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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 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.

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 Dr. Susan Dubois

Susan_Dubois0046_duotone_smWhat is your name?

My name is Susan Dubois.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in beautiful San Diego, California. I studied at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and The Juilliard School in New York and now reside in Denton, Texas.

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

As Professor of Viola and String Area Coordinator, I have overseen the UNT Viola Program for nineteen years.

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

Both, actually! We ‘met’ at a violin lesson when I was a teenager. The previous student had just returned a viola, and my teacher suggested I give it a try. I fell in love with the darker tone immediately. My teacher said I took to it like a ‘duck to water’ and suggested I take it home for the summer along with my violin. Our relationship was cemented with a full viola scholarship to study with Donald McInnes at USC.

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

So, you’d like to know a little about Hermie? Well, he was made in 1987 by Tetsuo Matsuda. He has a warm, powerful tone and especially enjoys playing chamber music.

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

This is tough. Brahms–his works are so passionate and powerful. Then there’s Puccini — many beautiful singable and soaring melodies. But then again, there’s Bach — what amazing counterpoint….

 What is your favorite piece to play?

The Rebecca Clarke Viola Sonata is high on my list. The trumpet-like opening and seductive melodies of the first movement consistently speak to me and the audience.

Do you come from a musical family?

Yes, I do come from a musical family. My mom is an outstanding pop and jazz pianist. As a young girl in Michigan, she used to perform and sing on a weekly radio program. Although my brothers have gone into fields outside of music, they studied the cello and violin while growing up. In fact, we had a family piano quartet that played at weddings and other social functions for many years.

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

From an early age, music was something more than just for my enjoyment. Between performing with my family quartet, attending summer music festivals, and participating in music competitions, music became a way of life. I don’t think I ever really chose a career in music at any particular point; rather, my experiences and opportunities naturally evolved into a career.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

Three people have been very influential in my development as a musician: my mom; my USC mentor, Don McInnes; and my Juilliard mentor, Karen Tuttle. My mom is a natural musician. When she sits down at the piano, music just flows out of her. Don McInnes is the king of ‘dessert songs.’ His artistry, especially in pacing and color, is breathtaking. My Juilliard mentor, Karen Tuttle, was a very intuitive and passionate teacher. Ms. Tuttle never had a set formula for teaching. To her, every student was a unique individual, and she helped each student reach his or her potential.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

On the day of a concert, I practice my program repertoire very slowly to heighten short-term muscle and aural memory. As for right before the concert, well, that’s between me and Hermie!

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

Life as a musician has been so much more than I ever expected–a rich diversity of experiences both inside and outside the rehearsal studios and performance halls. What’s better than filling in for Pinchas Zukerman and rehearsing with economist, banker, and cellist James Wolfensohn in preparation for his 60th birthday concert at Carnegie Hall? Well, doing so AND cross country skiing with my Julliard colleagues in stunning Jackson Hole, Wyoming after rehearsals! And what’s better than performing with the Rackham String Quartet in the First International Melbourne Chamber Music Competition? Doing so AND wine sampling with the group at the beautiful Delatite Vineyards in Melbourne, Australia after the competition. Of course, there’s teaching and performing at the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival in South Africa AND going on safari with my colleagues to view the majestic animals and stunning sunrises and sunsets of an amazing land. Oh, the people and places you’ll encounter as a musician!

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

I have been very passionate about my studies in martial arts. Thus far, I achieved a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a first-degree black belt in Shin Toshi.

 

 

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 Michael Capone
Image (c) 2012, Glen M. Sanders www.gmsanders.com

Image (c) 2012, Glen M. Sanders
www.gmsanders.com

What is your name?

Michael Capone.

Where are you from?

I am originally from Rochester, NY, and worked for my Bachelor of Music degree in beautiful Ithaca, NY. Right now, I reside in Denton, TX.

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

Currently, I am in my second year of my Master’s degree in Viola Performance here at UNT. I am also the Teaching Fellow for the studios this year. This means that in addition to my performance and class-related responsibilities, I am teaching some violists who are pursuing music-related degrees other than Performance, as well as some students that are not music majors, but who want to continue studying the viola while they are in college.

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

A little of both, I think! I knew I wanted to play the violin from the first time I saw an orchestra perform, when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. I wasn’t thrilled when I was signed up for Little League baseball instead – I have a distinct memory of sadly playing the air violin while I was supposed to be on first base.

When the time finally came for us to choose instruments at school a few years later, our teacher had expressed a need for more violists. Thinking they looked and played the same (how wrong I was!), I signed up for viola instead and never looked back.

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

Two right now – Tabea Zimmermann and Garth Knox. Ms. Zimmermann for her always passionate, incredibly moving performances. Her CD of Schumann works is what brought me to appreciate Schumann so deeply. Mr. Knox’s interpretations of contemporary works are so fully committed to the aesthetic and are always a source of inspiration when I work on any contemporary piece.

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

I think Bach just -barely- edges out Brahms in this category for me. We could spend many lifetimes with the string works, not to mention all of the amazing keyboard and vocal music he wrote. His management of and interplay among any number of voices and/or instruments is beyond words.

I would miss Brahms, Beethoven, Bartok, and Schumann, though, as well…

What is your favorite piece to play?

Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 – A whole world’s worth of emotion in an incredibly compact form. I also recently really enjoyed performing the Variations for Four Drums and Viola by Michael Colgrass. Finding ways for the two instruments to imitate each other so closely was an extremely fun experience.

What are your career goals?

Like most musicians, I believe I will be doing a little bit of everything in the future – teaching, performing, gigging… Fortunately, all of these things are extremely important to me. Teaching allows us to connect with other musicians and discover more about ourselves as musicians, and performing in an orchestra or in a chamber group allows us to be part of a team and work together for the same goals.

I am also very passionate about contemporary music, and would like to be bringing more repertoire into the mainstream focus – both unjustly neglected works and brand new collaborative efforts. Working with living composers also allows us to frame the “classics” in a new light!

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

When I was figuring out what to pursue in college, I knew I wanted to go for a career that would help me improve the human condition. I had originally thought of going into politics – but after a bit more research into what that might actually entail, I turned away pretty quickly from that field. Music is something that is more likely to elevate us and teach us compassion and empathy for our fellow man.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I always take some time to meditate before big performances. I find it deeply centering to take moments alone and turn my attention to my breath. It often helps to heighten my awareness after I get back on stage, and it also tends to put everything in perspective, reducing my anxiety.

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

My fondest memories involve performing chamber music with teachers and colleagues – Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, the Loeffler Rhapsodies, and the Schubert ‘Cello Quintet are all performances that I have treasured. The process of working intensely and deeply on a huge piece that had felt just slightly out of reach at the time is richly rewarding. I’ve been very lucky to work with mentors on each of these projects and have taken away new insights from them all.

Introducing Dr. Daphne Gerling

IMG_9301 Daphne Photo Devon CassFFFFFttttngREVISED

What is your name?

I have a long name: Daphne Cristina Capparelli Gerling.

Where are you from?

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

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you come from a musical family?

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

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

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

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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 Kathleen Crabtree

unnamed

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 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!

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 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.

 

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 Liesl-Ann DeVilliers, Principal Violist of the Dallas Opera, by Valeria de Kuspa

Where are you from?IMG_2278

I was born in Bronxville, New York,  but I grew up in South Africa.

What is the most valuable experience South Africa gave you?

I think it turned me into somebody with a lot of perseverance. You have to put up with a lot down there, things are very disorganized. You have to make sure that you want to do it, that is the biggest thing I took from there.

How did you become a musician? Was viola your first choice?

I started when I was five years old, on piano. My mother took me to Yamaha in Canada and when we went back to South Africa she found me a great piano teacher. I got a piano performance bachelor’s degree and I played violin in high school. Viola was not my first choice at all but when I landed on it I realized this is what I want to do.

What characteristics do you value the most about the viola?

It’s a soulful instrument. It’s really flexible, I feel like you can play violin repertoire if you want (the flashy stuff) but if it’s in your nature you’re going to play stuff that is beautiful. You’re an inside voice in the orchestra, so you get to fill out what everyone else is doing. As much as they want to deny it, we make them sound fantastic!

What is the best advice you ever got?

You need to value yourself. You need to feel like you’re worth it and you deserve it. To me that’s been a very valuable thing that I’ve only recently learned. What’s real is who you are and what you can do, not the fear. Don’t feed the fear!

How do you manage any performance-related stress on your body through Opera season?

That’s a multifaceted question. There is emotional stress and physical stress. There are certain things you can do. I think the most important thing you can do is make your body strong through diet and exercise or what have you. You need the physical stamina. I have a chair made for me in the opera that has a longer seat because my legs are long. They’ve added padding to the chair and they added a 2’’ platform. If I sit on a different chair I can immediately feel the difference.

What is your favorite piece of music written for viola?

Honestly, I like a lot of the transcriptions that are coming out now of vocal stuff that has been arranged for viola. The Walton and the Bartók have good learning points in them, but it’s not what I listen to. I would say that I’m a classical girl, the tunes are beautiful and they sound so beautiful on the viola and there’s not enough of them yet! It’ll take time I guess.

If you weren’t a violist, what would you do?

I would be a doctor or a nutritionist or something like that. I wouldn’t be a medical doctor as in medical school because that’s not what I believe in, but I would be educating people on what’s going on in alternative medicine. Definitely more holistic.

What has been a particularly challenging obstacle to overcome as a violist?

There’s a lot of things that can be very challenging. For example, counting can be challenging because I’m not very good at it. I work it out and I can do it, but it’s not something that comes very naturally to me. It takes a lot of brain power. Sometimes the hardest thing is getting the sound that I actually want. Especially that connected sound, one that flows from one note to the other. There are people who can do that very well and I am on the “not so much” side.

Tell us about someone who has been important in your journey.

There are two people definitely. When I was in high school I had a piano teacher, Marietjie Hesse. I was in an art school in a class with very talented people. People who are having successful solo careers now I was with in high school. It’s very challenging to say the least. You feel like you can’t do anything. It’s hard. Marietjie would tell me, “You CAN do this! You can absolutely do this. We will work it in.” She gave me faith in myself. Just because other people are fantastic doesn’t mean you can’t get there. Susan Dubois did the same thing for me when I came to UNT. I remember her asking me innocently “have you learned the Bartók?” and I was like “Omg no! You’ve got to be kidding, you think I can play the Bartók? Seriously? NO. ”  I was thinking to myself “I can’t play the Bartok …I’m not even close!” She told me I could. I thought of it the whole time as out of reach for me, but she made me feel like it was all in my grasp. It’s just how you focus yourself to get there.

