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Dr. Elizabeth Whitehead Chappell introduces the UNT String Project, with a Viola Halloween Video!

AYOI teach all things string music education at UNT, but one of my favorite roles here is String Project director. The UNT String Project allows students to get authentic teaching experiences that we could never replicate in a college classroom.

There are only about 40 String Project sites in the United States, and six of them are in Texas. Together, the sites form the National String Project Consortium, which partners with host universities or community organizations. The UNT string project has 22 teachers, a master teacher, Carrie Atkins, and well over 100 students from Denton and the surrounding areas. Each class meets once a week for 50 minutes and is taught by UNT student music education and string performance majors. We have four different levels and two orchestras. The students can start as early as 3rd grade as beginners on violin, viola, cello, and bass. Ms. Atkins and I observe and guide the student teachers during classes and then we meet with the teachers once a week to discuss the successes and challenges of the previous week, as well as plan for the upcoming week.

Our String Project violists are: George Burnett, Joseph Geller, Andreas Gomez, Sam Hernandez, Nick Tharp, Myles Miller, and Gabriella Myers. Each of these teachers plays a role as both a lead teacher and an assistant in various classes and they are all string music education majors. As Gabriella put it: “The best part about SP for me is being able to share my love of music with eager children. I have to challenge myself to remember that I am teaching beginners, and not people at my own level.” George adds: “This week, I am teaching the students to play a song in a round, and we are working on reinforcing skills we already taught them. The best thing about string project for me is the look on the students’ faces when they get things right!”

String Project provides these students with many “real world” experiences. They experience lesson planning, classroom management, parent interactions, and “thinking on their feet.” Just last week we had a tornado warning during our class time, and they had to shelter in place!

We have recently added the Charms system so that our teachers can get familiar with this organizational technology that is widely used in  Texas public schools. We use this system to easily send emails to our parents (grouped by class or in a mass emailing) and to organize our music library. Recently we have also uploaded practice videos to Charms so that our students and parents have a reference to guide their practice time. Take a look at Nick and Sam playing “Chicken on the Fence Post!”

One of the biggest challenges to the success of string project students is the fact that they only meet once a week. I have yet to find another string project that only offers one lesson per week– others either offer one group and one private lesson or two group lessons per week. Working within a pre-existing format, I decided that offering videos for the parents to help guide their students in practice would be a possible solution to help mitigate this issue. (We will let you know later in the year how things turn out!) So I have been researching ways to restructure the program to give the students more contact hours with their teachers. I’m also really excited that in January we will be offering the “Every Child Can” introductory Suzuki training workshop to all our student teachers, taught by my mentor, Laurie Scott. I think this is going to bring some really interesting new perspectives to our students, about what is possible in teaching.

Speaking of  working with videos, we have also been experimenting in one of the music education courses with iMovie trailer software. We made this silly viola recruitment video for Halloween– we hope that you are entertained!


Introducing Dr. Elizabeth Whitehead Chappell, String Music Education Specialist

What is your name?bioUNT

Elizabeth Whitehead Chappell

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, but I have spent every Summer of my life in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I consider both places “home.”

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am a Visiting Senior Lecturer of orchestra music education and Director of the String Project at UNT. I have many students who are in the UNT viola studio, and one of my housemates is Dr. Gerling! When I accepted the job at UNT, I needed a place to stay during the week (my family is in Austin, so I commute to Denton) and when Dr. Gerling’s house was mentioned, I committed without even meeting her in person because I knew that I would get along well with a viola professor.

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

I started the violin at age 7 with the University of Texas String Project and played through high school. My freshman year at the University of Kansas I was a music therapy major with a nice violin scholarship. About mid-way through the year I found myself talking to the viola professor and I think that he offered me to try out a viola for fun. I can’t remember how the viola came to be in my hands exactly, but I do remember the pure exaltation of playing it for the first time. I don’t think that it took more than a week to find a viola, switch my scholarship and start playing viola in orchestra. By pure luck (or fate) I found my viola at a local used music store filled with junky guitars and drum sets. It was a beautiful instrument that I played until just a few years ago. I don’t know how it ended up in that music store, but it was part of the whole “meant to be” story.

