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Introducing Myles Miller

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What is your name?

Myles Miller

Where are you from?

Austin, Texas

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am a junior Music Education Major at UNT with a concentration in viola.

Did you choose the viola, or did the viola choose you?

I chose the viola in Middle School because I saw that no one at orientation had signed up for it yet.

Tell us about your viola! Who made it? How did you come to play this instrument? Does it have a name?

My instrument is a William Harris Lee Tertis Model 17″ viola that I purchased two and a half years ago specifically for my college studies.

Who is your favorite violist? (To listen to or as a mentor)

My favorite violists are William Primrose for his impact and skill, and Lawrence Power for his flamboyant showmanship.

If you could only play the works of one composer for the rest of your life, who would you choose and why?

I could easily see myself playing works by Antonín Dvořák for the rest of my life. His compositions are playful, fun, and at times deeply gorgeous and profound to listen to.

What is your favorite piece to play?

Either Cecil Forsyth’s Viola Concerto, the Bach Solo Suites, or Beethoven’s Romances in F and G.

If you could play any non-viola piece, what would it be and why?

I want to perform the Dvořák Cello Concerto, but common arrangements for it are regarded as pretty mediocre. It’s simply one of the most beautiful concertos written.

Do you come from a musical family?

Neither of my parents were necessarily musical, although my father dabbled in guitar and my mother managed a band for a few years.

What are your career goals?

My wish is to be the conductor of a grand orchestra someday.

What made you want to pursue music as a career rather than as a hobby?

There wasn’t any one thing that made me decide. It simply happened, and this is where I am now.

If you couldn’t be in music, what career would you choose?

I would be a historian, as History is my other biggest passion.

If you could take a lesson from any person, alive or deceased, who would it be and why?

Discussing music and philosophy with Leonard Bernstein would be indescribably amazing.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

I’m not sure if conductors count as musicians in the context of this question, but Bernstein and Karajan are especially important to me. Karajan for the sound he was able to pull from his orchestras, and Bernstein for the fresh interpretations and focus on musicality rather than nitpicking.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I crack jokes and distract myself so that I don’t end up shaking from nervousness before a concert.

What is your favorite memory, thus far, of being a musician?

My favorite memory is of the first rehearsal I ever had at UNT my freshman year. We were rehearsing the Schumann Piano Concerto and once the first chord hit, I was hooked. The sound of the A minor sonorities ringing throughout the hall sounded to me as a completely different beast than what I was familiar with in High School. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the rehearsal.

Do you have any skills or hidden talents your fellow studio members wouldn’t know about?

I can answer virtually any question regarding history from the late Bronze Age up to around the Vietnam War. Like I said, History is one of my biggest passions.


The Mother Of Us All, by Myles Miller

Susan B. Anthony, (image credit Biography.com)

Susan B. Anthony, (image credit Biography.com)

The Mother Of Us All, the second and last collaboration between the composer Virgil Thomson and the poet Gertrude Stein, is an underdog of twentieth-century opera. With few performances and fewer recordings, the work lies beneath a mountain of other compositions favored by the public and struggles to find its way into the limelight. However, despite this relative obscurity, Thomson and Stein’s masterpiece deserves far more recognition than it currently receives. An amazing combination of style and substance, the duo channeled the emotions of more than a century of activism and political understanding into a two-act staging.