Please share with us your favorite book!

My two new favorite books are also by a favorite author, Brené Brown“Daring Greatly”  and Rising Strong are two amazing books and I’m always very interested in the psychology behind things and how people think. Very well written and easy to read. It’s not a story book but a story about how you think and who you are.

Audition/ pit advice?

I feel like I did it by myself. Susan helped me with my concerto and she was fantastic, we got it done. I felt like I could present it in a way that felt authentic to me. Then I had to learn opera excerpts and because I’m Suzuki trained, I had to listen to them in the sea of opera stuff and pick out the viola part. I had to teach myself that I have to listen, that I know what I’m doing when I’m playing in the opera. It’s not like the symphony where you watch the conductor then that’s it. There are singers. If you’re not listening to the stage it causes a lot of problems and everyone will hate you. It’s a lot of listening to recordings and to this day I have to know where I fit in all the time. When a singer comes in you need to know where you are and what to do.

Did you ever play the opera at UNT?

Perhaps, long long ago…

Did you plan to play in the pit or did it fall into place?

I fell into it, but I’m not sorry about it because I really like it. I do play some symphonic literature when opera season is not on. I have to tell you, if I had to play symphony orchestra 365 days a year I would be bored and unhappy.

Do you have a favorite Opera conductor?

The previous director Graeme Jenkins was an exceptionally entertaining, very compelling person. As a conductor he had a great way to describe how things need to sound. “It needs to sound like she’s stabbing you” or “cut her head off”! You need to understand what’s happening in the music to understand the opera. He’s just returned to do Jules Massenet’s Manon with us this March, but it was great when he was here more. He brought the music to life in a way that other conductors struggle to do.

How are you connected to the UNT viola studio?

 I’m an alumna. You are the only student I know from the current group, but I’m very connected with Dr. Dubois still, and she will send students to me that she can’t take and she recommends me as a teacher. I am also on the viola faculty for the Summer String Institute. When I teach there and I watch the other teachers at it I get a refresher of what I learned long ago.

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 Rui Li

 

image1

What is your name?

My name is Rui Li.

Where are you from?

I am from China, Liaoning Province. It is located in the northeast of the country. I earned my Bachelor of Music degree at Central Conservatory of Music, in Beijing and my Master of Music degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am currently a first year student in the Doctor of Musical Arts program at UNT.

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

I began on the violin at the age of 6. However, at the age of 12, I went to a viola recital. After that, I decided to change to viola because I love the warmer sound and C string.

What is your favorite piece to play?

It is hard to choose, but I would say Hindemith Op.11 No.4. The beginning of the first movement has a dreamy and calm mood because of the lyrical melody. I love it so much.

What are your career goals?

I would like to be employed as a professional orchestra violist and become an instructor at a university.

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

Music is my life. If I chose another career, I think I would be a medical doctor because I want to help people around me and take care of them.

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

William Primrose. After reading this book “Playing the Viola: Conversations with William Primrose”, I wish I could have had a lesson with him. Also, I can learn from every person because everyone has something unique to offer.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

My most important musical influences have been my mentors, specifically the teacher I studied with for my undergraduate degree, Wing Ho.

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

I love cooking especially Chinese food. There are “Eight Culinary Cuisines” in China. I am especially good at cooking spicy food. I hope I can cook those for my friends in the future.

 

Introducing Myles Miller

IMG_2479

What is your name?

Myles Miller

Where are you from?

Austin, Texas

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am a junior Music Education Major at UNT with a concentration in viola.

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

I chose the viola in Middle School because I saw that no one at orientation had signed up for it yet.

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

My instrument is a William Harris Lee Tertis Model 17″ viola that I purchased two and a half years ago specifically for my college studies.

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

My favorite violists are William Primrose for his impact and skill, and Lawrence Power for his flamboyant showmanship.

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

I could easily see myself playing works by Antonín Dvořák for the rest of my life. His compositions are playful, fun, and at times deeply gorgeous and profound to listen to.

What is your favorite piece to play?

Either Cecil Forsyth’s Viola Concerto, the Bach Solo Suites, or Beethoven’s Romances in F and G.

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

I want to perform the Dvořák Cello Concerto, but common arrangements for it are regarded as pretty mediocre. It’s simply one of the most beautiful concertos written.

Do you come from a musical family?

Neither of my parents were necessarily musical, although my father dabbled in guitar and my mother managed a band for a few years.

What are your career goals?

My wish is to be the conductor of a grand orchestra someday.

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

There wasn’t any one thing that made me decide. It simply happened, and this is where I am now.

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

I would be a historian, as History is my other biggest passion.

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

Discussing music and philosophy with Leonard Bernstein would be indescribably amazing.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

I’m not sure if conductors count as musicians in the context of this question, but Bernstein and Karajan are especially important to me. Karajan for the sound he was able to pull from his orchestras, and Bernstein for the fresh interpretations and focus on musicality rather than nitpicking.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I crack jokes and distract myself so that I don’t end up shaking from nervousness before a concert.

