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).

A Master Class with Sheila Browne, viola professor at UNCSA, by Kathleen Crabtree

Internationally-acclaimed violist Sheila Browne is Artist-Associate Professor of Viola and Director of the UNCSA Karen Tuttle Viola Workshop, which takes place January 9-11, 2016. She visited the UNT Viola Studio recently to conduct a masterclass, give an interview, and play a recital. Read on for her keen insights on Brahms, Bartók, and more!IMG_0681


To begin the class, the first performer, Jorge Luis Zapata Marin, performed Henri Vieuxtemps’ Elegie. Ms. Browne encouraged him to explore the different characters of the piece, especially evident in the register changes and distinct voicing. She noted that his pacing could undergo another look: when looking at the music, the tempo can be pushed and pulled, like a rubber band. She encouraged him to set the scene for the drama by keeping the musical line rising, so the audience could ride the “wave of tension” he created, and to darken the flats– play them flatter, to make the most expressive inflections sadder–bringing out  “your blues note”– that special moment that makes the phrase.

In the second half of their session Jorge and Sheila worked on releasing tension in his lower body. Much to the enjoyment of those present in the hall, they did squats (while still holding the viola in place), and folded in half, looking upside-down at the back wall. Ms. Browne explained that this exercise was to keep his hips loose, so that his left hand could release easier. With that in mind, she moved to his vibrato, mentioning exercises with the wrist in, practicing oscillations between two notes with  a falling back motion. She reminded Jorge that above all, the hand must not be rigid. She told him to  “contain the vibrato energy at the beginning, then let it bloom” as the phrase developed. For the vibrato to achieve that full bloom, they noticed Jorge needed to release his neck more, and that he needed to play on the fullest part of each fingertip in the left hand, for the lushest possible contact with the string.


Next was Josip Kvetek, who played Paganini’s Sonata per la Grand’ Viola. Ms. Browne urged him to “ham it up” even more, like sprinkling cayenne pepper onto his interpretation. Instead of a passage being dolce, think of a stronger word like “flirtatious” to make a powerful statement. Another way to think about the different voices in this piece would be to mimic an instrument such as an oboe or clarinet for one phrase, or even a little bird. Paganini uses the viola’s entire range in this piece, especially very high on the A string (Sheila referred to it as the “dog pitch register”!) She noted that it is easy to forget to sing through these passages, as violists are usually uncomfortable playing so high up on the fingerboard. One of the strongest take-aways of the master class was what she said to Josip at this point: “Your top priority is to keep things musical, no matter what hoops you’re being asked to jump through. That’s just a classy way to operate.”

Josip’s natural, shimmering vibrato gave his playing a lovely sound, but Sheila Browne cautioned that his articulation was overcome by his vibrato. While the composer writes in many characters, some do not need such an operatic quality. The big picture must be taken into account, so it is important not to “give it all away” to the audience too soon. Above all else, Ms. Browne asked Josip to remember that the bow shows more than the left hand and vibrato, so focusing on the right hand will yield more favorable results.

Ethan Rouse then took the stage to perform the first movement of Brahms’ f-minor Sonata, Op. 120, no.1. To begin, Ms. Browne shared a concept by Leon Fleisher – that every composer has a certain “viscosity”. To her ears, Ethan’s interpretation was too “watery” and bouncy. Brahms’ textures call for a thicker, caramel-like feeling. Sheila encouraged Ethan to think more about the darker overtones that set the mood for this section of the movement, because it wasn’t coming across as “held and mysterious” enough. Then, in what proved to be a theme for the day’s masterclass, she again referred to the contrasting characters of the movement. The rich harmonies give clues to where the character changes, as well as the octave shifts. And just like working with Jorge on his physicality, she encouraged Ethan to loudly exclaim, “Hey!” during the rests that preceded subsequent entrances. This expulsion of air aided in feeling the music in a distinct way, so that there was a clearly defined articulation at the beginning of first notes, and a clearer rhythmic impetus to the gestures.


The last performer of the day was Edwardo Rios, playing the first movement of the Bartók concerto. Sheila commented first that the hardest thing to manage while performing is to “put on the brakes to help yourself nail something” as instead he was doing the opposite. When echoing a phrase, the performer must remember that “cooling down” a passage is just as important as singing out in a full forte. Conversely, she admonished Edwardo to re-consider the dynamics in this concerto: a piano is soloistic, more like a speaking voice level; pianissimo, however, is akin to a whisper.

She asked Edwardo for an adjective to describe the opening, and he responded with, “mysterious.” By magnifying that word, she replied, we can achieve a clearer understanding of the beginning and therefore, communicate the phrase more successfully. “Despondent” and “desolate” reveal another level of emotion, perhaps closer to the feelings Bartók experienced while writing the piece. The concerto can be interpreted as having moments of loneliness and hopelessness to mirror the emotions the composer endured while dying of cancer. The prominent tri-tone, especially evident in the opening solo phrase, needs to be emphasized to clue the audience in to these feelings.