The opera begins with Susan B. Anthony writing letters advocating her cause, worrying whether or not her fight is even possible to win. Stein and Thomson narrate the scene, and the whole passage sounds as if taken straight from a book. The plot moves forward into a political meeting between famous figures of U.S. history. Daniel Webster, Andrew Johnson, John Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Comstock, and Thaddeus Stevens all represent the male establishment, while two humorously named veterans of the Civil War, Jo the Loiterer and Chris the Citizen, mock the politicians’ overly somber demeanors during political discourse. Susan B. Anthony declares herself to the assembly and begins debating with Daniel Webster, who throughout the debate refers to her as “sir”. This specific title in reference to Susan B. is historically important with no explanation as to why located within the libretto. In the media of the nineteenth century, the suffragettes were often described as “unsexed” or “manlike” with newspapers going so far as to refer to the suffragettes as actual men. This kind of slanderous dialogue led to Sojourner Truth, another well-known suffragette, famously baring her breast during a speech in Indiana (Truth being the deliverer of the iconic “Ain’t I A Woman” speech).
Susan B. Anthony next dreams of the allies to her cause and how, in the end, their assistance is meaningless if women themselves do not rise up together to achieve the right to vote. The scene is marked by the VIP’s of politics, again Johnson, Stevens, and Webster, finally taking a serious interest in the idea of women’s suffrage, and Susan B. lecturing Jo the Loiterer and Chris the Citizen on the differences between the rich and poor. In the final scene of the first Act the opera begins to truly take on a political slant, as Susan B. argues that perhaps marriage is necessary only because men are helpless without women to guide them. Proceeding from this dispute, Susan B. and the chorus rise up together and declare that all people of this nation will one day obtain the vote.
The second Act opens with Anthony and the supporting cast addressing the double standard of women being required to take the man’s name in marriage, and Jo the Loiterer’s girlfriend, Indiana Elliot, refuses to marry Jo until he agrees that she will not have to take the name of Loiterer (Stein’s playful libretto here shows its face again, as “Loiterer” is obviously not a real last name). Anthony accepts an invitation to speak to a gathering of politicians at the behest of a crowd of fervent supporters. She returns from the speech with a new air of confidence, having spoken convincingly enough that the reactionary politicians of the government have deliberately written the word “male” into the Constitution out of plain fear of her movement. This new confidence is shadowed by only one doubt; that if Anthony succeeds, women will become as weak and as afraid as the men who are resisting this movement towards equality. In contrast to this doubt, Jo the Loiterer and Indiana Elliot finally agree to be married, each taking the other’s last name and becoming Jo Elliot and Indiana Loiterer. Finally, in a stunning display of choreography and composition, Susan B. Anthony sings her closing aria summarizing a life well-lived and one that was dedicated towards a singular purpose. As the final notes of the aria fade away, Susan B. becomes a statue in front of the Capitol, symbolizing the eternal achievement of the movement that brought women the vote.
Gertrude Stein’s libretto, combined with Virgil Thomson’s unique compositional style, lends this artistic accomplishment a sense of unity nestled between abject dissonances. The lyrics are often direct in their message, yet interspersed between them are series of nonsensical phrases that seem to digress from the main subject. At the same time, Thomson feeds us a musical landscape of minimalism and romanticism that flows between the words, at times almost as if they are completely separate yet whole. In Thomson’s own words, the score is “a memory-book of Victorian play-games and passion…with its gospel hymns and cocky marches, its sentimental ballads, waltzes, darned-fool ditties, and intoned sermons… a souvenir or all those sounds and kinds of tunes that were once the music of rural America.”
Rehearsing this opera presented a challenge. As an orchestra, we were immediately met with an unfamiliar work and had no context of what it should sound like and no idea of how to bring it together. With many disjointed rhythms and eclectic harmonies composed throughout each scene, the first rehearsals sounded similar to an orchestra warming up before a real performance. To tackle a work like this, one where the orchestra did not possess any familiarity with it beforehand, the rehearsals required slightly different tactics than what would be expected of a standard symphony or even a more well-known opera. The early rehearsals consisted of attempts to run through the opera as far as we could, with intermittent pauses in playing that were filled with explanations as to what would be happening on stage during a section had we been actually been performing, and also a brief synopsis of what was happening in the plot. Eventually the orchestra felt more comfortable with each scene and had an idea of what the whole picture was meant to sound like. When the vocalists finally joined us for rehearsals, the opera truly began to take on a polished form. We were now able to hear a cohesive melody above our minimalist, repetitive sections of quarter notes and down-beat chords.
Along with trying to make an unfamiliar opera sound true to form, this was my first time to be principal of a viola section. This meant that I had to also account for and be responsible for an entire group of violists that was as unfamiliar with the work as I was. I spoke with a few of my friends and fellow violists in the UNT viola studio, along with my professor, for some insight as to what would be expected of me as principal and some tips on how to bring the section together. Recommendations ranged from holding sectionals to offering enticements, such as chocolates, when the group performed admirably. While I personally felt that the music was simply not difficult enough to merit full sectional rehearsals apart from the orchestra, and the director, Dr. Stephen Dubberly, bought chocolate and other candies for the whole orchestra at every performance, I was left with the role of being a micromanager. I would give suggestions and directions on how to perform certain passages in the music, such as where to shift and what position to play in, and all the rest of the basic instructions that a principal is tasked with delivering. In the end, the group did not need much more than the occasional fingering suggestion or technique advice, and I ended up being extremely proud with my section’s progress.
Despite the pride I took in my section and the relatively little work that I had to do because of their strengths, being principal of the viola section for this opera was still a privilege that I do not take lightly. Being in an orchestra and playing an instrument requires hard work, but it is work that I love dearly more than anything else in my life. I am appreciative of the people in my life that allowed me the position and provided me with an experience that will stay with me and guide me through any and all future endeavors as a violist. In the words of Susan B. Anthony, “I don’t want to die as long as I can work; the minute I cannot, I want to go.”

An interview with Liesl-Ann DeVilliers, Principal Violist of the Dallas Opera, by Valeria de Kuspa

Where are you from?IMG_2278

I was born in Bronxville, New York,  but I grew up in South Africa.

What is the most valuable experience South Africa gave you?

I think it turned me into somebody with a lot of perseverance. You have to put up with a lot down there, things are very disorganized. You have to make sure that you want to do it, that is the biggest thing I took from there.

How did you become a musician? Was viola your first choice?

I started when I was five years old, on piano. My mother took me to Yamaha in Canada and when we went back to South Africa she found me a great piano teacher. I got a piano performance bachelor’s degree and I played violin in high school. Viola was not my first choice at all but when I landed on it I realized this is what I want to do.

What characteristics do you value the most about the viola?

It’s a soulful instrument. It’s really flexible, I feel like you can play violin repertoire if you want (the flashy stuff) but if it’s in your nature you’re going to play stuff that is beautiful. You’re an inside voice in the orchestra, so you get to fill out what everyone else is doing. As much as they want to deny it, we make them sound fantastic!

What is the best advice you ever got?

You need to value yourself. You need to feel like you’re worth it and you deserve it. To me that’s been a very valuable thing that I’ve only recently learned. What’s real is who you are and what you can do, not the fear. Don’t feed the fear!

How do you manage any performance-related stress on your body through Opera season?

That’s a multifaceted question. There is emotional stress and physical stress. There are certain things you can do. I think the most important thing you can do is make your body strong through diet and exercise or what have you. You need the physical stamina. I have a chair made for me in the opera that has a longer seat because my legs are long. They’ve added padding to the chair and they added a 2’’ platform. If I sit on a different chair I can immediately feel the difference.

What is your favorite piece of music written for viola?