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

My favorite memory is of the first rehearsal I ever had at UNT my freshman year. We were rehearsing the Schumann Piano Concerto and once the first chord hit, I was hooked. The sound of the A minor sonorities ringing throughout the hall sounded to me as a completely different beast than what I was familiar with in High School. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the rehearsal.

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

I can answer virtually any question regarding history from the late Bronze Age up to around the Vietnam War. Like I said, History is one of my biggest passions.

Introducing Andrew Justice, former Associate Head Music Librarian at UNT

What is your name?

Andrew Justice1779722_10152806287841011_45770707839496034_n

Where are you from?

Born in Los Angeles, grew up in Oregon

How are you connected to the UNT Viola Studio?

I am the Associate Head Music Librarian at UNT and am also a professional Baroque violist.

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

Having started on violin at age 6, people began suggesting a switch to viola as I filled out my 6′ 4″ frame / wingspan / hand size; I resisted this notion for quite some time, as I thought of the violin as my instrument and wanted to explore more repertoire / technical challenges. In the second half of my Bachelor’s degree, however, I started playing viola in symphony, then I divided my senior recital between viola and violin, and by the time I started my Master’s degree, I was a full-time violist.

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 Howard Sands of Eagle Point, Oregon in 1996; I purchased it during my senior year of undergrad. Over the years, I’ve switched out the modern bridge and tailpiece for Baroque versions, but otherwise it’s a modern instrument which has served me quite well in various performance situations.

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

It really depends on the era and genre, but I find myself listening to a fair amount of Kashkashian for 20th c., Dutton & Tree for quartets, and Primrose for historical recordings. Wolfram Christ’s recording of the Bartók concerto (especially the second movement) specifically inspired me to study that piece. My teachers/mentors on viola were Marlan Carlson at Oregon State University and Leslie Straka at the University of Oregon. Both taught me incredibly important lessons, in vastly different ways.

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

That’s such a hard question to answer, but my gut (no pun intended) says Arcangelo Corelli; if you’ve ever played any of the Op. 6 Concerti Grossi, you know why. There’s something about his experience as a violinist, combined with 17th-c. harmonic techniques that just gets to me…in the right hands, performances of Corelli can be wildly exciting from a string/bow technique standpoint and then simply wreck your heart with simple chord changes in the slower movements.

What is your favorite piece to play?

I’ll have to put my foot down here and say: I can’t answer that. I will say, however, that I usually find at least one piece or movement or phrase or even moment on every program that I really try to sink into and suck all the marrow out of, because there’s almost always something, and what’s the point of doing all of this if you’re not going enjoy it to that level?

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

Instead of piece, I’ll say instrument: drums, because the coordination it requires is something different than strings or winds or keyboards, and as I get older I find myself focusing on the drums when I listen to [non-classical] music.

Do you come from a musical family?

Yes, my parents were always involved in church choirs (my dad used to direct; my mom sings basically all the time) and my stepfather played LP records when I was very young, which probably explains why I asked to learn violin at age 3 and now work with all kinds of sound recordings, both digital and analog.

What are your career goals?

To have a long and successful career as a music librarian and continue performing as a Baroque violist until my hands and/or ears will no longer allow me to do so.

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

When I was a senior in high school and contemplating my college/career path, I basically had to decide between music and being recruited to play college football — for me, it was never really a possibility to do anything other than music. Ever since I was young, I’ve basically lived music so studying it in college was an incredibly easy decision.

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

Maybe something with computers or technology, maybe teaching. Or maybe living off the grid and growing all my own food, hiking and other outdoor pursuits, etc.

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

I’d be really interested to see what Stamitz played like, or Mozart…maybe Joachim. I think we would all be surprised to see/hear what they REALLY played like, and it could seriously change how we approach music of those eras.

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

Marc Vanscheeuwijck, musicologist and Baroque cellist at the University of Oregon: he speaks several languages, can lecture just as easily about art history as music history, plays Baroque cello like a house on fire, cooks some incredibly delicious meals and is easily the most approachable and intelligent person I know.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I like to play with clean hands, nothing too obsessive but just a simple wash before I pick up the instrument. Sometimes I have a banana, sometimes a bowl of pasta with a modest glass of red wine. Because I’ve been performing since I was 6 (started with Suzuki), I’ve never really had an issue with stage fright or nervousness.

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

Ha, like that’s possible to answer fairly — probably the most recent high point was performing with Manfredo Kraemer, who can do things you wouldn’t believe with the shortest Baroque bow you’ve ever seen. He’s one of those people who you feel like playing Twinkle with would be a life-changing experience…they don’t come around often, though, so enjoy it while you can!

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

Most of my colleagues (library or music) probably don’t know that I really enjoy cooking and baking; I’m not a superstar or anything, but I have received compliments on my pasta dishes, homemade pizza (with dough), grilling skills, and apple pie.

A Conversation with George Papich, Director of the Center for Chamber Music at UNT, by Ruben Balboa

IMG_3162 (1)I have had the distinct privilege during my graduate degree to be a part of the Bancroft String Quartet. Every week , we meet with two professors to go over our progress. One professor, in particular, is Dr. George Papich. He has been a teacher here for nearly 50 years and has taught classes such as Music History, Music Appreciation, Opera, Performance Practice, and Chamber Music. Dr. Susan Dubois and I sat down with Dr. Papich to speak with him about his life and time here at UNT.