Great masterclasses not only encourage performers, but also inspire those in the audience on their own musical journeys. Sheila Browne’s masterclass accomplished just that. Her thoughtful comments showed true mastery in the analysis of soloistic viola playing, from delving deeper into the possibilities of phrasing and becoming acquainted with a piece’s historical context, to identifying tension in one’s physicality and exploring the full range of emotions available to bring a piece to life. Ms. Browne utilized these techniques to great effect in her own recital with harpist Jacqueline Bartlett later that night. Her refreshing interpretations of both classic and new repertoire, along with shrewd thoughts on performing, made for a successful and sweet stay in Denton that the studio won’t soon forget!



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.

El primer “Post” de Ruben, en Español

unnamedHemos pensado que para nuestros lectores hispanohablantes seria interesante ofrecer traducciones de algunos de nuestros “posts.” Gracias a Jorge Zapata Marin tenemos hoy el primer aquí. Buen provecho, y dejen sus comentarios!

Dra. Gerling


“Ser parte de un cuarteto de cuerdas es una de las experiencias mas gratificantes que cualquier músico de cuerdas puede tener.

Hay algo muy especial en ser un músico de cámara y es que se debe compartir y transmitir. No es solo transmitir tus ideas personales, sino también combinarlas con las ideas de los otros tres miembros de el cuarteto y así crear un solo discurso o expresión musical.

Tengo la maravillosa oportunidad de hacer música de cámara en La Universidad de North Texas con el cuarteto de cuerdas Bancroft (Bancroft String Quartet). Ser parte de este cuarteto es una de las becas remuneradas que ofrece UNT para los estudiantes en el nivel de maestría. Ver la carta de aceptación junto con la beca fue como un sueño hecho realidad. Finalmente conseguí lo que siempre había querido: tocar en un Cuarteto de Cuerdas, aprender nuevo repertorio y tener un salario por hacerlo. VIVIENDO UN SUEÑO. Sin embargo, esto no es y a sido sencillo. Aprendí rápidamente que hay muchos factores que pueden hacer de este trabajo algo complicado, como: limitaciones de tiempo, aprender diferentes estilos, diferencias personales, comunicación, y algo tan simples como la vida en general!.

El año pasado fue mi primer año en el cuarteto y definitivamente fue un aprendizaje. En los cuartetos que hice parte anteriormente fueron formados con amigos como una forma de esparcimiento y diversión, pero ser parte de un cuarteto como este es una sensación diferente, es como ser parte de un matrimonio arreglado; no conocía ha nadie en el cuarteto, yo era el mas joven, era el único estudiante de maestría (los otros eran estudiantes de doctorado) y claro…, era el chico nuevo. Ésta también fue mi primera vez experimentando las barreras de el idioma ya que cada integrante hablaba una lengua diferente. En fin hubo algunos obstáculos para nosotros y no solo por el idioma, también por la dinámica de el cuarteto, en el cual un integrante puede cambiar en cualquier momento. Como dije antes, esto afecta un ensamble. Para nosotros, no es solo nuestra evolución como grupo, sino también nuestro desarrollo individual. El año pasado en mi opinión, fue un exitoso año de aprendizaje, crecimiento y de hacer música con nuevos amigos y colegas.

Este es mi segundo año en el cuarteto y ya no soy el mas joven, el único haciendo maestría y no soy el nuevo chico. Este año, hay dos integrantes nuevos en el Bancroft y la dinámica de el grupo ha cambiado. Podremos tener algunos de los mismos problemas que el año pasado, pero también habrán nuevas y diferentes situaciones para experimentar ya que la mitad de el grupo es nuevo. Los ensayos ya empezaron y cada uno esta encontrando su única voz en la música, a la vez como la de el cuarteto. Estoy ansioso por aprender de cada uno de ellos, hacer increíble música, y compartir con ustedes nuestro diario vivir como el Cuarteto de cuerdas Bancroft durante este año.

Hasta la próxima.



Introducing Kathleen Crabtree


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.