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

I’ll warn you, this is a tear jerker story. My best friend, Amy Farris, who I met in high school All-Region Orchestra (25+ years ago) purchased an incredible Anne Cole viola with the inheritance that her very special grandmother had left her. The “Dove” was her most prized possession and she played it on her solo album “Anyway,” as well as on many others, including those of Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys and Exene of X. A few years later, Amy became very ill. When she felt that her time was coming to an end, she told me that she was leaving me the Dove in her will. She told me it made her happy to think about how much I would enjoy playing it. I was so honored, but it was a gift I would have rather not have received, if you know what I mean.

To say that that the Dove is a magical instrument would be an understatement. It is classified as a 15 inch viola, but it is really wide and makes a 16″+ sound. Anne Cole names all of her instruments, they each have a theme. Mine is the “Dove”. There is a dove carved at the base of the scroll, the tuning pegs have little dots of real turquoise at the ends, and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” lyrics (NAACP theme song) are written in calligraphy in the interior of the instrument. This song speaks to me because my passion as an educator is to create opportunities for all students, regardless of economic status or race, to play in orchestra (viola preferably!) 🙂

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

I have two, Clara Gainer and Celeste Chappell, my daughters who are 19 and 14. My favorite bass player is my 11 year old son Finn. I know, sappy, but that’s what motherhood can do to you.

Do you come from a musical family?

My dad’s mother played the piano by ear and was a fabulous performer, but my immediate family was not musical. I am an only child and both of my parents were visual artists. My cousins (from my mother’s side) who I am pretty close to, are musical. When we get together we play old time fiddle music, Bob Wills, and sometimes some Irish tunes. We have guitars, an accordion, fiddles, and an African Kora. One of those cousins is a luthier in Western Massachusetts (shirleywhiteviolins.com). Of course I mentioned before that my children are string players, so my husband Chris (who is a visual artist) is the only odd man out in my current immediate family.

What are your career goals?

I am living my career goals right now. Training a new crop of orchestra teachers every year and working with the string project students is my idea of the perfect job!

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

When I was a teenager I thought that I wanted to be a marine biologist. One Summer I worked in a lab at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. It was fun and interesting, but I found myself wishing that I was playing music instead. It was a constant feeling I had so I started bringing my violin to practice during my breaks. That Summer made me realize that music was my path.

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

I guess I’d have to say Shinichi Suzuki. I mean, come on, of course Suzuki! Really though, I would have liked to have observed him teach to see the things he focused on, and the approach he would take to make improvements. I’m afraid I would miss something if I was taking the lesson with him.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

I have two. Bill Dick and Laurie Scott from Austin, Texas. Bill Dick was my middle school orchestra director and my high school violin teacher. I admire his ability to individualize instruction for his students and it was lessons with him that inspired me to make a career in music. Laurie Scott was my supervising professor for my doctoral dissertation. Any students that study with Laurie improve at least ten-fold because she sets up a multitude of successful experiences within each lesson, and leads students to play more musically which is, of course, why we are all here. She lives and breathes the ideal of “every child can.”  Incidentally, Bill and Laurie are close friends and co-authors of “Mastery for Strings” and “Learning Together”.

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

My favorite musical memories are from the podium. I love making music myself, but I -really- love teaching others to make music. The first thing that comes to mind is a scene from my last middle school concert that I conducted. I had about 150 students ranging from 6th to 8th grade (with anywhere from a few months to a few years of playing experience). I was standing in the middle, leading this unpredictable group in “Stand By Me” by Ben King. We had slap bass and violin solos and violists who wanted to play the violin solo so they were playing in third position… it really could have gone pretty wrong. Instead it came together better than ever, and the musicians, audience, and conductor shared a very special musical moment.

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

I love to sew and I’m pretty good at it. I have made several wedding/bridesmaid dresses as a seamstress for hire, I worked for a tailoring shop in college, and I have at least 4 sewing machines set up in my sewing room right now!


Introducing Ashley Salinas

What is your name?

Ashley SalinasSalinasRecital2015

Where are you from?

Pasadena, TX

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I came to UNT in 2009 for my MM degree and am currently in my third year as a DMA student studying viola performance and Early Music. I am also the Teaching Fellow for string methods class.

