Jorge Zapata writes about his experiences as an international student at UNT

November 8, 2015o-COLOMBIASATELLITE-570

Experience as an international student

Since I started my undergrad at the University of EAFIT, Medellin-Colombia (my hometown), my dream was to do some of my studies in a foreign country. I have always thought it would be a good idea to experience other environments to see multiple points of view about the same idea and how the culture in another country can affect the development of some activities, in this case, music.

My name is Jorge Luis Zapata Marín, I was born in Medellin-Colombia. Since I was a child, my mom used to take me to children’s musicianship classes and concerts. I remember that sometimes it was fun but other times it wasn’t.  We used to go to classical concerts and I remember how fast I would fall asleep… I guess it wasn’t the right age to go to those concerts but I can say they were some of the reasons I am where I am. Years passed and I found something which would change my life forever. In 2003, I participated in a program called “La Red escuelas de música de Medellín”.  This was a social program in my hometown which helped children to find their love for music. This was where I started playing the Viola.  In 2009, I started my undergrad at EAFIT with my Viola professor, Dr. Sheldrick.  She is a person who loves what she does, and is one of the most influential people in my life as musician and as a person.

The years have passed once again and now I am studying at the University of North Texas under the tutelage of Dr. Susan Dubois.

Panoramica_de_Medellin-ColombiaAs I said before, it is really important to have different ideas and that’s why I did so many music festivals while doing my undergrad. In one of the festivals, I met Dr. Dubois and I knew immediately that I wanted to study with her because of her teaching and enthusiasm during  lessons.

It is hard to be far away from home, but I would do whatever I have to do to make my dreams a reality. I miss my town, my friends, and my MOM, but it is better to think of the positive things than the negative ones. I have met incredible people, made wonderful friends and  professors, and I have experienced all of the purposes that I had in my mind of going to another country; a different environment, life in a different culture, and  I must say that now that I am in a different place and I don’t have a lot of distractions, I can focus even more on what I am supposed to do.  Practice and study… 

During this year I will keep posting and telling you my experiences as an international student. My hope by writing these posts is to help any potential international student to not be afraid to live their dreams, even if it means to move to another country. 


Jorge Luis Zapata Marín

(Image credit: Google Images)

Introducing Jorge Luis Zapata Marin

What is your name?unnamed

Jorge Luis Zapata Marín

 Where are you from?

Medellín-Colombia, “the city of the eternal spring.”

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I went to Green Mountain Chamber music festival because of the recommendation of my undergrad Professor Dr. Sheldrick. She suggested that I attend and have lessons with Dr. Dubois and all of the faculty members like Sheila Browne and Karen Ritscher, who are related to the legendary Karen Tuttle. I had an incredible time there doing the Karen Tuttle workshop, where I learned about the coordination between the body and the instrument, and how to feel comfortable playing the viola, an instrument that can give you hard moments. The enthusiasm, love,  and teaching ability of Dr. Dubois were  the main  reasons why I decided to apply to UNT, where I am  currently doing a GAC (Graduate Artist Certificate).

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

“La Red de Escuelas de Música de Medellín” is a social program from my native city, which helps many people with low economic resources, (something similar to “El Sistema” in Venezuela).  Once, my mom took me there because I was really interested in playing the violin, but they even gave me the chance to say what I wanted, and they said “You are very welcome to be here, but you have really big hands so you must play VIOLA!!” Anyway, I wasn’t sure what they were talking about, but they just said “it is almost like the violin” so I started with Viola and here I am, really in love with my instrument, who chose me to dedicate my life to her.

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 Kenneth Edward Sullivan in 2001, and I got her one year ago in Rochester-NY on a special trip that I did from Colombia just to get her. I really like her deep and charming tone, and her name is VIOLINDA, which is a compound word that means beautiful Viola.

What is your favorite piece to play?