Exploring Viola Duets with Ethan Rouse

IMG_0923Ethan Rouse
This semester I have the wonderful opportunity to play viola duets for my chamber music course. This is my seventh semester of chamber music at UNT, and in my previous semesters I have performed in a trio, a quartet, and a number of viola and cello quintets. It has been a great experience to explore music from the 18th-20th centuries in these more traditional chamber music groups, but it has been a particular joy and challenge to work on music from the 21st century as a duet. The very nature of a duet implies a certain intimacy beyond even what is found in many trios and quartets, and exploring that aspect of playing has been very enjoyable. I have the pleasure of performing with my good friend Cameron Rehberg, whom you will meet through this blog at a later date. Cameron and I both have a great appreciation for the music of the violist/composer Kenji Bunch, so it seemed logical to perform one of his works together. UNT’s chamber music course requires us to perform twice a semester, so for the first concert we performed Bunch’s “Three American Folk Hymn Settings”, which is also available in a version for two violins. This work makes the most of its two players through the frequent, almost constant use of double-stops in one or both parts. This writing provides a beautifully rich texture, displaying the depth and complexity of the violas’ interwoven sounds. The nature of this texture presents a number of challenges with regard to balance and tuning, so we often had to find the proper balance between the two voices in our own parts, something not so common in typical chamber music repertoire.
While much of our rehearsal was spent on what a chamber music group would typically do, we also enjoyed exploring the folk-like elements of this duet. The style of the duet is a reflection of Bunch’s own experience with folk and bluegrass music, resulting in music that is very different from what we as “classical” performers are accustomed to playing. I love playing music from the common practice period,   but this duet was particularly fun to play, as we were able to really bring out our inner fiddlers. I find great excitement in exploring new works, and this duet is something I am very glad to have added to my repertoire.
Keeping with the theme of living violist/composers, our next performance will feature two short works by Scott Slapin. “Nocturne In Memory of Richard Lane” is one of my favorite pieces by Slapin, and it is also the first piece of his that I learned. I first performed this piece about six years ago with my high school viola teacher, and it is an enjoyable challenge to now learn the other part of the duet. In addition to the Nocturne, we are also performing the third movement of Slapin’s 2007 Suite for two violas. This movement, titled “Lullaby” is a serenely light-hearted counterpoint to the dark nature of the Nocturne, exploring much of the tonal and color ranges of the viola.
Playing music written by violists has proven to be a great joy and challenge, as the music is written from a certain point of understanding of the viola. Though the viola certainly plays a vital role in traditional chamber ensembles, it is a nice change to play chamber music with the viola as the leading role. I know I have only begun to scratch the surface of music for multiple violas, so please let me know if there are any other duets you find particularly enjoyable to play. I know it would be of great value to many of us to explore this genre even further.


Kyle Davis on performing Brahms Viola Quintet No.1 in F Major


I hadn’t the slightest idea of how I would feel following this long-awaited chamber music concert of mine. The extent of my experience with chamber music was relatively small prior to attending UNT, having participated in the occasional string quartet throughout high school, but never had I been involved in a program with such quality and intensity. Thus, as I walked out onto the wooden stage, with lights illuminating my eyes and applause tapping on my ears, I felt a combination of nervousness and avidity to be performing my first chamber music concert at UNT. An enjoyable eight minutes or so of emotionally stirring melodies and equally evocative harmonies had passed in what seemed like an instant. Our bows left the string after sustaining the final chord of the first movement of Johannes Brahms’s “String Quintet No. 1 in F Major,” and I felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction with our performance altogether. There were, of course, the occasional nerves that briefly rattled my concentration during the performance, but there was an overarching feeling of comfort and ease about performing with my fellow chamber musicians that kept my awareness focused on our playing.

Brahms composed only two viola quintets in his lifetime, both of which are frequently performed among quintets containing two violas, but what lacks in quantity is certainly made up for in quality. Brahms’s “Viola Quintet No. 1” comes replete with challenges that demand a quintet’s complete cooperation and support among its five members. With the work’s use of syncopation and dynamic contrast, each member of my quintet needed to be cognizant of one another’s parts in order to keep the piece cohesive and moving forward. “Specificity” is a word that comes to mind when thinking about this first movement. Genuine attention to detail comes as a pre-requisite, as there are many specific mood changes and phrasing ideas that require attention. We, as a group, aspired to give every note and rest a story, a meaning. As with all chamber music, we had to attentively listen to one another to create a balanced sound. This proved difficult and became a challenge we had to face head-on. Each of us was enthusiastic to get to work, however, and we sought to help one another through the process. We scheduled multiple rehearsals a week for ourselves, including one coaching a week with one of our viola professors, Dr. Gerling. These coaching sessions were very beneficial, often opening our eyes to ideas and potential improvements we had not thought of before. With devotion to our goal of developing ourselves as chamber musicians, we set out to conquer our task and were thoroughly pleased with the results of our performance.

Playing chamber music, for me, is a wonderful source of enjoyment, creativity, and another opportunity to express myself musically. Having the opportunity to play chamber music with genuine friends, however, is something truly special. I had not been acquainted with three of the four other members of my quintet prior to joining their quartet as the second violist. We swiftly came to know one another and set off together on an expedition to musical development, both individually and collectively. The natural camaraderie among us created an atmosphere of support and this encouraged progress that made coming to rehearsal an exciting experience. Inside and outside the practice room we enjoy one another’s company, and this has come to be a unique experience to me both as a musician and a person. With our second concert fast approaching, we set our eyes on the goals we wish to accomplish for our next performance, as well as what we hope to gain from our next experience together as who we’ve come to be: chamber musicians.



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,


Introducing Ruben Balboa


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.