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

I think it chose me: I started violin lessons when I was nine years old. When Texas All-Region Orchestra auditions came around, I was constantly disappointed with the results: it seemed like no matter how much I practiced violin, there were just too many other strong violinists to compete against, many of whom had been studying violin for three or four years longer than I had. The switch to viola seemed to be a “third time’s a charm” decision for me. I begged my mom to let me play cello even though the shop employee (who happened to be a cellist) strongly suggested viola. At the end of my eighth grade year, I auditioned for youth orchestra on violin and the director asked if I had interest in playing viola. Finally, my high school orchestra teacher, who was also a violist, asked me to seriously consider switching since there were fewer violas than violins….so I did.

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 Guy Cole in 2006 and I purchased it from Robertson’s Violin Shop in Albuquerque, NM.

Do you come from a musical family?

My dad has an extensive vinyl collection, so­ his influence and insistence on high audio quality made a lasting impression on my own standards of sound quality.

What are your career goals?

Chamber music and teaching.

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

I absolutely cannot see myself doing anything else.

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

Arts management.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

My undergraduate orchestra conductor at Sam Houston State University, Dr. Carol Smith, has been one of the most influential figures in my life, not only in music, but also as a strong female professional role model. She reinforced the importance of score study and critical listening in symphony orchestra, as well as in chamber music and other genres.

Do you have any pre­concert rituals?

I make an effort to spend as much time in the performance space as I can get:

• I take time to walk around the perimeter of the hall, envisioning watching myself on the

stage from various points in the room.

• I snap a few photos of the space: what I will see just before entering the stage (backstage

perspective) and what my perspective will be during the actual performance. These photos

allow me to maintain mental focus as I spend the final days preparing for performance.

 I don’t stray from my normal morning routine (i.e., I drink the same amount of coffee and eat a regular breakfast.) Recently, I’ve been scheduling in a short workout, and listening to my program several hours before showtime. My instrument warmup consists of slow practice and playing through a “repetition checklist.”

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

I cannot pin down one favorite memory– ­ traveling has given me a wealth of beautiful memories. Topping the list would be traveling to China and Mexico with my quartet at SHSU, all six summers I spent at the Performing Arts Institute (PAI) at Wyoming Seminary, in Pennsylvania, and most recently spending this past summer at Green Mountain Music Festival in Vermont with my best friend from SHSU (who is currently studying viola in Florida).


An interview with Sheila Browne, by Kathleen Crabtree

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During Sheila Browne’s recent visit to Denton, I had the opportunity to interview her over coffee. We covered everything from the world-wide decline of the honeybee and the geographical spread of dianthus flowers (or pinks, from which her Fire Pink Trio derived its name), to traveling (she toured China with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra in eighth grade as its youngest member), and the intricacies of putting out an album (these days, one does not simply and quickly acquire funding for a CD). Read on for a fascinating look into the life of one of the premiere violists of today.

Kathleen: You’re from Philadelphia, have dual citizenship in the United States and Ireland, and live in North Carolina. Where do you consider “home?”