Honestly, I like a lot of the transcriptions that are coming out now of vocal stuff that has been arranged for viola. The Walton and the Bartók have good learning points in them, but it’s not what I listen to. I would say that I’m a classical girl, the tunes are beautiful and they sound so beautiful on the viola and there’s not enough of them yet! It’ll take time I guess.

If you weren’t a violist, what would you do?

I would be a doctor or a nutritionist or something like that. I wouldn’t be a medical doctor as in medical school because that’s not what I believe in, but I would be educating people on what’s going on in alternative medicine. Definitely more holistic.

What has been a particularly challenging obstacle to overcome as a violist?

There’s a lot of things that can be very challenging. For example, counting can be challenging because I’m not very good at it. I work it out and I can do it, but it’s not something that comes very naturally to me. It takes a lot of brain power. Sometimes the hardest thing is getting the sound that I actually want. Especially that connected sound, one that flows from one note to the other. There are people who can do that very well and I am on the “not so much” side.

Tell us about someone who has been important in your journey.

There are two people definitely. When I was in high school I had a piano teacher, Marietjie Hesse. I was in an art school in a class with very talented people. People who are having successful solo careers now I was with in high school. It’s very challenging to say the least. You feel like you can’t do anything. It’s hard. Marietjie would tell me, “You CAN do this! You can absolutely do this. We will work it in.” She gave me faith in myself. Just because other people are fantastic doesn’t mean you can’t get there. Susan Dubois did the same thing for me when I came to UNT. I remember her asking me innocently “have you learned the Bartók?” and I was like “Omg no! You’ve got to be kidding, you think I can play the Bartók? Seriously? NO. ”  I was thinking to myself “I can’t play the Bartok …I’m not even close!” She told me I could. I thought of it the whole time as out of reach for me, but she made me feel like it was all in my grasp. It’s just how you focus yourself to get there.

Please share with us your favorite book!

My two new favorite books are also by a favorite author, Brené Brown“Daring Greatly”  and Rising Strong are two amazing books and I’m always very interested in the psychology behind things and how people think. Very well written and easy to read. It’s not a story book but a story about how you think and who you are.

Audition/ pit advice?

I feel like I did it by myself. Susan helped me with my concerto and she was fantastic, we got it done. I felt like I could present it in a way that felt authentic to me. Then I had to learn opera excerpts and because I’m Suzuki trained, I had to listen to them in the sea of opera stuff and pick out the viola part. I had to teach myself that I have to listen, that I know what I’m doing when I’m playing in the opera. It’s not like the symphony where you watch the conductor then that’s it. There are singers. If you’re not listening to the stage it causes a lot of problems and everyone will hate you. It’s a lot of listening to recordings and to this day I have to know where I fit in all the time. When a singer comes in you need to know where you are and what to do.

Did you ever play the opera at UNT?

Perhaps, long long ago…

Did you plan to play in the pit or did it fall into place?

I fell into it, but I’m not sorry about it because I really like it. I do play some symphonic literature when opera season is not on. I have to tell you, if I had to play symphony orchestra 365 days a year I would be bored and unhappy.

Do you have a favorite Opera conductor?

The previous director Graeme Jenkins was an exceptionally entertaining, very compelling person. As a conductor he had a great way to describe how things need to sound. “It needs to sound like she’s stabbing you” or “cut her head off”! You need to understand what’s happening in the music to understand the opera. He’s just returned to do Jules Massenet’s Manon with us this March, but it was great when he was here more. He brought the music to life in a way that other conductors struggle to do.

How are you connected to the UNT viola studio?

 I’m an alumna. You are the only student I know from the current group, but I’m very connected with Dr. Dubois still, and she will send students to me that she can’t take and she recommends me as a teacher. I am also on the viola faculty for the Summer String Institute. When I teach there and I watch the other teachers at it I get a refresher of what I learned long ago.


Life before Telemann: Andrew Justice discusses the untold riches of the Baroque viola repertoire.

When people ask me what I play and I tell them Baroque viola, it’s always interesting to see their reaction: casual listeners of classical music will often feign some polite understanding or appreciation, and a few will mention Brandenburg 6. Meanwhile, fellow musicians usually respond as if I had just admitted to being the world’s foremost authority on the music of Mozart’s lesser-known cousin Bill!

Yes: I am a “full-time” Baroque violist.

Of course, I don’t make a living solely off of being a Baroque violist (although I know of a select few who actually do): my day job is music librarianship, which enables me to be more selective with the performance opportunities I pursue– a very fortunate situation indeed.

How I became acquainted with the world of performance practice was pretty standard: my Master’s program required one term of Collegium Musicum. By the second or third class meeting, I realized that the techniques of earlier music caused me to play with less tension and the musical approaches to phrasing and ensemble performance were right up my alley.

Combining that with a growing sense of “how in the world am I going to make a living as a freelance performer and teacher” over the course of my Master’s program, I decided after graduation that I wanted to focus exclusively on performing earlier works using historical approaches. At the same time, my interest in music history and how it intermingles with those techniques motivated me to study musicology at the doctoral level.

Suffice it to say that it didn’t work: the predominant musicological attitude of “Publish or Perish,” and the ensuing lack of emphasis on teaching (and certainly performance,) disillusioned me right out my coursework after only one year. Fortunately, I eventually realized that what I really enjoyed about my year of musicology was all the time I spent in the music library, regardless of content or outcome.