Before becoming a professor at UNT, Dr. Papich was called upon to serve in the United States Army whilst in the middle of completing his doctoral degree. During his service, he was the principal violist of the Seventh Army Symphony, with whom he performed throughout Europe; completing 20 concerts in 20 days. Upon returning from his tour of service, he became an elementary music teacher, since the need was there and his course of study had previously been interrupted. He taught there for a year, but was not satisfied with the administration, though he thoroughly loved teaching and the students alike. By happy coincidence, it was then that Northern Michigan University requested that he continue his course of study for his doctorate at their school, which would later lead to Dr. Papich becoming faculty there.

Around the year of 1967, Sandy, his wife, wanted to live somewhere new as she wasn’t fond of Michigan, or the cold weather that accompanies the state. So, Dr. Papich then gave her a list of five universities, and promised if one those universities had an open position, and if they were interested in him, then they would leave Michigan. Shortly after this compromise, he would fulfill his promise to her. Just two days after making this promise, the University of North Texas called offering him a job. At Northern Michigan University, he was making $9,200 a year; UNT offered him $13,000 without even blinking, and even allowed his brother to attend UNT tuition free as a part of his contract.

He then arrived at UNT to teach two viola students, nineteen chamber groups, and several university courses. As a musician he went on to maintain a thriving teaching studio, and performance career. Many of his students have gone on to win orchestral auditions, perform in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Ft. worth Symphony Orchestra, Austin Symphony Orchestra, and many prestigious chamber groups and quartets. Not only has teaching at UNT for 48 years afforded him to meet and touch many lives, but it has proven that Mrs. Papich’s request to move is one that brought upon a decision they have both been happy with throughout the years.

In the year 2000, Dr. George Papich decided to retire from the University of North Texas, only to return three years later. When asked why he returned to teaching, he said that there were three things most important in his life: family, music, and the people he would interact with and teach. During his brief retirement, he made furniture, played golf, and found that it didn’t bring him as much joy as teaching. “Training young people is something really special,” Papich said, “It’s never perfect but there are times when it is just so good. “  The joy of coaching for Dr. Papich is seeing his students take the next step forward, not being afraid of the challenges, and to hit them head on.

During his time here at UNT, he developed the Center for Chamber Music supported by the Dean of the College of Music, Dr. James Scott. Dr. Papich believed that Chamber Music needed to be more of a priority at UNT. The program started with a piano trio that turned out to be very successful. The trio competed for, and won the Plowman Chamber Music Competition, Colbourn Chamber Competition, and Fischoff Chamber Music Competition.

This primary success has evolved into what chamber music at the University of North Texas is today. Chamber music at UNT currently enrolls over 200 students every semester. Out of those students, 17 musicians are chosen for the Center for Chamber Music Studies. The Center for Chamber Music Studies is comprised of a woodwind quintet, piano trio, brass quintet, and a string quartet. Every week, coaches listen to these groups and there is a final performance every semester. The goals for these ensembles are that when the musicians graduate and leave to go on in the professional world of music, they are capable of being in a chamber group, and know how to efficiently work as a musician and person. They do this by not only teaching students how to play certain pieces, but why we play the pieces the way we do and how to appropriately give our own interpretation.

As we drew closer to the end of the interview, we asked what his thoughts were on the past 48 years of teaching. “It’s been a good job for me”, he said. “The whole concept of growing from two students to thirty students is just amazing. I’m so proud.” He then said, “I feel like I’ve established a good thing, and whoever took over for me would benefit from it. I’ve had the pleasure of watching this enormously talented young lady (Dr. Dubois) follow me, and do a better job than I ever could have.”

When asked what were some of his favorite memories, the amount far surpassed the appropriate length of this article and I have been hard pressed to choose just one to give you insight into the personality of this amazing teacher, man, and musician. It was very clear that he has had a great time here, and true to his humorous personality, has proved to be quite a jokester. He said, “There are plenty of musical memories and then there are some that are just plain fun.” One time at a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, in between the two acts, Phil Lewis (one of UNT’s Violin Professors) chained and locked up Dr. Papich’s viola. When Dr. Papich asked Mr. Lewis to unlock it, he said that he didn’t have a key. So, Dr. Papich had to find a janitor to cut the chain. In return, Dr. Papich grabbed Mr. Lewis’s violin, and hung it up on Lewis’ dartboard. Dr. Papich then proceeded to put darts all around the violin. He remarked that it was very pleasant to have their offices next to each other because he heard a big scream when Mr. Lewis returned to his office. “We lived in a different time. Everyone wasn’t so serious back then. It was a special time”, Papich said.

Dr. Papich has clearly done a multitude of wonderful things in his lifetime for UNT, and more importantly his students. He has touched so many people with his humor, dedication, knowledge, and love. I am so honored to have met him and thankful to him for passing his knowledge onto me and many others.

 

Until next time,

Ruben Balboa III

Introducing Amber Sander

Amber Sander HeadshotWhat is your name?

Amber Sander

Where are you from?

I grew up in Lubbock, TX.