Sheila Browne: I will always be from Philadelphia. There’s no question in my mind that that’s where my most formative years were spent. When I was growing up there, Philadelphia was a mecca for violists – Primrose, Karen Tuttle, Joseph DePasquale, and Kim Kashkashian were all there. Philadelphia as a city was totally seminal in setting up my values. It’s a nice city because it has more of a local feel even though it’s big, but it’s not New York. My dad’s side of the family is from New York – Brooklyn, Queens, all the five boroughs. I grew up spending a lot of time in New York, so those northeastern cities for me are very much a part of who I am. These are colorful places where you can walk down the street and see people from twenty-five different countries on one block.
In North Carolina, I live on a farmette with four acres. I’m a homey person. Since my mom grew up on a farm, I’ve always been fascinated by that lifestyle that is disappearing. I’ve always loved being outdoors, and I love animals. So a few years ago, I decided to move outside the city – I have one goat, four chickens (down from seventeen, after one of my two dogs decided that she likes to kill chickens). And I had a potbelly mini-pig – Cosmo – but he passed away this summer.
K: Were your parents musicians?
SB: My dad was a rocket scientist – a chemical engineer. But he listened to classical music constantly. My mother grew up with a piano in her house and she also played organ. So my sister and I grew up hearing her play piano, and she started us playing it at 5 and 6. We took to it very quickly because we loved it and thought it was so amazing that our mother could play piano, so we wanted to play it too. And my dad was all for it. We had a lot of creativity in the house – we also did drama, dance classes, and visual arts. My mom made sure that we were exposed to all these different types of art forms.
K: Since you had this rich cultural upbringing, did you imagine yourself going into the arts from a young age, or did you originally want to follow your dad into science?
SB: I was always more arts-oriented. I really enjoyed physics, which of course is so important to teaching and understanding how to play the viola. But I guess I always just loved the creative stuff. My sister very quickly surpassed me at piano because I never wanted to practice, and she always did. She got to go play outside because she had already done her hour of practicing, and I was still inside the house, whining that my mother was telling me to practice!
In the Philly suburbs (Main Line) school system, you got to pick an orchestral instrument to play in the 4th grade, and I picked viola because it was a really beautiful name. And then I had something to do that was my own: not my sister’s, not my mother telling me what to do, and that was very important to me, because I was always very independent, so it gave me a focal point where I could blossom on my own. And by the time I was in 8th or 9th grade, it was very clear that I wanted to pursue viola.
K: You’ve been in quartets, you do recitals alone and with your Fire Pink Trio, you’re an educator. What are your goals moving forward, and what do you think – or want – your legacy to be?
SB: Ah, the “L” word! I love the varied diet I have. I want to be known as a great teacher and a great player. I also want to be known for expanding the repertoire and to do a lot more recordings. We’ve all turned to recordings when we’re learning something. And I love listening to them to hear what other people have done, and it’s always fascinating to me to see how one artist solves a technical problem. To see what each individual brings to the table, is of course, why we love going to live performances, isn’t it? So YouTube is very helpful for that, and I definitely want to get more pieces on YouTube.
I love to do transcriptions, and they’re always great, but people don’t even think of the viola as a viable option. I think a lot of people have stereotypes about what a violist is or what the viola can do. Expecting respect and not getting it out of ignorance…it can be daunting. How many times do we get asked what instrument is in our case? And that’s where we’re starting from.
K: I had a guy ask me once if I had a tuba in my case.
SB: He knew what a tuba was, but not a viola?!
K: That’s our “norm;” that’s what we have to put up with.
SB: Yes. And one of these days, the world will find out what a viola is.There’s something about it that speaks to the human condition. It doesn’t have to be brilliant and flashy and showy all the time in order to be self-satisfying. It’s a very earthy instrument, and in our lives, we definitely need more of that as modern people. I cross my fingers and really hope that one day, there will be a shift and people will start to discover something that is so helpful for humanity. I wish I had some sort of master plan to put that into effect! At a meeting once when I was on the board of the American Viola Society, I said, “The other day, I was at the store and saw G-clef pasta. Maybe we can get C-clef pasta!”
K: You mentioned earlier about your pig Cosmo passing away this last summer. The death of a pet is, as we know, very traumatic just like any other tragedy. And you had to play a concert that night. How do you approach the mentality of “the show much go on” under those circumstances?
SB: Music has always been an incredible emotional outlet for me. And it is where we turn when there’s no where else to go. As a civilization, we turn to music because it provides an emotional connection when we need it most. So when you’re going through something personal as a performer, that can be the hardest time to open up, but sometimes it can be the easiest. It depends on the situation and the work you’re going to perform. But many times for me, it ends up being a kind of salve that helps to comfort me. In these situations, you don’t necessarily want to be in front of people, baring your soul, but it shows something incredible about us – a testament that you are still standing upright, with your bow in hand. It’s a testament to life – that life goes on. As hard as that may be, it is a step in the process to getting through it. It is who you are and what you do.
K: So do you draw inspiration from those times?
SB: Absolutely! As violists, we have so much sad music. And there is something about the nature, or at least, one side of the viola, that does draw out those emotions. There’s great beauty in that. We live in a society where everyone wants to be happy and pleasant all the time. Life is full of “negative” emotions, but we don’t have to classify them that way. People are afraid to talk about fear and anger, but it’s all part of the human condition. If we all spent the time acknowledging the fact that we have these emotions, we would be in a better place. So that’s what the stage can be good for – drawing out those sorts of emotions that no one wants to touch.
I thanked Ms. Browne for her time and we hurried off to the afternoon masterclass. I felt so lucky to get a glimpse into her mind and creative process. As a student, it seems as though people are constantly telling me what we as musicians can or can’t do (“You won’t make money at this profession unless you play in an orchestra!” Or, “Viola soloists don’t exist,” etc.) Yet, our time together proved that you can indeed have it all and stay grounded. Passion for performance, while pushing the limits of how violists are imagined, makes for a fulfilling, thrilling, and successful life.

