

Thomas Riebl: His aura, zen-like manner, and unparalleled musicianship. He demands so much from his students while being an inspiring and mind-blowing mentor.

Pinchas Zuckerman: His Brahms Sonatas and Two Songs recording with mezzo Marilyn Horne.

Paul Coletti and Lawrence Power: For the gorgeous tone they produce.

What was one of your best musical experiences?

Quartet at CIM: Beethoven String Quartet, op. 135, with Ling Ling Huang, Miran Kim, and Erica Snowden (three of my closest friends and three musicians I’ve had truly special musical connections with).

Who is the maker of your instrument and bow?

Viola: Dr. Heinrich Dünnwald (Stefan-Peter Greiner’s business partner for many years). Dünnwald developed corpus patterns and the varnish recipe for their instruments. Dr. Dünnwald is a physicist and has done extensive research on Stradivari varnish and acoustics.

Best awkward stand-partner/ orchestra/ audition experience?

During one of my high school orchestra concerts I went to the restroom toward the end of intermission. The orchestra proceeded to go back on stage for the second half of the concert while I was still in the restroom. Unfortunately I was the last person on stage and as I hurried back on, the audience and orchestra applauded for my entrance!

If you didn’t play the viola, what instrument would you play?

If I didn’t play the viola, I’d probably play a woodwind instrument. At this point though, if I didn’t play viola, my other career paths would be in the culinary arts or arts administration.


Introducing Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt

Milena Pajaro-van de StadtWhere are you from?

That’s a tricky question, I moved a lot as a kid—I was born in NYC, lived in Baltimore until I was ten (with the exception of two and a half years living in England), and finished high school in Jacksonville, Florida. Now I live in Philadelphia, but my family lives in Arizona!

Are you a current Rice student?

Not anymore; I just graduated from the Master’s of Music program this past May (2013)

Why did you choose to play viola?

I had played violin all my life, since I was almost five years old but was always curious and drawn to the lower, darker, more human sounds of the viola. Finally, when I was a junior in high school, I decided to experiment with playing viola in a string quartet, and I fell in love!

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

In high school I studied viola with Michael Klotz of the Amernet Quartet (my very first viola teacher!), then I did my Bachelor’s degree at the Curtis Institute of Music, where I studied privately with Michael Tree and Roberto Díaz and also with Misha Amory and Joseph de Pasquale. After that my quartet (The Dover Quartet) came to Rice’s Shepherd School of Music to be the Graduate Quartet-in-Residence, and I studied for those two years with James Dunham. I like to think that all of my past teachers are my current teachers, as I hear their voices in my conscience whenever I practice 😉

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

My favorite viola piece is Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata. I have yet to find a more gratifying piece to perform. Not only is it so well-written for the instrument, but it is a powerful journey that leaves me mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted (in the most fulfilling way) every time. In general I find the human connection in Shostakovich’s music extremely vivid and palpable, but the Viola Sonata takes it all to an even higher level.

Who is the maker of your instrument and bow?

My instrument is a fantastic copy of the Primrose Amati, made by Gabrielle Kundert, who is based in Maryland. She originally made my viola for one of my teachers, Roberto Díaz (who plays on the actual Amati after which mine was made), and his name is written inside of it. I have three bows, all quite different from one another, but each means a lot to me. One is a bow by Malcolm Taylor, one is by David Samuels (who is based in Israel, but I was fortunate enough to meet him when he came to Rice last spring to show some bows—I found my bow there!), and the third is a bow I won with my quartet as a part of the Banff International String Quartet Competition. We won a matched set of bows by French-Canadian maker Francois Malo.

Best awkward stand-partner/ performance/ audition experience?

It always has to be a wardrobe malfunction, don’t you think? I was once performing in a church with a fancy, flowing top. I had some rests and put my viola down, and then when it was time to play again, the bottom of my shirt got caught onto my shoulder rest, and as I lifted my instrument I lifted my entire shirt up to my face. It wasn’t until I saw a huge flash of white in front of my eyes that I realized I had just shown the audience my belly!

If you didn’t play the viola, what instrument would you play?

Why, the trombone of course!! (This is not a joke—I grew up playing trombone in jazz band and youth symphony. It’s a gorgeous instrument and in many ways comparable to the viola! Violists and trombonists unite!)


Introducing Chi Lee

Chi LeeWhere are you from?

I am from Taiwan, a beautiful tropical island that you will fall in love with because of the great beaches and night markets.