How are you connected to the UNT viola studio?

I am an alumna.  I had the wonderful opportunity to serve as the Teaching Fellow from 2008-2010, and completed my DMA in 2013.

Who is your favorite violist? 

I really love the richness and depth of Roberto Diaz’s playing. I have never studied with him and have never even had an opportunity to hear him play live, but  I always find inspiration when I listen to his recordings.

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

Technically both, however I think that the viola came looking for me. The day before I signed up to  play the viola I had never even heard of it!  My first orchestra teacher came to my elementary school and played for us. I was dazzled by the instruments and knew I had to learn to play.  I signed up immediately and never looked back. I still remember sitting outside of the school after our first class and plucking hot crossed buns for my friends. I am so thankful that I wasn’t absent from school the day the viola came looking for me!

Do you have any skills that your studio members wouldn’t know about?

I can wiggle my ears! This is completely useless but can be very amusing.

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

When I started playing viola at the age of 12 I was a shy and awkward kid that couldn’t quite find my place in the world. Discovering the viola for me was like finding a missing puzzle piece under the couch. All of a sudden I was complete. Playing the viola gave me a sense of purpose and belonging. It helped me find my voice and my place in the world, and most importantly it helped me develop a deep inner confidence that I desperately needed. I never actually made a decision to become a professional musician. As  I went through my studies there was an evolution from amateur to young artist that happened very organically. When it was time to apply for college I was already working as a musician and there was no question in my mind what my major would be.

 

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

I would really love to learn to play jazz. The creativity and soulfulness in jazz really speaks to me, and I think jazz viola sounds incredible.

 

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

I am so thankful for Jeff Irvine at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He took a big risk by accepting me into his studio because when I auditioned for my master’s degree at CIM I had major technical gaps in my playing that were seriously holding me back.  He saw potential in me, knew I was a hard worker, and accepted me despite those problems. Irv helped me begin the process of deconstructing my playing and filling in the holes. He was there for me when this process broke me down emotionally, and he helped me get my first job which I loved. He is also one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever known. He changed my life and I am so grateful.

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

Before I started college I dreamed of becoming famous. I don’t mean that  I wanted to be like Yo-Yo Ma or Itzhak Perlman, classical artists who have become household names across the world. I wanted to have a tour bus with my name on it, a private jet, a hair and makeup team, and play every night to sold out crowds with thousands of people screaming my name. What I had imagined  for myself would be today’s equivalent of being Adele, Beyoncé, or any other top 40 mega-star. My bubble was quickly burst when I realized that there isn’t a market this big for Brahms Viola Sonatas.  However that doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten to taste that life. When you work as a freelance artist, sometimes you have an opportunity to play with mega-stars like this when their tour comes through your area. I have gotten to do concerts like this several times, and I love being a part-time rockstar! One of my favorite memories as a musician was the very first time I played a show like this. It was for Kanye West’s Touch the Sky Tour. Because of the staging I got to be the first one to walk out on stage. As soon as I was visible 20,000 people began wildly cheering. I knew they were excited to see Kanye West, but in that moment I pretended they were cheering just for me. Afterwards people begged for our autographs… which we happily gave! It was a dream come true for my inner child, and I will certainly never forget it.

 

Have you ever had a viola crisis? How did you deal with it?

I actually laughed out loud when I read this question. YES, I have had many viola related crises in my life. Both in the literal sense… broken viola the day before a concert, and the figurative sense… career crisis. These things will happen to you too, and you will make it through it. Making it through the broken instrument crises is fairly easy. Make sure you have instrument insurance, and a good relationship with an instrument shop or friend that you can borrow from in a pinch. If the worst happens and your instrument breaks during a concert, do the best you can to make it work. If that’s really not an option, you really have no choice but to laugh it off like Yuri Bashmet did in this famous viola fail.

Making it through the career crisis is much harder. Before I tell you my story you need to understand one of the fundamental things about me. I like stability and schedules and plans, and I need to work full time to feel balanced and safe.  Many people love the freedom and variety of being a freelance musician and make a great living as a freelancer. I in no way seek to belittle their work. We are all different and that what works for one person may not work for another. You know the saying about round pegs and square holes right? … Now on to my story.

I had two mini career crises when I was in school where I was worried that I would never be able to get a job, and one major career crisis after graduating where I was swimming in the shark tank of people trying to get jobs. This is a rough business and struggle is unfortunately part of it. Full time positions are extremely difficult to come by, and the process of trying to land one of them can physically, mentally, and emotionally wreck you. It can also be a years-long process. For the first time in my life I found myself questioning whether being a musician was worth it or not. I started looking for new careers and even sent in several applications. Living through this was awful, and I am so glad that it’s in the past. What got me through it were my incredible family, friends, and mentors who so patiently talked with me every time I needed them. They couldn’t make the crisis end but they made it bearable. The crisis ended when I started my current job as a Suzuki Strings specialist for a the Hurst Euless Bedford school district, which I greatly enjoy. I gained the stability I need to feel balanced and safe, but I also still have time to practice and perform. It really is the best of both worlds and I am very happy now.