I had so much fun playing the Brahms F minor Viola Sonata. I think it has some many characters and emotions on it, each movement has something different to offer…

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

I really like the Bach’s sonatas and partitas for Violin, and I know there is an arrangement for viola but I have not played it yet.  I just think, it is beautiful and celestial, and it sounds better on viola to me, of course…

Do you come from a musical family?

My family says that I come from a musical family, but just because some of my uncles like to sing, and some of them play the guitar but only a few chords… so I guess I am not sure about it.

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

I have always thought, that if you want to be good at what you do, you have to do what you really like, and for me that is music. I cannot see myself doing something else instead of music.

 Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

For me, the most influential musician in my life is my undergraduate viola professor, Dr. Braunwin Sheldrick, who took care of my developing as a musician and as a human being. I must say my mom as well– she is not a musician but she encouraged me to do what I really wanted to do, no matter what.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Yes, I do. I always try to wash my hands before a performance, because I think if I have my hands dirty, the music is going to be dirty as well.

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

I must say, my best and favorites memories that I had as a musician, are from all the travels that I did with my old quartet. We had fun times in Brazil, Perú, USA and in many cities in our country, Colombia, where we learned not only about a musical life, but also about the culture and beauty of the world and its diversity.


Program Notes for Isaiah Chapman’s Fall Recital



William Alwyn – Pastoral Fantasia for Viola and String Orchestra (1939)

Premiered in a BBC broadcast on 3 March 1940, violist Watson Forbes and pianist Clifford Curzon débuted William Alwyn’s Pastoral Fantasia in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Latham in London. Forbes would perform this piece again with the string orchestra of the BBC Orchestra, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult on 3 November 1941.

Opening with a lush harmonic sequence from the orchestra, Alwyn establishes a scene for the soloist to quietly enter in. Instantly engaging the listener by starting on the lowest note of the instrument, the melodic contour explores the range of the instrument through the first cadenza, gradually building momentum to meet with the reentrance of the orchestra. After this gesture is repeated, a seamless connection into the first theme occurs. A series of pastoral tunes eventuate, evoking nostalgia of an England before the war took place. In a very intricate manner, Alwyn climaxes with an impassioned cadence, subsequently restating the opening passage. The restatement connects to what dually functions as a pastoral hymn–a sacred, yet rustic tune. The piece concludes with one last desiring hope: to regain and retain tranquility in the world and for all humanity.


William Walton – Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1929, rev. 1937)

Originally proposed by Sir Thomas Beecham to write a concerto for violist Lionel Tertis, William Walton’s Concerto for Viola and Orchestra remains a dominant force in the standard viola repertoire. With reasons ranging from ailment to the disapprobation of Walton’s music, Lionel Tertis’s denial in performing the piece led to Walton asking Tertis to suggest another violist to play, with Tertis proposing the violist and composer, Paul Hindemith, to premiere on 3 October 1929 in London with Walton conducting the Henry Wood Symphony Orchestra. With a successful premiere, Tertis’s original stance was regrettably squashed, subsequently, taking on the work and performing it. With such eminent violists – Lionel Tertis and William Primrose – frequently performing this piece, it was Frederick Riddle’s revision that left an impression on Walton, thus, becoming a revision published through the Oxford University Press. Riddle would also record this piece with Walton conducting in 1937. Other emendations of this piece, namely William Primrose’s, would also be a version typically performed. Expressed through the British romantic tradition, Walton’s viola concerto will forever leave an indelible impression on the composer’s life and his music.


Darius Milhaud – Quatre visages, Op. 238 (1943)

Commissioned by violist Germain Prévost and pianist Gunnar Johansen in 1944, Milhaud composed a musical joke about four imaginary women that are depicted in the following movements: I. La Californienne; II. La Wisconsonian; III. La Bruxelloise; IV. La Parisienne. Throughout this piece, Milhaud’s characteristic influence of jazz and polytonality are exemplified.

I. La Californienne

The opening of this movement starts in the viola with a perfect fourth motive – an important interval throughout this movement. With a buoyant interplay between the viola and the piano, Milhaud creates arched harmonies that are filled in with colorful transitions. To play on the joke of the piece, Milhaud endearingly ends on a harmonic to emphasize the charming nature of La Californienne.