Introducing Kathleen Crabtree

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What is your name?

Kathleen Crabtree

Where are you from?

I am from Lakewood, Colorado, the most beautiful state in the US. But I am equally at home in Rochester, New York, home of the Eastman School of Music (where I earned my bachelor’s degree), and Cleveland, Ohio, where I completed my master’s work (at the Cleveland Institute of Music).

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

This school year is my first as a Doctor of Musical Arts student at UNT.

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

Playing the violin was a rite of passage for my mother’s family, and I gladly carried on the tradition as a young adolescent into my teenage years. Plans were made, and practicing commenced, for college auditions as a violin performance major. But in my junior year of high school, a violist was needed for my church’s Christmas program. Since I could hack my way through the part (with many notes penciled in, thanks to the alien alto clef), I borrowed a viola from my school and brought it to my teacher, Basil Vendryes, for help. As soon as I sank into the C string, something about me changed. Yes, the violin has its high, sparkly virtuosic passages and repertoire for days. But the viola awakened my spirit as an artist and human being. Choosing to make it my main instrument allowed me to pick from a wealth of expression and emotion that I never imagined as a violinist.

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 in 1804 by Joseph Fischer in Ratisbonne, Germany. When I started to look for a new viola in January 2011, George Taylor, my teacher at the time, recommended Reuning and Sons in Boston. This viola was the first one they sent to me, and it didn’t take long to realize that it was “my voice.” I call him Junior because he is such a small instrument – only 15 1/8 inches!

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

It’s impossible to pick a favorite! But here are two that I come back to over and over. At the International Viola Congress in 2012, I was fortunate enough to hear Paul Neubauer perform the Glière concerto. Never before (or since!) have I been so taken by a player’s tone. When I’m seeking artistic inspiration, I listen to Yuri Bashmet. I hear in his playing overwhelming mastery and passion – the viola is his vehicle to expression. His recording of the Bartók concerto is especially gripping.

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

Two pieces immediately come to mind: Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, and Kodály’s Solo Cello Sonata. Both are full of exotic flair, stirring sentiment, and masterful string writing.

Do you come from a musical family?

I am very blessed to come from a family of musicians. My grandfather played alto saxophone in big bands in New York City in the 40s. Once he married my grandmother and saw that his jazz lifestyle wasn’t conducive to being an ideal “family man,” he taught himself cello (after moving to Detroit) and joined my grandmother in a ballet orchestra, where she was the concertmaster. Their oldest daughter, my aunt Cecelia, bloomed as a violin prodigy and played in the first violin section of an adult orchestra as a precocious 11 year old. The musical talent extended to my mother, who sang in a competitive women’s touring chorus; my twin sister, who trained as a percussionist; and my cousins, who sing and play piano for churches and musicals in southern Colorado.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

Not just one, but three, teachers occupy the “most influential musician” category in my life. Basil Vendryes brought me into the world of the viola. I’m continually amazed at how he can wear so many hats – principal violist, teacher, coach, conductor, chamber musician, recitalist – and excel at each one. George Taylor opened my mind. I am never less than awestruck at his insights into both teaching and the human condition. He is a truly brilliant man who doesn’t play favorites – each one of his students is made to feel truly special and unique. Stanley Konopka showed me the path to professionalism. His attention to detail, focus, and precision is unmatched. He took my playing – a raw ball of passion and fervor – and revealed how refinement will take you everywhere.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

When I’m preparing for an important concert, I visualize myself in the space in which the performance will be held. This helps me with goal-setting and calming nerves. Focusing on breathing always proves helpful if I need extra help while waiting to go on stage (breathing in for one count and out for three). But most importantly, I remind myself to take the audience on a journey and GIVE them the gift of music, rather than playing AT them or for myself.