What it’s like to share a stand with Dr. Dubois, by Amber Sander


Have you ever tried the practice technique where you put headphones on and play along with a favorite recording? I think this is a really fun way to shake things up in the practice room, and I always notice an improvement in my sound afterward. I’m not completely clear on why this works but it reminds me of the hilarious rubber hand illusion. For two weeks this December I experienced a live version of this sitting next to Dr. Dubois at a gig. We both had microphones on our instruments and were using in-ear monitors so I could hear her really clearly in one ear. This gave me an entirely new perspective on her playing and I felt like I was having one “ah-ha!” moment after another. This experience has had a profound impact on my playing and I would like to share some of my biggest realizations of what really separates out elite players like Dr. Dubois from the pack.

 

  1. Every note she plays is beautiful. If you are thinking “I already know that her sound is incredible,” then you’ve missed the point. Every note she plays is beautiful. It does not matter if it’s one lonely 16th note, a fourth finger (my nemesis), an unfortunate series of 5ths, or a whole note repeated for dozens of measures. Every note she plays will be full of life, depth, and character. The commitment to excellence and the level of focus this requires is astounding. I had never realized how many dead notes I let slip by until I pushed myself to follow her lead. It’s exhausting!

 

  1. Her playing is incredibly consistent and she is very focused, things I struggle with in my own playing. Have you ever had to redo a beautiful recording because you lost focus and made silly mistakes? I sure have and it is really frustrating. A few years ago I realized that this stems from bad habits in my practicing like letting myself get away with zoning out, or thinking about all the other things I need to get done. It is something that I am working to improve, but once again it’s exhausting!

 

  1. The number of different colors she plays with make Matisse and Van Gogh look like slackers. The analytical type-a part of me wishes we could have a musical version of paint by numbers so I could analyze all of the vibrato and bow control combinations she was using. However, even if something like this did exist it wouldn’t produce the same result because it would be so technical that the music would have no soul. I think this personal connection to the music is the real key. After that it’s just a matter of experimenting with your technique until you find the sound you’re looking for.

 

  1. She is a total pro. She is always on time, always prepared, always in a good mood, always paying attention, always kind to those around her, etc. I hope someone has shared with you how important these things are. The music world is very small, and you can’t afford to make a bad impression. You never know who will be in a position to hire you in the future… or spy on you at a gig and write about it. Dr. D really impressed me by remembering the names of people she hasn’t seen in years. She makes a point of meeting people she doesn’t know, and treats the aspiring artists the same as the seasoned vets.

 

  1. She makes mistakes just like the rest of us… thank goodness! These mistakes are far and few between, but what I noticed is that she doesn’t make a big production about it. There is no dramatic face or sigh, and she doesn’t let it taint the music coming up. Mistakes are simply marked and never missed again.

 

So what was it like to share a stand with Dr. Dubois? It was so much fun to spend this time with her, and it was really inspiring. Watching Dr. Dubois out of the corner of my eye was like having a silent lesson every day. I would hear her do something that I liked and then watch her hands to see how she did it. I made two little tweaks to my hand position and vibrato, and am sounding better than ever! Thanks for the tune up Dr. D!

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Life before Telemann: Andrew Justice discusses the untold riches of the Baroque viola repertoire.

When people ask me what I play and I tell them Baroque viola, it’s always interesting to see their reaction: casual listeners of classical music will often feign some polite understanding or appreciation, and a few will mention Brandenburg 6. Meanwhile, fellow musicians usually respond as if I had just admitted to being the world’s foremost authority on the music of Mozart’s lesser-known cousin Bill!

Yes: I am a “full-time” Baroque violist.

Of course, I don’t make a living solely off of being a Baroque violist (although I know of a select few who actually do): my day job is music librarianship, which enables me to be more selective with the performance opportunities I pursue– a very fortunate situation indeed.

How I became acquainted with the world of performance practice was pretty standard: my Master’s program required one term of Collegium Musicum. By the second or third class meeting, I realized that the techniques of earlier music caused me to play with less tension and the musical approaches to phrasing and ensemble performance were right up my alley.

Combining that with a growing sense of “how in the world am I going to make a living as a freelance performer and teacher” over the course of my Master’s program, I decided after graduation that I wanted to focus exclusively on performing earlier works using historical approaches. At the same time, my interest in music history and how it intermingles with those techniques motivated me to study musicology at the doctoral level.

Suffice it to say that it didn’t work: the predominant musicological attitude of “Publish or Perish,” and the ensuing lack of emphasis on teaching (and certainly performance,) disillusioned me right out my coursework after only one year. Fortunately, I eventually realized that what I really enjoyed about my year of musicology was all the time I spent in the music library, regardless of content or outcome.

So I ended up getting a job at the Cornell music library and completed a Master’s of Library Science from Syracuse (mostly online). I came to UNT in February 2007 as Music Librarian for Audio and Digital Services and was promoted to Associate Head Music Librarian in 2013; by the time you read this in early 2016, I will have taken up my new post as Head of the Music Library at the University of Southern California.

Working in a library is obviously a huge benefit to my performing career, and vice versa: I can easily find music to play or program and my various gigs introduce me to new repertoire, scholarly studies, recordings and other materials to seek out for my library’s collection.

It also enables me to observe certain trends among college music students, one of which I’ll begin to address with this blog post: the prevalent belief that viola music basically doesn’t exist before the Telemann concerto.