II. La Wisconsonian

Whimsically brisk, the perpetual feel of La Wisconsonian commences with sixteenth notes in the viola, answered by syncopated chords in the piano. To ensure the fleeting fickleness in this very short movement, Milhaud alternates the positions of the violist and the pianist, uniquely interweaving chromatic harmonies and themes. The two instruments meet together for a brief syncopated section, clearly influenced by jazz. Once again, the violist resumes the sixteenth notes, concluding in a coquettish upward scale and met by a surprising ending.

III. La Bruxelloise

Bluesy and sultry in form, La Bruxelloise gives Quatre visgaes a true connection between classical and jazz. With a very melancholic opening, the violist colors the melodic line with blue notes, glissandos and a contour draped over the bar lines. Milhaud’s sardonic wit closes this movement with a paraphrase of the Belgian National Anthem, distorting the time signature, the rhythm and the key.


IV. La Parisienne

The piano opens this movement with a majestic march, emphasizing the half-step interval. When the viola comes in, Milhaud cheekily denies the interval by having the violist open with a whole-step interval. Adorned with grace notes and arpeggios, Milhaud juxtaposes the themes to show La Parisienne’s eclecticism. With the momentum driving towards the end, the piece cadences in a stately manner.

Notes written by Isaiah Chapman





Introducing Isaiah Chapman

IMG_0588What is your name?

Isaiah Chapman

Where are you from?

Amarillo, TX

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

5th year Undergraduate; Triple Major: Viola Performance, Music Education & Music Theory; 2017

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

I wanted to play double bass, but my elementary school teacher had a way of choosing an instrument for people. Due to me being one of the shorter students at the time, my teacher said I would have to choose either violin, viola or cello. Of course, everyone wanted to play violin, so that was out; I didn’t want to sit down all the time, so cello was eliminated; consequently, viola was the only one left, so I chose it. Incidentally, I think my teacher would let me play double bass now (since I’m 6′ 3″), but I have grown to love viola eternally!

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

My viola is new to me; but it is a 1999 Damon Gray viola. It’s 17 5/16″, and has a tone out of this world! This past summer, I was in search for a new viola. Through David Brewer’s Violin Shop, I came across this instrument. Ever since I started playing viola, I heard about the giant violas of the past. I knew I wanted one, so the quest started and now I’ve got my big viola!

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

By far, Tabea Zimmerman is my biggest inspiration. I came across her Penderecki Viola Concerto recording about 8 years ago, and I immediately fell in love with her tone and musicianship. Other favorites of mine would be Nobuko Imai, Kim Kashkashian, and Florian Deuter (baroque viola).

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

Well, I would probably choose Beethoven or J.S. Bach. For Beethoven, I feel as if Beethoven complements my life musically and philosophically. His three periods seem to define him well, but all of his styles are developing from the beginning. For me, I see late-Beethoven in his early period more than I see his early style in his late. The potential was there from the very beginning, and I will always respect that. Considering Bach, I started on piano at 4 years old, and Bach has been the composer that has fulfilled my questions about music in regard to life, yet, has provided me with the most confusion. He unequivocally supplies understanding and befuddlement.

What is your favorite piece to play?

I simply can not say I have a favorite piece, but I can say that all musics are my favorite things to play!

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

I would want to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major. The musical language used in this piece provides serenity that hardly any other piece I can think of.

Do you come from a musical family?

Yes. My mother, brother and sister are all pianists and vocalists; my sister-in-law is a vocalist, and my nephew is starting music.

What are your career goals?

To become a music theory/viola professor who performs in a professional orchestra.

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

My high school orchestra teacher, Ms. Kathy Fishburn, at Tascosa High School, was such an inspiration, that I just had to continue doing music. It felt like a responsibility to carry that on.

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

This is a rather simple question: I would pursue being a mathematician (I’m already minoring in mathematics).

