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Introducing Hella Frank

Hella 1

What is your name?

Hella Johanna Frank

Where are you from?

Porto Alegre, Brazil. It’s the capital of the southern-most state of Brazil. There is a lot of German and Italian immigration, which seems worth mentioning since my family is originally German.

 How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I recently hosted Susan Dubois and Daphne Gerling for a teaching residency at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. The music department has about 320 students, and it’s the highest ranked music department in Brazil. Daphne and I have hosted a gathering of violists here before, in 2012, so the connection between us goes back quite a few years.

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

I have a deep dark secret, but it’s actually well known in Porto Alegre…. I am a violin professor, and I chose to play the viola soon after I finished my masters at New England Conservatory. I was able to stay for an additional year doing a graduate performance diploma, and I focused on viola during that time. When I returned to Brazil, I won my professorship as a violinist, but I was immediately engaged to play viola in orchestras and chamber music regularly, and I have taught both violin and viola full-time at the university since 1990.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

On the day of the concert I like to play my entire program once, just to refresh my memory. I try to eat normally and sleep well the night before. But the main ritual is that I have a typed up check-list that I go through before I leave home to go perform! It helps me remember everything I might need to bring: clothing, including hand-warmers and extra layers, safety pins, hangers, music stand, sheet music, extra parts for my peers, stand lights or other stage lighting for certain venues, water, food, kleenex, make-up, programs, any program notes for speaking about the concert, and lastly, a reminder to check on whether I need to bring the violin, or the viola! 😉

Who were your most important mentors?

My teacher from age 9 through finishing my undergraduate studies was Marcello Guerchefeld. He would sometimes teach me for entire afternoons. He was so generous with his time and skill. He was amazing at explaining fingering options, and I still use that information every day in my playing and in my teaching. He and his wife Maly are extremely kind– during the years when I was concertmaster of the São Pedro Chamber Orchestra in Porto Alegre, they would always host me on concert days, making sure I would rest and have a good meal in between services, as my home was too far away from the theater.

Eric Rosenblith was my teacher at New England Conservatory. Prof. Rosenblith was a direct student of Carl Flesch. Marcello had studied with Galamian at Juilliard, so in my masters degree I was exposed to a whole new lineage of teaching. Mr. Rosenblith had a very personalized approach to each student, and he was very inspiring musically– he was a very expressive musician. He gave me the tools to reach that level of musical expression as well. He was very creative in making up exercises for practicing every type of passage. He also thought that it was really important to find the right fingerings for your own hand and your particular instrument. He encouraged people to find different options that were right for them, and it would always make a lot of sense.

Eugene Lehner was very special as a mentor to me in chamber music. He was 84 when he taught me, and he was very sweet. He would constantly experiment with bowings. He would very often say “let’s try the reverse bowing. My name is Eugene “reverse-bowing” Lehner…. so let’s try it.” He really encouraged experimentation to get a musical idea across. So I think a lot of my love for chamber music comes from having had those experiences at NEC. Louis Krasner was also another inspiring coach I worked with at that time.

Do you come from a musical family?

My siblings and I started playing recorder and a little bit of piano by the age of 4 or 5, before each of us chose their own instrument. My mother Isolde was a music teacher, and taught recorder especially. She wrote an important recorder teaching method that is widely used in Brazil, called “Pedrinho toca Flauta.” She was also involved in a pioneering youth orchestra outreach program in Porto Alegre, which was called “Projeto Prelúdio.” These days she is retired, but still working actively on musical projects for her church.

Do you have any hidden skills or talents your students might not know about?

I craft traditional German Christmas ornaments. They are made from wheat straw, and shaped like stars.

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