So I ended up getting a job at the Cornell music library and completed a Master’s of Library Science from Syracuse (mostly online). I came to UNT in February 2007 as Music Librarian for Audio and Digital Services and was promoted to Associate Head Music Librarian in 2013; by the time you read this in early 2016, I will have taken up my new post as Head of the Music Library at the University of Southern California.

Working in a library is obviously a huge benefit to my performing career, and vice versa: I can easily find music to play or program and my various gigs introduce me to new repertoire, scholarly studies, recordings and other materials to seek out for my library’s collection.

It also enables me to observe certain trends among college music students, one of which I’ll begin to address with this blog post: the prevalent belief that viola music basically doesn’t exist before the Telemann concerto.

While it’s true that we count this piece as the earliest well-known example of solo writing for our instrument, it is probably not the first and definitely not the only extant resource for understanding the viola in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

First, it’s important to realize that how most of us are taught to think about viola repertoire tends to be a result of the late nineteenth- and twentieth-century “conservatory to concert hall” mindset, where one’s worth as a performer leans more toward how accurately you can play the Prelude and Fugue from the  Bach C-minor Solo Suite than how you contribute an excellent viola voice to Brahms’ Op. 51 Quartet of the same key.

I think this mentality is changing, but at a glacial rate: as long as we can trace our pedagogical tree back to Auer or Joachim or even Corelli, we will probably continue adhering to this solo-centric tradition…or at least until professional concert audiences are regularly outnumbered by the number of performers on stage.

So if the general idea of the viola “coming into its own” as a solo instrument doesn’t really exist until the Brahms sonatas (and even those are problematic: clarinet), how then does it make sense to retroactively impose a twentieth-century notion onto music of 200 or 300 years prior?

Clearly, Stamitz and Rolla didn’t approach the viola in the same manner as Dvořák or Hindemith. However, to go back even further in time from the first two means that one must redefine what a violist (and indeed, the other members of the violin family) actually was in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century string writing.

Our instrument family, alongside that of the viola da gamba, has an early history in the Renaissance-era courts of Italy as a quiet inner voice belonging in a chamber ensemble– the “musique de chambre”– played indoors, in contrast to the militaristic pomp of loud exterior ensembles which included shawms, brass, and drums.

As the seventeenth century developed, ensemble compositions appear by composers like Giovanni Paolo Cima, Dario Castello, and Giovanni Battista Fontana for interchangeable numbers and ranges of instruments…it’s not until later with Corelli and Vivaldi that our instrumental voices become codified into “The Orchestra”.

There is a fair amount of documentary evidence (treatises, employment records, etc.) to support the notion that, if a seventeenth-century violist was available to play a part (which may or may not have laid comfortably on the instrument, to say nothing of clef), they probably did so.

Scholars and performance practitioners alike mostly agree: they worked with what they had.

Exploring this repertoire, playing with ensembles in the alto/tenor role but also reading and transposing music clearly for soprano or bass voices (Uccellini sonatas work quite nicely, as does playing along with basso continuo lines), these are ways of wrapping one’s head around early Baroque string writing.

Moving into the eighteenth century, studying the dedicated viola lines of Corelli, Muffat, and Buxtehude opens up a world of how the “instrument of the middle” can actually drive the overall ensemble…and this is not to mention the orchestral music of Lully!

But seriously: spend some time listening to and studying the scores of Corelli’s Op. 6 concerti grossi, paying close attention to the viola line – it’s not a third violin and it’s not a little cello, the structure would simply fall apart without that voice and I believe it’s because those pieces were written by a string player who keenly understood how the different voices of the violin family did and could work.

The second major factor in this discussion is: how to find repertoire and resources, and I’ll lead off by saying that relying upon free online options like IMSLP is fine, but you’re only seeing part of the picture and you’re tacitly accepting editorial decisions which could be completely wrong.

Grove (also known as the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and/or Grove Music Online) should be a default resource for basically all of us. The articles in both the paper and online versions include comprehensive works lists and bibliographies, which nearly always outperform Wikipedia and other sources in their depth, breadth, and reliability. In the U.S., almost every library with a decent music collection should certainly allow you to access one or both versions.

In addition to Franz Zeyringer’s Literatur für Viola and the Primrose International Viola Archive at BYU, the most valuable resource I’ve found for Baroque- and Classical-era viola music is Michael Jappe’s Viola Bibliographie: das Repertoire für die historische Bratsche von 1649 bis nach 1800.

Organized alphabetically by composer, I usually start with the indexes which include subsections for Solo Viola, Violin-Viola Duos, Viola-Viola duos, etc. The entries for the compositions almost always include manuscript and publication information, as well as incipits; in the past 15 years, I have used this resource to find and program works at least 50 times.

Once you’ve found that something exists, then you need to figure out how to get your hands on it. After searching your local library catalog, you should definitely not forget about WorldCat, which is essentially the largest worldwide database for library holdings.

For any given item, WorldCat will sort the holding libraries so you can either plan a trip or make an Inter-Library Loan request – using the latter, be sure you note the OCLC number for the item, which will guarantee you get the right thing.

It’s extremely important to not give up on the research process, just because you can’t find a PDF of the piece for download within three minutes of searching. Current general thought tells us everything is digital, and that’s simply NOT true…especially when it comes to something as contentious (from a copyright standpoint) as music.

If you’re digging deeper than the Primrose or Katims editions of Bach suites (and you absolutely should, in my opinion) or that tired old Bärenreiter edition of Telemann, you’ll quickly start finding that it requires time spent in a library and/or employing some pretty serious critical thought.