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

I would probably take a lesson with Paul Hindemith. Even though he’s not my favorite viola player, I honor his playing, as well as greatly cherish his contribution to music theory and musicology. I’ve also heard that he was a fantastic teacher, and his students used to enjoy his teaching very much. He also taught at Yale University, a school I aspire to go to.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

I would probably say my mother. She started me in music, but she constantly reminds me that music does not define me. I must search through all portals to see which one allows me to be the person I am most proud of as a musician, and as a human being.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

No, I actually don’t get nervous.

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

Getting to watch Gil Shaham play J.S. Bach’s two violin concertos live with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Jaap van Zweden.

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

I am a geography maven; I can list every country, capital, flag, national language, and currency for all the countries of the world!

Introducing the UNT Baroque Orchestra, by Rui Li

Welcome to our blog, and greetings from the University of North Texas Baroque Orchestra. It is my honor to present the UNT Baroque Orchestra and discuss the November 20th, 2015 concert.

It has been a great experience for me to be a member of the UNT Baroque Orchestra. UNT has one of the largest early music programs in North America. Prof. Paul Leenhouts is the conductor of the Baroque Orchestra. This group has appeared at the Boston and Berkeley Early Music Festivals and was invited to perform at the Seventh International Festival “Misiones de Chiquitos” in Bolivia (April – May 2008).

This fall was my first semester in the UNT Baroque Orchestra; it was also my first time playing Baroque period instruments. I feel so lucky to have Cynthia Roberts, baroque violinist, and Allen Whear, baroque cellist, as my private instructors on period instruments. When we first began, I learned the differences between baroque and modern instruments. The difference between modern viola and baroque viola include the nature of the neck, fingerboard, bridge, bass bar, and tailpiece.



The UNT Baroque Orchestra and Collegium Singers performed on November 20th, 2015 in Murchison Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Performance Hall. This performance was a part of the Czech Christmas Festival. It was also our honor to invite Barbara Maria Willi (a Czech-German harpsichordist) to play with us. She has significantly contributed to the development of historical performance practices in the Czech Republic. She is the program director of Bach’s Organ Autumn in the Czech Republic and member of the Prague Spring Harpsichord Competition Commission.

This evening’s program began with an impressive opening piece by the Baroque Trumpet Ensemble and the Baroque Orchestra played Sonata con arie by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. (If you are on Safari, Chrome, or Internet Explorer, click on the composers name below to hear the pieces.)


I felt like the trumpets invited everyone in the audience to listen to our concert! The next piece was performed by the UNT Sackbut Ensemble and written by Antonio Bertali. The soloists Karina Sim and Seowon Lee played baroque violin while Sydney ZumMallen and Su Eun Park played Baroque Cello. In this piece, the violin solo and the cello solo have a beautiful conversation in the middle section.

We performed two U.S. premiere pieces in this concert. The first one was performed by Fantasmi Baroque Ensemble and written by Jan Josef Ignac Brentner.


The second one was written by Antonin Reichenauer Baroque violin concerto and the soloist was Hao Miao.


This performance was dedicated to Cecil Adkins who taught musicology at the College of Music from 1963 to 1988. He was the founder of our Early Music Program, and directed the ensembles in over 400 performances. He also maintained 200 period instruments for student use. We would also like to give a special thanks to Paul Leenhouts, who edited all works. The performance was a huge success and it is thanks to the hard work and dedication of all those involved!

This coming week, February 19, 2016, is the next performance of the UNT Baroque Orchestra and Collegium Singers. Please come hear us in the Murchison Performing Arts Center, Winspear Performance Hall, at 8pm! Or catch the performance on Live Streaming. The concert, entitled “Les Concerts Royaux”, will feature Rebel – Le Cahos, Leclair – Concerto No. 2 in A Major, Six Concertos a tre violini, alto e basso, Opus 10, Marais – Tombeau de Mr. Meliton, Pièces a une et a deux violes, Lully – Chaconne, Amadis, Tragédie en musique Philidor l’aîné – from Pièces de trompettes et timballes, and Charpentier – Te Deum, H. 146, Mélanges autographes, volume 10.