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

I am a first year master’s degree candidate at Rice; I am also a new resident of Houston.

Why did you choose to play viola?

Music schools in Taiwan require a secondary instrument. So when I was accepted as a pianist to attend music school at 9 years of age, my mother chose the viola as my secondary instrument. Then I realized that reading two lines at the same time made me feel stressed, so I switched my secondary major to my primary major.

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

I did my undergraduate work at Manhattan School of Music with Karen Ritscher. I enjoyed living in New York City and had a wonderful time studying with Ms. Ritscher. I am currently studying with Ivo-Jan van der Werff. We are new to each other, but we had a great time this past summer in the Catskills at his viola retreat.

What or whom are your most important musical influences?

My most important musical influence is Kin-Fung Leung, my teacher in Hong Kong. He encouraged me to apply to schools in the United States and helped me a lot when I was auditioning. Without his encouragement, I would not have met so many great teachers later who changed my life.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

I don’t really have a single favorite piece, but among my favorites is Brahms’s Sonata in F Minor for Viola and Piano, op. 120, no.1. I would also have to mention Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata from the early 20th Century. Both works are emotionally as well as technically challenging, and it’s quite satisfying to work through them with a capable pianist.

Ideally where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I hope by then that I will have a job in a good orchestra somewhere!

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

I love the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra plays at an amazing level, and everyone takes it seriously.

Who are your favorite violists and why?

My favorite violist is Nobuko Imai. I remember riding on a train for five hours to hear her recital when I was in high school. I was so impressed by her Chaconne from Bach’s Second Partita (BWV 1004) for solo violin, transposed down a fifth for viola. Her rich and splendid sound is always in my mind.

What was one of your best musical experiences?

One of my best musical experiences was participating in the Asian Youth Orchestra in 2007 and 2008. That was my first serious experience of playing in orchestra and working with so many musicians from different countries. I also worked with some great conductors and soloists. That was the first time I realized I had to be an orchestra musician.

Best awkward stand-partner/ orchestra/ audition experience?

I cannot think of an awkward situation now. But I would love to share a special and unforgettable memory: I had a chance to have a side-by-side rehearsal with a professional orchestra. The experience not only gave me a lot of inspiration, but also was the beginning of a real friendship with my stand-partner. He always gives me advice when I feel lost or confused as a musician. It is a pleasure to have a friend who is always there for me and provides me with suggestions when I need them.

If you didn’t play the viola, what instrument would you play?

I think I would be a cellist if I did not play the viola, because I love the sound of the cello a lot.


Introducing Jarita Ng

Where are you from?

I am from Hong Kong. The weather there is pretty similar to here in Houston.

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

I am a second year Master’s student at Rice. I also teach general music to 4–6 year olds in the prep program here as a Brown Fellowship recipient.

Why did you choose to play viola?

My parents gave me a 1/32 violin when I was 3. I had a lot of fun holding the violin the way I wanted to and sang along while I played open strings with a terrible bow arm. When I was 5, I started to learn how to play the violin the proper way, first with my mom, then with various teachers.

I started playing the viola when I was 17, because my friends needed a violist in their chamber group. I made the switch a couple months later, while still keeping up with the violin until I went to college—because I could only bring one instrument on board flying from Hong Kong to the US.

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

Both of my parents are violin teachers. My mom teaches little kids while my dad teaches older students. I started with my mom until around 5th or 6th grade. My dad then taught me for a couple of years. In high school I studied with Ms. Ho-Ying Ho, who is a graduate from Juilliard studying with Dorothy DeLay. (You can find her in the documentary “From Mao to Mozart” on Isaac Stern’s trip to China in 1980. Ms. Ho was the little girl who played Tartini’s Sonata for him.) Then I came here to the US, went to the University of Michigan studying with Prof. Yizhak Schotten. Now I am here studying with Mr. James Dunham. This semester I am also studying with Ms. Joan DerHovsepian on orchestra excerpts.

What or whom are your most important musical influences?

All of my teachers have shaped me into the viola player I am now. My mom taught me every day —from ear training (she made me sing everything in fixed-Do solfège before I played the pieces), to keeping a good posture, to correcting my intonation. She helped me build a strong foundation for later development. Ms. Ho opened my eyes and made me take the first step into working on pieces in details that I never imagined before. Mr. Schotten helped me a lot with the transition from violin to viola and building the skills for viola playing. Mr. Dunham is a great teacher and mentor who not only (very nicely) gives inspiring suggestions and comments, but also gives me emotional support. Ms. DerHovsepian is the excerpt police and forces me to fully use my technique and ears. She makes sure that I try my best all the time. All the teachers I have studied with have made significant influence on my musical studies!