But as the Italians and Spaniards say: vale la pena (it’s worth the pain). There is an entire galaxy of untapped material awaiting the violist who is curious about “life before Telemann”, and you don’t necessarily have to play with historical performance techniques to appreciate this repertoire.

Study scores/parts, listen to recordings, read about the people and places and trends; sink your teeth into it, and feel free to ask for a librarian’s help!


What it’s like to share a stand with Dr. Dubois, by Amber Sander


Have you ever tried the practice technique where you put headphones on and play along with a favorite recording? I think this is a really fun way to shake things up in the practice room, and I always notice an improvement in my sound afterward. I’m not completely clear on why this works but it reminds me of the hilarious rubber hand illusion. For two weeks this December I experienced a live version of this sitting next to Dr. Dubois at a gig. We both had microphones on our instruments and were using in-ear monitors so I could hear her really clearly in one ear. This gave me an entirely new perspective on her playing and I felt like I was having one “ah-ha!” moment after another. This experience has had a profound impact on my playing and I would like to share some of my biggest realizations of what really separates out elite players like Dr. Dubois from the pack.

 

  1. Every note she plays is beautiful. If you are thinking “I already know that her sound is incredible,” then you’ve missed the point. Every note she plays is beautiful. It does not matter if it’s one lonely 16th note, a fourth finger (my nemesis), an unfortunate series of 5ths, or a whole note repeated for dozens of measures. Every note she plays will be full of life, depth, and character. The commitment to excellence and the level of focus this requires is astounding. I had never realized how many dead notes I let slip by until I pushed myself to follow her lead. It’s exhausting!

 

  1. Her playing is incredibly consistent and she is very focused, things I struggle with in my own playing. Have you ever had to redo a beautiful recording because you lost focus and made silly mistakes? I sure have and it is really frustrating. A few years ago I realized that this stems from bad habits in my practicing like letting myself get away with zoning out, or thinking about all the other things I need to get done. It is something that I am working to improve, but once again it’s exhausting!

 

  1. The number of different colors she plays with make Matisse and Van Gogh look like slackers. The analytical type-a part of me wishes we could have a musical version of paint by numbers so I could analyze all of the vibrato and bow control combinations she was using. However, even if something like this did exist it wouldn’t produce the same result because it would be so technical that the music would have no soul. I think this personal connection to the music is the real key. After that it’s just a matter of experimenting with your technique until you find the sound you’re looking for.

 

  1. She is a total pro. She is always on time, always prepared, always in a good mood, always paying attention, always kind to those around her, etc. I hope someone has shared with you how important these things are. The music world is very small, and you can’t afford to make a bad impression. You never know who will be in a position to hire you in the future… or spy on you at a gig and write about it. Dr. D really impressed me by remembering the names of people she hasn’t seen in years. She makes a point of meeting people she doesn’t know, and treats the aspiring artists the same as the seasoned vets.

 

  1. She makes mistakes just like the rest of us… thank goodness! These mistakes are far and few between, but what I noticed is that she doesn’t make a big production about it. There is no dramatic face or sigh, and she doesn’t let it taint the music coming up. Mistakes are simply marked and never missed again.

 

So what was it like to share a stand with Dr. Dubois? It was so much fun to spend this time with her, and it was really inspiring. Watching Dr. Dubois out of the corner of my eye was like having a silent lesson every day. I would hear her do something that I liked and then watch her hands to see how she did it. I made two little tweaks to my hand position and vibrato, and am sounding better than ever! Thanks for the tune up Dr. D!

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Introducing Amber Sander

Amber Sander HeadshotWhat is your name?

Amber Sander

Where are you from?

I grew up in Lubbock, TX.

How are you connected to the UNT viola studio?

I am an alumna.  I had the wonderful opportunity to serve as the Teaching Fellow from 2008-2010, and completed my DMA in 2013.

Who is your favorite violist? 

I really love the richness and depth of Roberto Diaz’s playing. I have never studied with him and have never even had an opportunity to hear him play live, but  I always find inspiration when I listen to his recordings.

Did you choose the viola, or did the viola choose you?

Technically both, however I think that the viola came looking for me. The day before I signed up to  play the viola I had never even heard of it!  My first orchestra teacher came to my elementary school and played for us. I was dazzled by the instruments and knew I had to learn to play.  I signed up immediately and never looked back. I still remember sitting outside of the school after our first class and plucking hot crossed buns for my friends. I am so thankful that I wasn’t absent from school the day the viola came looking for me!

Do you have any skills that your studio members wouldn’t know about?

I can wiggle my ears! This is completely useless but can be very amusing.

What made you want to pursue music as a career other than a hobby?

When I started playing viola at the age of 12 I was a shy and awkward kid that couldn’t quite find my place in the world. Discovering the viola for me was like finding a missing puzzle piece under the couch. All of a sudden I was complete. Playing the viola gave me a sense of purpose and belonging. It helped me find my voice and my place in the world, and most importantly it helped me develop a deep inner confidence that I desperately needed. I never actually made a decision to become a professional musician. As  I went through my studies there was an evolution from amateur to young artist that happened very organically. When it was time to apply for college I was already working as a musician and there was no question in my mind what my major would be.

 

If you could play any non-viola piece, what would it be?

I would really love to learn to play jazz. The creativity and soulfulness in jazz really speaks to me, and I think jazz viola sounds incredible.