Michael Capone on his Performance at the SCI Conference – Part 2

Conferences such as the SCI (Society of Composers, Inc.) National Conference are a fantastic opportunity for performers just getting their careers started in new music. They can meet a variety of like-minded individuals from all over the world, broadening their horizons to learn from new composers, watch performances of brand new pieces, and hopefully find new opportunities for work in the future. The SCI Conference celebrated its 50th anniversary this year at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and distinguished composer Don Freund was the Composer-In-Residence.

This conference boasts a rich history of prominent composers – just from their first conference, the program of which was provided to us as a souvenir, names such as Milton Babbitt, George Crumb, Charles Wuorinen, and Mario Davidovsky popped right out at me. To be even a small part of such a rich line of participants in these conferences was a huge honor. It also reinforced the idea that “all music was once new” – in 1965, during the first conference, we were still 10 years away from the Shostakovich Viola Sonata, for instance. Pieces by composers who are now firmly entrenched in contemporary “canon” (insomuch as there can be such a thing) were performed at the first Conference – perhaps some of the pieces performed and their composers at the 50th Conference will also become significant in history.

SCI Program page 1SCI Program page 2SCI Program page 3

One aspect of performing at a conference that is different from most performances at school or at a gig, for instance, is the extremely limited amount of rehearsal and warm-up time available in the actual performance space. There were seven total pieces during the concert on which I performed The Broca Divide, by Michael Sterling Smith, and the sound check began only a couple of hours before the performance began. With four of these works using electronics in some form, and my own performance needing to be amplified, the sound engineer running the concert had quite a busy afternoon. I came prepared to simply check the loudest portions of the piece, but with no expectations of running through the whole work in the hall. With warm-up space and practice space at a premium, this would be some of the only time I had that day to warm up at all.

Fortunately, however, the sound check had gone quickly, and one group had not yet shown up, despite their call time being earlier – so I had enough time to hear the space, first checking levels for the microphone, then running the piece once. One interesting aspect of performing Broca is that there is a degree of bow noise and surface noise that makes up a rather significant percentage of the sound transmitted to the audience. Usually we try to hide these noises as part of our preparation for performance. It can therefore be difficult to know just what the right percentage of “noise” versus pitch content is for a given moment. Additionally, what sounds quite loud under my own ear sounds quite muffled and less apparent in the hall; the microphone helps ensure that the sounds of the ricochet harmonics, for instance, are heard throughout the auditorium. Having both the engineer and the composer in the hall while we checked levels ensured that the balance would be appropriate for each movement. (The fourth movement, containing more straightforward pitch and rhythm content, can be lowered in amplification significantly.)

The performance itself was a great experience, too. I found it extremely satisfying to perform in front of a very supportive audience of other composers and contemporary performers. During intermission, I was able to network with some of the audience members who were interested in learning more about the composition. By far the most frequent question that Mike and I fielded involved his notation – how much of this piece is strictly notated, and how much freedom and interpretation is given to the performer? The answer is a mixed bag – some movements, like the second and fourth, are quite restrictive in their notation. Specific pitches, rhythms, and effects are called for, with a relatively reliable expectation of what sound will be produced. The third movement is also fairly reliable in terms of sound production, but much more freedom is given to the performer in terms of what pitches are played and how long each gesture is to last. Approximate durations are given in seconds above each gesture, but a stopwatch is not necessary for the effective performance of this movement.

The first movement is perhaps the most ambiguous in terms of its notation – a series of “32nd notes,” all under a ricochet bowing, without any rests or pauses notated save one towards the end. At first glance, this seems to be a frenetic perpetual motion, but remember – this piece is all about gesture! The speed of the ricochet is determined in part by the initial attack’s dynamic, so already, we know that not all notes will be perfectly even rhythmically. Softer dynamics will tend to be slightly slower, and louder dynamics have more elements of a “thrown” ricochet, with less regard for the specific number of bounces. It is up to the performer to create his or her own phrases and breaths as appropriate in this music.