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

My favorite memories come from summer camps and festivals. They are my “happy places:” from the forests of Vermont while at the Kinhaven Music School and Meadowmount School of Music, to the magnificence of my home state at the Colorado College Summer Music Festival and Rocky Ridge Music Center. The best musical memories are made from joyful performances with friends.

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

Just like the supreme Dr. Dubois, I too appreciate the martial arts! I trained in the art of Muay Thai while taking time off from Eastman, and plan on returning to it once I finish my degree at UNT. Besides self defense, I love salsa dancing and hiking with friends, biking and disc golfing with my boyfriend, and target shooting, camping, and yoga with my family.


Introducing Kyle Davis

What is your name?KyleDavis

Kyle Davis

Where are you from?

Shreveport, LA

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am a sophomore earning a Bachelor of Music in Performance.

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

I play on a viola made in 2014 by Stanley Kiernoziak. After trying many violas of varying qualities over the course of a semester, Kiernoziak’s called to me with its warm tone and strong projection. It currently is not named, although that will change in the near future.

What is your favorite piece to play?

Presently, my favorite piece to play is Hummel’s “Fantasie for Viola and Orchestra.” I do, however, wish to expand my repertoire in the years to come, hopefully resulting in a new favorite piece of mine.

Do you come from a musical family?

Yes. My mother is a pianist, my eldest brother is fluent in both piano and guitar, and my youngest brother plays the cello.

What are your career goals?

My career goal is to play for a renowned symphony orchestra someday. I thoroughly enjoy playing in orchestras and wish to make that a career of mine.

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

Music has been a major part of my life since the age of 5, when I began taking piano lessons. Ever since then, music has been one of the only constant things in my life and has been a rich source of joy and fun for me.

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

Before deciding to pursue music as a career, I was determined on becoming a nurse and pursuing a career in the medical field. I enjoy helping others and believe that I would have enjoyed nursing, but I honestly enjoy music much more.

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

My favorite memory is from a time I performed Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 at Carnegie Hall in New York. It instilled in me a desire to continue orchestral playing throughout my life, thus resulting in my career choice.


Ruben Balboa and the Bancroft String Quartet

IMG_3001Being in a string quartet is one of the most rewarding experiences any musician can have. There is something very personal that a chamber musician must share and convey. Not only do you have to share your personal ideas and feelings about the music, but there are, in this case, three other peoples’ ideas, feelings, and messages that must be combined with yours and then communicated as one musical expression. I have the wonderful opportunity to do such a thing at the University of North Texas with the Bancroft String Quartet.

Being in the Bancroft String Quartet is one of the graduate assistantships offered at UNT. Seeing that acceptance letter, along with a scholarship offer was such a dream come true for me. I mean, I finally get to do what I’ve always wanted to do: perform in a string quartet, learn great repertoire, AND get paid for it – living the dream! However, it is and was not quite that simple. I learned very quickly there are many factors that can make or break any ensemble like time constraints, learning styles, personality differences, communication, and just life in general!

Last year was my first year in the quartet and it was definitely a learning experience. In the previous quartets I have been in, the quartets were formed through late-night jam sessions amongst friends. Being selected for this quartet almost felt like an arranged marriage; I knew no one in the quartet, I was the youngest, the only master student (the others being doctoral students), and I was also the new guy. This would also be my first time to experience overcoming the communication barriers that arise with a majority of members each speaking a different language. That being said there were some hurdles for us to overcome not only due to those issues, but also because the dynamic of a quartet can completely change with the exchange of one person. Like I said before, it can make or break an ensemble. For us, it not only enhanced our musicianship as a group, but also made us grow as individuals.   It was, in my opinion, a successful year of learning, growing, and making fantastic music with new friends.