 

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

I am so thankful for Jeff Irvine at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He took a big risk by accepting me into his studio because when I auditioned for my master’s degree at CIM I had major technical gaps in my playing that were seriously holding me back.  He saw potential in me, knew I was a hard worker, and accepted me despite those problems. Irv helped me begin the process of deconstructing my playing and filling in the holes. He was there for me when this process broke me down emotionally, and he helped me get my first job which I loved. He is also one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever known. He changed my life and I am so grateful.

What is your favorite memory, thus far, of being a musician?

Before I started college I dreamed of becoming famous. I don’t mean that  I wanted to be like Yo-Yo Ma or Itzhak Perlman, classical artists who have become household names across the world. I wanted to have a tour bus with my name on it, a private jet, a hair and makeup team, and play every night to sold out crowds with thousands of people screaming my name. What I had imagined  for myself would be today’s equivalent of being Adele, Beyoncé, or any other top 40 mega-star. My bubble was quickly burst when I realized that there isn’t a market this big for Brahms Viola Sonatas.  However that doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten to taste that life. When you work as a freelance artist, sometimes you have an opportunity to play with mega-stars like this when their tour comes through your area. I have gotten to do concerts like this several times, and I love being a part-time rockstar! One of my favorite memories as a musician was the very first time I played a show like this. It was for Kanye West’s Touch the Sky Tour. Because of the staging I got to be the first one to walk out on stage. As soon as I was visible 20,000 people began wildly cheering. I knew they were excited to see Kanye West, but in that moment I pretended they were cheering just for me. Afterwards people begged for our autographs… which we happily gave! It was a dream come true for my inner child, and I will certainly never forget it.

 

Have you ever had a viola crisis? How did you deal with it?

I actually laughed out loud when I read this question. YES, I have had many viola related crises in my life. Both in the literal sense… broken viola the day before a concert, and the figurative sense… career crisis. These things will happen to you too, and you will make it through it. Making it through the broken instrument crises is fairly easy. Make sure you have instrument insurance, and a good relationship with an instrument shop or friend that you can borrow from in a pinch. If the worst happens and your instrument breaks during a concert, do the best you can to make it work. If that’s really not an option, you really have no choice but to laugh it off like Yuri Bashmet did in this famous viola fail.

Making it through the career crisis is much harder. Before I tell you my story you need to understand one of the fundamental things about me. I like stability and schedules and plans, and I need to work full time to feel balanced and safe.  Many people love the freedom and variety of being a freelance musician and make a great living as a freelancer. I in no way seek to belittle their work. We are all different and that what works for one person may not work for another. You know the saying about round pegs and square holes right? … Now on to my story.

I had two mini career crises when I was in school where I was worried that I would never be able to get a job, and one major career crisis after graduating where I was swimming in the shark tank of people trying to get jobs. This is a rough business and struggle is unfortunately part of it. Full time positions are extremely difficult to come by, and the process of trying to land one of them can physically, mentally, and emotionally wreck you. It can also be a years-long process. For the first time in my life I found myself questioning whether being a musician was worth it or not. I started looking for new careers and even sent in several applications. Living through this was awful, and I am so glad that it’s in the past. What got me through it were my incredible family, friends, and mentors who so patiently talked with me every time I needed them. They couldn’t make the crisis end but they made it bearable. The crisis ended when I started my current job as a Suzuki Strings specialist for a the Hurst Euless Bedford school district, which I greatly enjoy. I gained the stability I need to feel balanced and safe, but I also still have time to practice and perform. It really is the best of both worlds and I am very happy now.


Introducing Andrew Justice, former Associate Head Music Librarian at UNT

What is your name?

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Where are you from?

Born in Los Angeles, grew up in Oregon

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am the Associate Head Music Librarian at UNT and am also a professional Baroque violist.

Did you choose the viola, or did the viola choose you?

Having started on violin at age 6, people began suggesting a switch to viola as I filled out my 6′ 4″ frame / wingspan / hand size; I resisted this notion for quite some time, as I thought of the violin as my instrument and wanted to explore more repertoire / technical challenges. In the second half of my Bachelor’s degree, however, I started playing viola in symphony, then I divided my senior recital between viola and violin, and by the time I started my Master’s degree, I was a full-time violist.

Tell us about your viola! Who made it? How did you come to play this instrument? Does it have a name?

My viola was made by Howard Sands of Eagle Point, Oregon in 1996; I purchased it during my senior year of undergrad. Over the years, I’ve switched out the modern bridge and tailpiece for Baroque versions, but otherwise it’s a modern instrument which has served me quite well in various performance situations.

Who is your favorite violist? (To listen to or as a mentor)

It really depends on the era and genre, but I find myself listening to a fair amount of Kashkashian for 20th c., Dutton & Tree for quartets, and Primrose for historical recordings. Wolfram Christ’s recording of the Bartók concerto (especially the second movement) specifically inspired me to study that piece. My teachers/mentors on viola were Marlan Carlson at Oregon State University and Leslie Straka at the University of Oregon. Both taught me incredibly important lessons, in vastly different ways.

If you could only play the works of one composer for the rest of your life, who would you choose and why?

That’s such a hard question to answer, but my gut (no pun intended) says Arcangelo Corelli; if you’ve ever played any of the Op. 6 Concerti Grossi, you know why. There’s something about his experience as a violinist, combined with 17th-c. harmonic techniques that just gets to me…in the right hands, performances of Corelli can be wildly exciting from a string/bow technique standpoint and then simply wreck your heart with simple chord changes in the slower movements.

What is your favorite piece to play?

I’ll have to put my foot down here and say: I can’t answer that. I will say, however, that I usually find at least one piece or movement or phrase or even moment on every program that I really try to sink into and suck all the marrow out of, because there’s almost always something, and what’s the point of doing all of this if you’re not going enjoy it to that level?