The Broca Divide page 1

Overall, everyone we talked to seemed very supportive of the work that Mike and I had done. Hearing interested questions and observations from composers and performers across the country helped us realize that the efforts we put into our independent project were not in vain. Having worked closely with him on this new piece, I felt quite comfortable fielding questions independently, and could include an informed perspective on the processes behind it. It was also valuable to talk to other composers because I could better understand how they view our work. The more we can open ourselves to conversations with our composer colleagues, the more we can find opportunities to work and grow together.

Until next time,


Michael Capone on his Performance at the SCI Conference – Part 1

When I began working last year as a member of the graduate string quartet responsible for assisting the conducting classes and Nova, UNT’s new music ensemble (a separate quartet from the Bancroft Quartet, one of our Center for Chamber Music groups), I did not anticipate that the work I did would lead me to a performance at a national conference. Yet I write this post sitting on a plane to Gainesville, FL, prepared to perform at the 2015 National Conference for the Society of Composers, Inc. (SCI)

One of the responsibilities each year for the Nova graduate quartet is to record works written by composition students who are new to the school. This occurs at the end of each Fall semester, and includes at least two recording sessions of reasonable length.  We recorded two such works last year, one of which was a string quartet written by Michael Sterling Smith, a composer pursuing his DMA at UNT.

This quartet, entitled Hyperflexion, used a two-note ricochet motive as its foundation – an inherently rhythmically unstable technique – and developed it across the ensemble. As notated, we were asked to play distinct pitches in strict canon, precisely in rhythm, using a very high tessitura, with a specific number of bounces, sometimes with (practically inaudible) glissando between two pitches. At first glance, the score was more than a bit intimidating. How could we get four performers to correlate such intricate parts?

After meeting our composer, though, we realized that to be successful, we must go beyond his notation. The notes on the page were simply indications of gesture, with only approximations of the desired pitches and rhythms. Once we understood this from his directions, our job became easier and our interpretation was freer. We could now react to each other’s attacks in an organic, musical way. The music demanded our complete liberation from the score – a notion which was somewhat new to me.

Inspired by this work we had done as a quartet, I approached Michael after our recording session, wanting to work together on another project. As it turned out, he was hoping to begin writing a solo viola work that would incorporate some of the same techniques as in Hyperflexion. We quickly set a date to begin working together. Our work before that date consisted of finding new sounds on the viola that we wanted to explore.

Soon, we were meeting every week, he with new ideas and concepts, I with research and practice behind me to incorporate and make consistent the sounds we had previously discussed. We aimed to create a piece in a similar structure as Garth Knox’s Viola Spaces, a set of eight etudes, each teaching a different extended technique appropriate for contemporary repertoire. This piece, however, would not teach the techniques as etudes, but would be a performance-appropriate piece in four short movements, each focusing on a different gesture(s) or technique(s).

Our final draft of the work, entitled The Broca Divide, included a movement on ricochet bowing with natural harmonics, one on harmonic trills with manipulation of bow position, a piece exploring tremolo in all its speeds and directions, and a final movement on the pitch class D. The C string is tuned up to C# for this movement not only to better facilitate the unison D on the lower three strings, but also to exploit sympathetic resonance on C#. All pitches in the movement fall between C# and Eb. Elements of other movements as well as microtonality are also explored in this final movement.

In July of 2015, Michael submitted this work to the SCI National Conference, held at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Both the score and the studio recording we created were extremely well received, and the piece was accepted to be performed at the conference. This conference is in its 50th year, and it will be an honor to perform there. The first conference, jointly held by Columbia University and New York University, included such prominent featured guests as Charles Wuorinen, Milton Babbitt, and George Crumb, so to even remotely be a small part of this legacy is incredible. I will undoubtedly meet a large number of composers and performers from around the country, and it will surely be an excellent learning experience for me to perform this new solo work for a wider community.