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

Super Viola (2011) for solo viola and eight violas by Michael Foumai. It is because: one, I commissioned this piece for this ensemble; and two, it is a really fun piece to play! A recording of an excerpt of the piece can be found hereSuper Viola doesn’t mean that the viola is super. The piece uses nine violas and makes them one section—a super instrument.

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

Winter in Houston is like fall in the Midwest. Winter is when we sit on the grass to sunbathe. Students here are all very driven and friendly!

What was one of your best musical experiences?

I really enjoy working with composers. It doesn’t matter if it is the commissioning and discussion of ideas, demonstrating different techniques, trying the pieces that are still in progress, or rehearsing the final product and discussing difficulties and/or changes that could be made. In this way I feel I play a role in the creation process of a piece of art. It is exciting!

Who is the maker of your instrument and bow?

I don’t own an instrument due to financial reasons. Mr. Dunham kindly lent me one of his instruments to play on. It was made by Gabrielle Kundert in 2000. I don’t know where my bow came from . . . My dad brought it home one day from work. It was my first viola bow.


Introducing Dawson White

1111 photo IMG_1876Where are you from?

I grew up on a farm just north of Tyler, Texas, a smallish city an hour and a half east of Dallas where my family has lived since 1919. I am the first professional musician from my family.

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

I attended Rice as a Master’s student with Ivo van der Werff from 2010 to 2012.

Why did you choose to play viola?

In 5th grade Isidor Saslav played violin and viola for my class, and I was immediately drawn to the dark and mysterious viola, which I had never heard of until that point.

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

I started playing in the 6th grade with Ruth Morrow in Tyler, studied with Dr. Kathryn Steely at Baylor University for six years including my Bachelor’s degree, and then attended Rice for my Master’s with Ivo. I also spent three summers in California studying with Helen Callus and studied extensively with Joan DerHovsepian of the Houston Symphony while attending Rice.

What or whom are your most important musical influences?

First and foremost, Dr. Steely has been a monumental impact in my life. I met her while performing at the State Solo & Ensemble Contest in Austin during my sophomore year of high school. Shortly thereafter, I took a 30-minute lesson with her that opened my eyes to a new way of teaching. Over the next six years, she completely restructured my technique and became my greatest mentor. I now strive to serve as a mentor to my students in a supportive learning environment like she did for me.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

I tend to favor the Romantic pieces like Vaughan Williams’s Romance and Vieuxtemps’s Elegie. There’s something about laying into an open C string that fuels the inner-violist in me.

Ideally where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I have discovered my love of teaching in the past few years culminating in my recent appointment at Sam Houston State University, and I would like to continue cultivating a successful viola studio there. I also plan to get a doctorate in the next few years to maximize my teaching abilities.

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

When I first visited the Shepherd School, I was captivated by the orchestral sound that Larry Rachleff could achieve with college students. I truly learned the art of details in orchestral rehearsal techniques. Also, I learned a tremendous amount from Ivo about relaxed posture/playing and dealing with mental hindrances during performance.

What was one of your best musical experiences?

I played in the first YouTube Symphony in 2009 under Michael Tilson Thomas, and I will never forget the synergy in Carnegie Hall with thousands of cameras surrounding the orchestra. It was exciting to witness technology helping classical music foster a wider presence on YouTube rather than hindering its scope.

Who is the maker of your instrument and bow?

I just recently purchased my David Polstein & Christopher White viola, which received the Silver Medal for tone at the 2012 VSA Competition. It’s an incredibly balanced and rich viola with a bassy but clear tone. I’m currently in the process of finding a new bow.

If you didn’t play the viola, what instrument would you play?

Probably the clarinet; I so enjoy their beautiful tone and ability to literally dissipate into thin air. But I think I would miss vibrato too much.


Introducing Ashley Pelton

Ashley Pelton

Photo by: David Klein

Where are you from?

I grew up in Queens, NY, and later moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

I am currently a senior at Rice.

Why did you choose to play viola?

I was born and raised a Suzuki violinist. Sadly, the music program I attended during middle school had very few violists. My dad thought playing viola would make me more marketable and open up more playing opportunities, so I started taking lessons in seventh grade. I doubled for a few years (oy, I carried that HUGE double case!) and then eventually stopped playing violin because I didn’t have enough time to balance it with viola and high school.