If you could play any non-viola piece, what would it be and why?

Instead of piece, I’ll say instrument: drums, because the coordination it requires is something different than strings or winds or keyboards, and as I get older I find myself focusing on the drums when I listen to [non-classical] music.

Do you come from a musical family?

Yes, my parents were always involved in church choirs (my dad used to direct; my mom sings basically all the time) and my stepfather played LP records when I was very young, which probably explains why I asked to learn violin at age 3 and now work with all kinds of sound recordings, both digital and analog.

What are your career goals?

To have a long and successful career as a music librarian and continue performing as a Baroque violist until my hands and/or ears will no longer allow me to do so.

What made you want to pursue music as a career rather than as a hobby?

When I was a senior in high school and contemplating my college/career path, I basically had to decide between music and being recruited to play college football — for me, it was never really a possibility to do anything other than music. Ever since I was young, I’ve basically lived music so studying it in college was an incredibly easy decision.

If you couldn’t be in music, what career would you choose?

Maybe something with computers or technology, maybe teaching. Or maybe living off the grid and growing all my own food, hiking and other outdoor pursuits, etc.

If you could take a lesson from any person, alive or deceased, who would it be and why?

I’d be really interested to see what Stamitz played like, or Mozart…maybe Joachim. I think we would all be surprised to see/hear what they REALLY played like, and it could seriously change how we approach music of those eras.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

Marc Vanscheeuwijck, musicologist and Baroque cellist at the University of Oregon: he speaks several languages, can lecture just as easily about art history as music history, plays Baroque cello like a house on fire, cooks some incredibly delicious meals and is easily the most approachable and intelligent person I know.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I like to play with clean hands, nothing too obsessive but just a simple wash before I pick up the instrument. Sometimes I have a banana, sometimes a bowl of pasta with a modest glass of red wine. Because I’ve been performing since I was 6 (started with Suzuki), I’ve never really had an issue with stage fright or nervousness.

What is your favorite memory, thus far, of being a musician?

Ha, like that’s possible to answer fairly — probably the most recent high point was performing with Manfredo Kraemer, who can do things you wouldn’t believe with the shortest Baroque bow you’ve ever seen. He’s one of those people who you feel like playing Twinkle with would be a life-changing experience…they don’t come around often, though, so enjoy it while you can!

Do you have any skills or hidden talents your fellow studio members wouldn’t know about?

Most of my colleagues (library or music) probably don’t know that I really enjoy cooking and baking; I’m not a superstar or anything, but I have received compliments on my pasta dishes, homemade pizza (with dough), grilling skills, and apple pie.


Introducing Rui Li

 

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What is your name?

My name is Rui Li.

Where are you from?

I am from China, Liaoning Province. It is located in the northeast of the country. I earned my Bachelor of Music degree at Central Conservatory of Music, in Beijing and my Master of Music degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am currently a first year student in the Doctor of Musical Arts program at UNT.

Did you choose the viola, or did the viola choose you?

I began on the violin at the age of 6. However, at the age of 12, I went to a viola recital. After that, I decided to change to viola because I love the warmer sound and C string.

What is your favorite piece to play?

It is hard to choose, but I would say Hindemith Op.11 No.4. The beginning of the first movement has a dreamy and calm mood because of the lyrical melody. I love it so much.

What are your career goals?

I would like to be employed as a professional orchestra violist and become an instructor at a university.

If you couldn’t be in music, what career would you choose?

Music is my life. If I chose another career, I think I would be a medical doctor because I want to help people around me and take care of them.

If you could take a lesson from any person, alive or deceased, who would it be and why?

William Primrose. After reading this book “Playing the Viola: Conversations with William Primrose”, I wish I could have had a lesson with him. Also, I can learn from every person because everyone has something unique to offer.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

My most important musical influences have been my mentors, specifically the teacher I studied with for my undergraduate degree, Wing Ho.

Do you have any skills or hidden talents your fellow studio members wouldn’t know about?

I love cooking especially Chinese food. There are “Eight Culinary Cuisines” in China. I am especially good at cooking spicy food. I hope I can cook those for my friends in the future.

 


Welcome back, and welcome to “From the Studio” 2016!

Dear Readers,

UNT’s Viola Studio has been teeming with activity since the beginning of the year. We’ve taken a winter recess to update some features of the blog, and are excited that you can now subscribe to “From the Studio” and receive the blog in your email account directly, every time we publish a new post. Thanks to Allan Lee for helping me incorporate this feature into the blog! Look to your right– the subscription box is right there…add your email, confirm, and voilà…viola happiness should flow into your inbox!

New Year’s brings change and new beginnings. As of January, we have said goodbye to two important members of our viola community, who have moved on to new positions and cities, so I will start this semester by sharing their contributions and wishing them well in all their new endeavors. We begin with DMA student Rui Li, who has moved to join her husband in Houston for the year. And we’ll continue with Andrew Justice, who recently left UNT to begin an exciting new post as Head of the Music Library at the University of Southern California.

UNT is big and keeps us busy, busy, busy…in the last two weekends alone we have heard auditions from dozens of new string applicants, (including several wonderful violists from all over the world!) We’ll soon catch you up to the concerts that have taken place…(next week we will reach concert #600 for the school year already…!) ….and this week many students and faculty will leave excitedly to attend TMEA in San Antonio. There is never a dull moment (and hopefully never a dull viola sound…!!)