I will write again when I am on the plane back from Gainesville! I am looking forward to sharing the experience of the performance and the conference with you.

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!

Ashley Salinas introduces the teaching of String Methods Class

IMG_2267Greetings fellow violists!

In my undergraduate studies at Sam Houston State University, Dr. Matthew McInturf (Director of Bands and the Center for Music Education) once asked the class, “Performance majors, raise your hands. Guess what? You will be teaching someday in addition to your performing engagements. Education majors, raise your hands. Guess what? You will still have to perform in addition to your teaching responsibilities.” His message was clear: just because you are majoring in one subject field does not mean your future work will be limited to only that subject. Several of my non-string-playing classmates from SHSU have indeed ended up in front of an orchestra class.

Although my major field of study shifted from music education to performance when I started at UNT, I believe that the ability to effectively teach greatly impacts my own approach to problem solving in the practice room. So here I am, two performance degrees later and teaching a strings class (MUAG 1121) for music education majors. Dr. McInturf was right!

Functional knowledge of all instruments is an important factor in the success of any instrumental music teacher; an understanding of the basic principles of string playing will greatly enhance the effectiveness as a music educator, conductor, or composer/arranger. My central goal of this class is to prepare music education students for teaching basic string instrumental techniques in the individual and heterogeneous class settings.

By the end of the semester students will demonstrate basic performance skills on one string instrument, understand terminology unique to string performance, demonstrate an understanding of fingerboard geography (in the first position) and the relationship of pitches across strings. Additionally, my students will have experience teaching each other and be able to diagnose and remediate common technical problems in string playing. Each student is required to compile a final notebook that will serve as a professional resource.

IMG_2264Strings class is offered to a variety of undergraduate students– mostly music education students (all instrumental and vocal areas), a few miscellaneous jazz, composition, and theory majors, and, on occasion, a non-music student who wishes to learn a string instrument for elective credit. Many students are excited to open the case and begin to make their first sounds! Some students catch on quite quickly, while others struggle to find comfort holding this foreign object– it depends on the level of physical awareness and similarity they have through their own major instruments.

Since many of my students are picking up a string instrument for the first time, I begin the first few weeks of the semester simulating a beginner string orchestra class through a combination of Essential Elements for Strings (Robert Gillespie, Michael Allen, and Pamela Tellejohn Hayes), Mastery for Strings: A Longitudinal Sequence of Instruction for School Orchestras, Studio Lessons, and College Method Courses (William Dick and Laurie Scott), and Strategies for Teaching Strings: Building a Successful String and Orchestra Program (Donald L. Hamann and Robert Gillespie).

Being a violist gives me a great advantage in teaching other instruments. We, as violists, spend so many hours critically analyzing sound production across the wide tessitura of the viola (bridging the gap between cello and violin) and, as an active performer, I have found myself analyzing how my string playing colleagues achieve tone. Since viola is so similar to violin (which I began my own musical studies on), this is physically the easiest part of teaching the course; the similarities between viola and cello are helpful (i.e. I only have to modify fingerings); bass, on the other hand, is a whole different ballgame and requires my attention more than the other instruments. In contrast, I feel that being able to play basic patterns on each instrument benefits my own physical awareness and flexibility in producing sound on the viola.

As a viola performance major, I have had to better manage my practice time in order to maintain my bass and cello playing chops. I also have to keep in mind that not too long ago I was in my student’s shoes (balancing multiple ensemble commitments, heavy academic course loads, professional performances and private teaching opportunities, and personal practice time) while maintaining reasonable, yet rigorous, standards for what each student needs to know when they finish with this course.

I absolutely love teaching this class! Observing student’s progress through the semester is gratifying, especially when a student who has been struggling finally understands the technique being presented. I enjoy watching my students interact, observe, and teach each other. I also love the possibility of engaging students who are eager to learn and aren’t afraid to ask questions. On a personal note, my greatest success so far while teaching this course has been balancing classroom teaching and my own viola practice, even if it means arriving on campus before 8AM!