A lovely thing, though.
After my second day of obsessively scaling through DM and AM, I’m already seeing improvements in bowing, how to hold the thing (I did a bit more research online of simply looking at photographs of people holding them and investigating shoulder rests, which are apparently the source of an Apple-vs-PC-level religious schism in the strings world), how to stand, and how to check one’s posture in a mirror. My right shoulder isn’t even sore. (Not that I don’t sound dismal, but it’s at least noticeably less dismal than Monday.)
My intonation is of course horrible at this stage, but at least I can tell that it’s off and moreover how (sharp vs flat and how much).
I’m also pondering some strange things said to me by violinists about the supposed “difficulty” of learning a viola, namely that there isn’t enough music written for it to make it interesting. I find this attitude mystifying. For one, the viola is exactly one octave above a cello. I’m sure that there are some physical differences between the instruments that might make cello music a challenge on a viola, but an octave is an octave is an octave after all. If you absolutely must play classical repertoire, then play cello music on the thing, for pete’s sake.
There’s also the fact — which wouldn’t have occurred to me before my own relatively recent musical epiphany — that a musician can play anything they please on their instrument. It need not have had “VIOLA” written on the jar by a dead, white European male before I’m allowed to open it. The piano keyboard doesn’t go silent between a low C and vaguely upward above the concert A, and operatic tenors are not mute. Thousands of brilliant tenor arias have been written, all of them precisely located on the viola’s range. Contralto works are the same. Marian Anderson’s voice does not disappear when moved to strings. And then there is the radical step of arranging the thousands of pieces written for other more modern instruments that land in that range. How many good guitar cadenzas have been written or performed that are waiting to be played on a viola? To say nothing of composition or improvisation by the musician themselves.
Any instrument can play any music. Strings have unfortunately labored under a great deal of baggage for some time that has exiled them in one form of music exclusively (perhaps bluegrass for violins as well, but for viola and cello, absolutely). Any music can be played on any instrument. The fact that the viola has been neglected within the classical realm and not permitted to move beyond that means that it’s time to push it out of the “hall closet.” Think about it: the viola lands in the tenor range. How many pieces written for voice-and-piano can be carried by viola-and-piano, and what’s more within the proper range of the vocal part, instead of pushing the vocal part upward by an octave so a violin can handle it? (“Vaga Luna,” anyone?) The tenor clef is after all, the perfect clef for the viola, much more than the oddly migratory alto clef.
I’m also pondering telling the next teacher that I contact that I have to play left-handed due to nerve damage in my right shoulder from a childhood accident — provided I decide that I want a teacher in the first place. (Turning the natural wiring of my brain into a disability may make me pitiable enough for them to relent on the medievalism.) I’m having enough fun sussing the instrument out on my own that it may take a while before I run out of enjoyment and begin looking for more formalized instruction.
Violists that I’ve discovered and like very much include the magnificent Kim Kashkashian, the pleasantly (thus far) forthright Yuri Bashmet, Olga Goija, and Mark Wood (a violinist according to the strict definition but many of his pioneering instruments encompass the range of a viola while still being played like a violin, so I feel comfortable in claiming him as Of The Tribe).