This will be my second year in the quartet and I am no longer the youngest, I am no longer the only master student, and I am no longer the new guy. This year, there are two new additions to Bancroft, and the dynamics of the group have now changed. While we may have some of the same issues as last year, there will be new and different situations to experience now that half of the group is new. Rehearsals have already begun and everyone is finding their unique voice in the music, as well as in the quartet. I’m looking forward to learning about one another, making wonderful music and lasting memories and sharing our musical journey with you all this year.

Until next time,

Ruben


Introducing Ruben Balboa

IMG_2999

What is your name?

Ruben Balboa III

Where are you from?

Harlingen, Texas

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am a second year masters’ student majoring in music performance. Class of 2016!

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

I’d like to say that we chose each other. It was love at first sight. I mean, how can you not fall in love with that C-string?!

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

Nobuko Imai. She is such a powerful performer. As a listener, I am always drawn in to anything and everything she plays.

What is your favorite piece to play?

Zwei Gesänge for Alto, Viola, and Piano, Op. 96 by Johannes Brahms. When I first heard this piece, I instantly fell in love. This piece is the reason why I play viola. I think it defines the viola perfectly.

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

Bach’s Chaconne in D minor. I could listen to this piece everyday. It really takes you on a journey. It’s truly a masterpiece.

What are your career goals?

I would love to teach on the collegiate level while continuing my performance experiences through chamber and solo music.

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

If I had to do something other than music, I would definitely be a middle or high school teacher. There is something about teaching that really brings me joy. Even now, seeing my students’ eyes light up when they finally understand a concept is truly rewarding.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

The most influential musician in my life is my first viola teacher, Dr. Ames Asbell. She has inspired me countless times to work hard to fulfill both my musical and life aspirations. I am forever grateful for everything she has done for me and all the lives she touches.

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

Well, I used to be in the jazz and marching band back in the day as a bass guitarist! I was also a martial artist for many years.


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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Introducing Ethan Rouse

Ethan RouseWhat is your name?

Ethan Rouse

Where are you from?

Wichita Falls, Texas

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am currently a first year Masters student in viola performance. I also completed my Bachelor of Music degree in viola performance at UNT.

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

Neither! The viola was actually chosen for me. When my older brother began the public school strings program he played the viola. My parents had purchased a viola, so that is the instrument my two sisters and I would play when the time came!

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

I currently play a viola made by Guy Cole in 2002. I have played this instrument for the last five years, and two years ago I began playing with a bow made by Arthur Richard Bultitude of England.

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

I have great admiration for Kim Kashkashian, but I also very much enjoy the work of Paul Neubauer and Lawrence Dutton, among others. I couldn’t possibly choose just one!

What is your favorite piece to play?

Usually whatever I am playing at the moment, but I have greatly enjoyed playing Rebecca Clarke’s “Passacaglia”, Kenji Bunch’s “Until Next Time”, and “Pictures at an Exhibition” to name a few.

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

My answer would probably change on a daily basis, but for now I will say “Variations sur un Noël” by Marcel Dupré. I have always loved the organ, and this piece does such a wonderful job of showcasing what the instrument can do. The finale is especially great.

Do you come from a musical family?

Not at all. My siblings were all involved in various musical activities while we grew up, but there aren’t any professional musicians in my immediate or extended family.

What are your career goals?

I hope to teach viola at the university level, but I would like to remain active as an orchestral and chamber musician as well.

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

I couldn’t possibly pick just one person, but someone who is on my list is the pianist, Menahem Pressler. His undying passion for music and love of learning are very inspirational for me. I am also very envious of his great love of practicing!

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

There have been so many influential musicians in my life, but one of my biggest and earliest influences is my longtime church choir director. Our relationship began when I was around six years old, and it continues to this day. From an early age, she instilled in me a love of music making and a desire for constant improvement which have followed me constantly. Her desire to share music of the highest quality with anyone and everyone who would (and would not) listen serves as a constant reminder to me of my duty as a musician.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I like to warm up with slow scales to find my best sound and calm my mind and body. I also try to limit caffeine and sugar the day of a big performance.

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

I have performed as a vocalist for most of my life. This has mostly been in church choirs, but I have also sung in a couple of professional choirs, with whom I recorded two albums of medieval and contemporary choral music. I am also an avid photographer in my free time!