While it’s true that we count this piece as the earliest well-known example of solo writing for our instrument, it is probably not the first and definitely not the only extant resource for understanding the viola in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

First, it’s important to realize that how most of us are taught to think about viola repertoire tends to be a result of the late nineteenth- and twentieth-century “conservatory to concert hall” mindset, where one’s worth as a performer leans more toward how accurately you can play the Prelude and Fugue from the  Bach C-minor Solo Suite than how you contribute an excellent viola voice to Brahms’ Op. 51 Quartet of the same key.

I think this mentality is changing, but at a glacial rate: as long as we can trace our pedagogical tree back to Auer or Joachim or even Corelli, we will probably continue adhering to this solo-centric tradition…or at least until professional concert audiences are regularly outnumbered by the number of performers on stage.

So if the general idea of the viola “coming into its own” as a solo instrument doesn’t really exist until the Brahms sonatas (and even those are problematic: clarinet), how then does it make sense to retroactively impose a twentieth-century notion onto music of 200 or 300 years prior?

Clearly, Stamitz and Rolla didn’t approach the viola in the same manner as Dvořák or Hindemith. However, to go back even further in time from the first two means that one must redefine what a violist (and indeed, the other members of the violin family) actually was in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century string writing.

Our instrument family, alongside that of the viola da gamba, has an early history in the Renaissance-era courts of Italy as a quiet inner voice belonging in a chamber ensemble– the “musique de chambre”– played indoors, in contrast to the militaristic pomp of loud exterior ensembles which included shawms, brass, and drums.

As the seventeenth century developed, ensemble compositions appear by composers like Giovanni Paolo Cima, Dario Castello, and Giovanni Battista Fontana for interchangeable numbers and ranges of instruments…it’s not until later with Corelli and Vivaldi that our instrumental voices become codified into “The Orchestra”.

There is a fair amount of documentary evidence (treatises, employment records, etc.) to support the notion that, if a seventeenth-century violist was available to play a part (which may or may not have laid comfortably on the instrument, to say nothing of clef), they probably did so.

Scholars and performance practitioners alike mostly agree: they worked with what they had.

Exploring this repertoire, playing with ensembles in the alto/tenor role but also reading and transposing music clearly for soprano or bass voices (Uccellini sonatas work quite nicely, as does playing along with basso continuo lines), these are ways of wrapping one’s head around early Baroque string writing.

Moving into the eighteenth century, studying the dedicated viola lines of Corelli, Muffat, and Buxtehude opens up a world of how the “instrument of the middle” can actually drive the overall ensemble…and this is not to mention the orchestral music of Lully!

But seriously: spend some time listening to and studying the scores of Corelli’s Op. 6 concerti grossi, paying close attention to the viola line – it’s not a third violin and it’s not a little cello, the structure would simply fall apart without that voice and I believe it’s because those pieces were written by a string player who keenly understood how the different voices of the violin family did and could work.

The second major factor in this discussion is: how to find repertoire and resources, and I’ll lead off by saying that relying upon free online options like IMSLP is fine, but you’re only seeing part of the picture and you’re tacitly accepting editorial decisions which could be completely wrong.

Grove (also known as the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and/or Grove Music Online) should be a default resource for basically all of us. The articles in both the paper and online versions include comprehensive works lists and bibliographies, which nearly always outperform Wikipedia and other sources in their depth, breadth, and reliability. In the U.S., almost every library with a decent music collection should certainly allow you to access one or both versions.

In addition to Franz Zeyringer’s Literatur für Viola and the Primrose International Viola Archive at BYU, the most valuable resource I’ve found for Baroque- and Classical-era viola music is Michael Jappe’s Viola Bibliographie: das Repertoire für die historische Bratsche von 1649 bis nach 1800.

Organized alphabetically by composer, I usually start with the indexes which include subsections for Solo Viola, Violin-Viola Duos, Viola-Viola duos, etc. The entries for the compositions almost always include manuscript and publication information, as well as incipits; in the past 15 years, I have used this resource to find and program works at least 50 times.

Once you’ve found that something exists, then you need to figure out how to get your hands on it. After searching your local library catalog, you should definitely not forget about WorldCat, which is essentially the largest worldwide database for library holdings.

For any given item, WorldCat will sort the holding libraries so you can either plan a trip or make an Inter-Library Loan request – using the latter, be sure you note the OCLC number for the item, which will guarantee you get the right thing.

It’s extremely important to not give up on the research process, just because you can’t find a PDF of the piece for download within three minutes of searching. Current general thought tells us everything is digital, and that’s simply NOT true…especially when it comes to something as contentious (from a copyright standpoint) as music.

If you’re digging deeper than the Primrose or Katims editions of Bach suites (and you absolutely should, in my opinion) or that tired old Bärenreiter edition of Telemann, you’ll quickly start finding that it requires time spent in a library and/or employing some pretty serious critical thought.

But as the Italians and Spaniards say: vale la pena (it’s worth the pain). There is an entire galaxy of untapped material awaiting the violist who is curious about “life before Telemann”, and you don’t necessarily have to play with historical performance techniques to appreciate this repertoire.

Study scores/parts, listen to recordings, read about the people and places and trends; sink your teeth into it, and feel free to ask for a librarian’s help!