The first video of last night’s concert is out, and I’m in it. There, framed between the soloist and the conductor, you can see me in the orchestra’s viola section.
I want to mention, first of all, that the soloist here, Gene Huang, is an adult re-starter on the violin. He told me that he didn’t play for about 20 years, in college and afterwards, and then started playing again a few years ago. I “met” him online on violinist.com back in 2012 when we both entered the Rockin’ Fiddle Challenge to learn Adam DeGraff’s arrangement of “Violinists Don’t Stop Believin’“. We were two of a group of players over 40 entering what was largely a contest for conservatory-bound youngsters. Gene came in 2nd overall, a resounding victory for the old-timer contingent. His performance of the Mendelssohn violin concerto here is even more impressive. I think he could still go to conservatory if he wanted (if that software job doesn’t work out-ha).
I’m thrilled for him and wish him the best, but that’s his story. Mine is different. While I have gotten more comfortable performing as a middle-aged adult, I still don’t have the skills or the temperament to be a soloist. What I really enjoy most is to be in a section, part of a group, contributing to something larger than myself.
Way back when, in 2006 when I had my own playing re-start, I re-started on the viola. And when I talked to my prospective teacher, she said to me, knowingly, “you like the inner voices.” It was on the phone, but I nodded. She was the first violin teacher I’d ever talked to who seemed to get that. I was a perennial second violin. The E-string often made me cringe while the viola’s lower register and plaintive sound touched my heart. I’d messed around with the Mendelssohn concerto in high school, but never gotten very far. In fact I didn’t dream of big romantic concertos, or of myself standing on a stage. I dreamed of structure, and of finding somewhere to fit in. I dreamed of understanding how teamwork worked. I would go on to work with that teacher in Boston for almost 8 years. And yet, ironically, I would play the violin more than the viola, and I would get a chance at leadership and even at playing solo at a level I never imagined possible.
Now, here in CA, in a new orchestra with a new teacher and what could be viewed as another restart but without much of a break in between, I wasn’t sure how this viola playing thing was going to go this time. Back in my old orchestra, I’d gotten a little spoiled. Although being in charge of the bowings for the section can be a bit of a pain sometimes, there is the advantage that, by definition, you’re always right. You can do whatever, and people have to follow you. Okay, I admit it. I kinda liked that. I took the responsibility seriously and then I could forget about it. I wasn’t like, “oh, gee, what is that section doing and how can we look like them?” the week before the concert.
Also, in my old orchestra, people turned pages for me. I admit, I kinda liked that too. There was a nice gentleman who sat second stand inside, who occasionally sat with me when our regular stand partners were absent, and he always said, politely, at the end of rehearsal, “it was a pleasure turning your pages.” My regular stand partner was a great page turner too: quick, anticipatory, accurate, thoughtful. She made copies of the next line of music and taped them on the bottom when necessary. I didn’t turn a page in that orchestra for 8 years.
Whereas the first time I turned the page here, the music came apart and ended up on the floor. My stand partner was nice about it. She even managed to keep playing while I struggled to reassemble the random pieces of paper. I now had another thing to practice. Note to self: the helpful violinist.com page turning video is really for violinists in traditional seating arrangements. Inside violists sit on the right, not on the left like violinists, and it’s easier for us to turn the page with our left hand. Or, it’s easier for me, anyway. Just keep the instrument under my chin, bow in the right hand, and reach down and turn the page with the left. No flying music in this concert!
This concert venue is pretty far away from where we rehearse (and from my home), and it was raining. It took 45 minutes to get there on the congested freeway, dodging the unused-to-rain drivers. But the concert turned out to be a lot of fun. It was well-attended; we ran out of programs. And two different people in the audience came up to me afterwards and complemented me on how the violas sounded. One, a violist herself, said she could hear me personally and that I sounded good. Another just said that it was great to hear such a strong viola part. At first I was concerned that she meant we were playing too loud. “Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “It’s a rich, solid string sound, with the inner voices holding everything together. The orchestra is getting better and better.”
I wore my necklace to this concert. I’ve worn it to every concert, since my mother gave it to me in high school. Is it a violin or a viola? Yes.
In order to fully trust our inner voice we must first tune to the frequency of the heart. -Ram Dass