Introducing Dr. Daphne Gerling

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What is your name?

I have a long name: Daphne Cristina Capparelli Gerling.

Where are you from?

I was born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and moved to Boston, MA, when I was very young, so each city is “home” to me in a different way.

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I joined the faculty five years ago, in the fall of 2011. I am currently the Senior Artist Teacher of viola and chamber music, and Associate Director of the Summer String Institute. The UNT viola studio is my musical home.

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

I began playing the violin when I was four years old. My father is a violinist, and he started teaching me the summer before Kindergarten. As a young girl, I loved hearing him play the violin, and I was pretty sure that it would be great to grow up and be like Anne-Sophie Mutter, playing the Beethoven violin concerto in Christian Dior! But the writing was on the wall….in my first childhood quartet I played “violin 3″…at the time in my city in Brazil, no children played viola, and very few students were studying it even in college. So my father’s first attempts to introduce me to it didn’t go very well, because there wasn’t a nice small viola to play, and there wasn’t a viola community or culture to belong to yet. Everything changed when I came to Boston in 1992 to study violin with Marylou Speaker Churchill, who was the Principal Second Violinist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. One afternoon my friend Melissa Reardon was visiting her home for a chamber music rehearsal with the Amaryllis quartet and left her beautiful Otto Erdesz viola open in its case. She mentioned I should try it out. I had a moment of complete identification with the instrument– I was completely taken in by the beautifully ringing low sound, and it “fit” just right! When I ran excitedly downstairs to tell Marylou, she sent me to find a viola in her studio closet. That Douglas Cox instrument became my viola for the next 10 years. Marylou encouraged me to make the switch immediately… so I stuck out youth orchestra for the remainder of the semester as a violinist, but began viola lessons that same weekend. In the summer I made the permanent switch and never looked back.

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

The viola I have played since 2002 is a Joseph Curtin, made in Ann Arbor, MI in 1989. I love it, and I love that it came to me through my dear friend Suzanne Wagor and her family. I also have a baroque viola made by Douglas Cox, after a Maggini model. This always makes me happy because of the connection to my first instrument. I play bows by Thomas Dignan of Boston, W. Hammig of Leipzig and a wonderful baroque bow by Thomas Gerbeth from Vienna.

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

It would be a total disaster if you made me pick between Bach, Schubert, Mozart, and Brahms. I refuse to give any of them up. And what about Beethoven and Schumann and Mahler and Debussy…. and in our time, Takemitsu…yeah, I’m definitely not going to make up my mind.

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

If I could perform any non-viola piece, I would sing the soprano solo part of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. I studied singing really seriously throughout my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and this is my absolute bucket list piece to perform, ever. I also wish I could play the Ravel Piano Trio, on violin.

Do you come from a musical family?

I come from a very musical family in Brazil! My mother Cristina is a piano and music theory professor, and my father Fredi is a violin professor and a conductor. My maternal grandmother Cora is still active as a teacher and community music organizer at 90. Her musical legacy in Brazil is awe-inspiring. And my paternal grandfather was a dramatic opera conductor with a colorful history. My youngest sister Ingrid is a beautifully talented violinist working in Houston TX. My “adopted” Churchill family in Boston is eminently musical, and my husband Coulter grew up playing piano and organ seriously, and shares his encyclopedic knowledge with me daily.

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

I would not like to give up what I currently do! But at various points I have thought of studying medicine, musicology, French, religious studies and counseling psychology…. I’m aiming to be a life-long learner of the visual arts, yoga, Alexander Technique, and many foreign languages.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Often, I sing. But mostly a banana, some water, some breathing exercises…checking important passages silently to review, after having a good slow warm-up. Backstage I try to stay warm and keep my attention focused calmly on my breath. I think about enjoying the performance, sharing it with the audience and with my collaborators.

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

There are so many wonderful moments…among them: touring Argentina with Porto Alegre’s Suzuki group at age nine, without parents! Performing Dvorak’s New World Symphony in Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colón, and in Santiago, Chile. Meeting the incredible artists who would come through Tanglewood each summer. Singing Haydn’s “Creation” under Robert Shaw, and Cosí fan Tutte “in the round” at CIM Opera Theater. The day during my master’s degree when I had to perform the first movement of Bartok Viola Concerto in partial opera costume and make-up because of overlapping opera performance and viola studio class. Holding the original manuscripts of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata, Bizet’s Carmen and Debussy’s Préludes in my hands at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris. Playing Mahler at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Performing baroque viola in the Karlsruhe International Händel Festival. Dinner with Bruno Giuranna and the Portuguese Viola Society. Amazing trips to Vietnam, Honduras, and Japan that I would never have taken if not for music. This list could go on and on…

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

These days I joke that I am a spy…because I am always on an airplane headed somewhere, and it’s hard to keep track of me. (Tip– easiest place to find me is probably in my studio!) But as far as “talents” my students might not see every day, what I most enjoy is learning languages, and cooking for friends and family. I once cooked a full Brazilian Feijoada dinner for 72 people at Westminster Abbey by myself….

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