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

Prior to studying with Mr. Dunham at Rice, I studied with Laura Seay and Heidi Castleman.

What or whom are your most important musical influences?

Ms. Seay and Ms. Castleman truly transformed my viola playing and overall musicianship. From the days of playing Schradieck No. 1 and developing my poor pinky callus and agility, to our final year of preparing for college auditions, they knew how to play to my strengths and tackle my weaknesses. I have found both in academics and music that motivation is so specific to the individual, and what works for one student may not be productive for another. Ms. Seay and Ms. Castleman understood my learning style and saw through my go-to loophole strategies, using a balance of constructive criticism and positive reinforcement to motivate me to produce my best product. I was consistently challenged to expect more of myself and rise to the occasion. Through their team teaching in studio class and private lessons, I learned how to articulate my musical thoughts both verbally and through my viola playing. Ms. Seay and Ms. Castleman were a blessing to me, and I will always cherish the years I spent learning from them.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

I love the Brahms E-flat Sonata and especially love the second and third movements. The second movement spins with intensity, and in the midst of the chaos Brahms presents a beautifully, noble middle section. The third movement is delicate, gracious, and elegant throughout the theme and its variations. The whole piece is a joy to collaborate with piano.

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

I am so grateful for the time I have spent at Rice. I have grown so much as a musician, student, and as a person. Studying at a university has afforded me the opportunity to take classes in many different areas, to meet people who are studying a variety of subjects and who come from different backgrounds, and to get involved in campus organizations. I have loved being a part of the Shepherd School because of the close-knit community and the relationships I have developed with fellow students and faculty members.

If you didn’t play the viola, what instrument would you play?

Cello! I’ve tried . . . but I look a little silly.


Introducing Rebecca Lo

Rachel LoWhere are you from?

I was born and raised in Taiwan; moved to New York State when I was 13.

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

Yes, I am currently a senior at Rice University.

Why did you choose to play viola?

Because I love the deep, warm sound that can be produced from the viola! I feel like the viola can speak more and tell more stories than the violin that I used to play when I was very little.

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

I have been on and off with the viola, because I had to put a lot more focus on school work since English was my third language when I first moved to the US. But I occasionally flew to LA to visit and take lessons from my uncle, and I studied with Rachel Ku from the Philadelphia Orchestra (who is the wife of our assistant conductor, Tom Hong!) for six months before I auditioned for college. I am currently studying with Mr. Dunham at Rice.

What or whom are your most important musical influences?

I grew up in a church and was born into a musical family (my mom was a piano teacher, my uncle and grandpa were all violin teachers); I was pretty much surrounded by music. I started learning the piano when I was 5, violin when I was 7—later on I made a smart choice by abandoning it to play the viola (haha!)—and flute when I was 10. I started playing the piano at church services when I was in 6th grade, so performing in public became a monthly, if not weekly, thing for me.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

Currently my favorite viola piece is the Vieuxtemps Viola Sonata. I love it because it is so beautiful and lyrical, while it has got a lot of cute, energetic things going on in the piece.

Ideally where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

It would be awesome if I could play in an orchestra that is in somewhere awesome and fun such as NY, LA, SF, or Houston. Hawaii sounds amazing too…….!!!

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

I love Rice University because I always wanted to go to a university that has a big student body and a lot of varieties of classes compared to a conservatory. I’m very happy to be here and be able to get an amazing education on both music and academics! The Shepherd School of Music is marvelous, of course. It is so well planned out and put together compared to a lot of music schools. It is so clear that the people and faculty put a lot of mind and heart into it to make a wonderful music school.

Who are your favorite violists and why?

Yuri Bashmet is one of my favorite violists. I love his romantic playing; his Bruch Romance is so beautiful that it always makes me feel like I’m in love!(haha!)

What was one of your best musical experiences?

I was at a festival hosted by the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra over the summer. It was a wonderful experience to be able to work with amazing musicians including Cho-Liang Lin, David Chan (the concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera), Ben Hong (assistant principal cellist of LA Phil), Brian Chen (principal violist of San Diego Symphony and faculty of USC), and others. They were always standing next to us during orchestra rehearsals, constantly giving us comments and feedbacks. It was an incredible experience and a great orchestra training camp.

If you didn’t play the viola, what instrument would you play?

I would have definitely picked the cello if I didn’t play the viola—that’s the whole point of playing the viola, because I love the deep, warm sound!