Happiest wishes as 2016 Spring semester flies by…. We hope you will continue to enjoy sharing in the life of our viola studio!
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A Conversation with George Papich, Director of the Center for Chamber Music at UNT, by Ruben Balboa

IMG_3162 (1)I have had the distinct privilege during my graduate degree to be a part of the Bancroft String Quartet. Every week , we meet with two professors to go over our progress. One professor, in particular, is Dr. George Papich. He has been a teacher here for nearly 50 years and has taught classes such as Music History, Music Appreciation, Opera, Performance Practice, and Chamber Music. Dr. Susan Dubois and I sat down with Dr. Papich to speak with him about his life and time here at UNT.

Before becoming a professor at UNT, Dr. Papich was called upon to serve in the United States Army whilst in the middle of completing his doctoral degree. During his service, he was the principal violist of the Seventh Army Symphony, with whom he performed throughout Europe; completing 20 concerts in 20 days. Upon returning from his tour of service, he became an elementary music teacher, since the need was there and his course of study had previously been interrupted. He taught there for a year, but was not satisfied with the administration, though he thoroughly loved teaching and the students alike. By happy coincidence, it was then that Northern Michigan University requested that he continue his course of study for his doctorate at their school, which would later lead to Dr. Papich becoming faculty there.

Around the year of 1967, Sandy, his wife, wanted to live somewhere new as she wasn’t fond of Michigan, or the cold weather that accompanies the state. So, Dr. Papich then gave her a list of five universities, and promised if one those universities had an open position, and if they were interested in him, then they would leave Michigan. Shortly after this compromise, he would fulfill his promise to her. Just two days after making this promise, the University of North Texas called offering him a job. At Northern Michigan University, he was making $9,200 a year; UNT offered him $13,000 without even blinking, and even allowed his brother to attend UNT tuition free as a part of his contract.

He then arrived at UNT to teach two viola students, nineteen chamber groups, and several university courses. As a musician he went on to maintain a thriving teaching studio, and performance career. Many of his students have gone on to win orchestral auditions, perform in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Ft. worth Symphony Orchestra, Austin Symphony Orchestra, and many prestigious chamber groups and quartets. Not only has teaching at UNT for 48 years afforded him to meet and touch many lives, but it has proven that Mrs. Papich’s request to move is one that brought upon a decision they have both been happy with throughout the years.

In the year 2000, Dr. George Papich decided to retire from the University of North Texas, only to return three years later. When asked why he returned to teaching, he said that there were three things most important in his life: family, music, and the people he would interact with and teach. During his brief retirement, he made furniture, played golf, and found that it didn’t bring him as much joy as teaching. “Training young people is something really special,” Papich said, “It’s never perfect but there are times when it is just so good. “  The joy of coaching for Dr. Papich is seeing his students take the next step forward, not being afraid of the challenges, and to hit them head on.

During his time here at UNT, he developed the Center for Chamber Music supported by the Dean of the College of Music, Dr. James Scott. Dr. Papich believed that Chamber Music needed to be more of a priority at UNT. The program started with a piano trio that turned out to be very successful. The trio competed for, and won the Plowman Chamber Music Competition, Colbourn Chamber Competition, and Fischoff Chamber Music Competition.

This primary success has evolved into what chamber music at the University of North Texas is today. Chamber music at UNT currently enrolls over 200 students every semester. Out of those students, 17 musicians are chosen for the Center for Chamber Music Studies. The Center for Chamber Music Studies is comprised of a woodwind quintet, piano trio, brass quintet, and a string quartet. Every week, coaches listen to these groups and there is a final performance every semester. The goals for these ensembles are that when the musicians graduate and leave to go on in the professional world of music, they are capable of being in a chamber group, and know how to efficiently work as a musician and person. They do this by not only teaching students how to play certain pieces, but why we play the pieces the way we do and how to appropriately give our own interpretation.

As we drew closer to the end of the interview, we asked what his thoughts were on the past 48 years of teaching. “It’s been a good job for me”, he said. “The whole concept of growing from two students to thirty students is just amazing. I’m so proud.” He then said, “I feel like I’ve established a good thing, and whoever took over for me would benefit from it. I’ve had the pleasure of watching this enormously talented young lady (Dr. Dubois) follow me, and do a better job than I ever could have.”

When asked what were some of his favorite memories, the amount far surpassed the appropriate length of this article and I have been hard pressed to choose just one to give you insight into the personality of this amazing teacher, man, and musician. It was very clear that he has had a great time here, and true to his humorous personality, has proved to be quite a jokester. He said, “There are plenty of musical memories and then there are some that are just plain fun.” One time at a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, in between the two acts, Phil Lewis (one of UNT’s Violin Professors) chained and locked up Dr. Papich’s viola. When Dr. Papich asked Mr. Lewis to unlock it, he said that he didn’t have a key. So, Dr. Papich had to find a janitor to cut the chain. In return, Dr. Papich grabbed Mr. Lewis’s violin, and hung it up on Lewis’ dartboard. Dr. Papich then proceeded to put darts all around the violin. He remarked that it was very pleasant to have their offices next to each other because he heard a big scream when Mr. Lewis returned to his office. “We lived in a different time. Everyone wasn’t so serious back then. It was a special time”, Papich said.

Dr. Papich has clearly done a multitude of wonderful things in his lifetime for UNT, and more importantly his students. He has touched so many people with his humor, dedication, knowledge, and love. I am so honored to have met him and thankful to him for passing his knowledge onto me and many others.

 

Until next time,

Ruben Balboa III