After the topic came up someplace — “What are your goals?” — I sat back and began thinking of this regards my own decision to study viola. My answers have indicated to me that I still have a strange idea of what this instrument is. Unsurprising, since I grew up as a pianist and hence didn’t absorb any of the cultural norms of the orchestra that says that violists are retiring, do not like to shine, prefer to blend, and enjoy completing inner harmonies.
1) I do very much like to complete inner harmonies. The melody is merely the skin of a piece, just the surface. The entire rest of the piece, the whole structure, is in the harmony. Controlling the harmony means controlling the modulations, the voicing, everything else except rhythm, really. If I’m playing harmony, I control modulations. Depending on the piece, I can throw the entire thing into a minor key on a whim, or change that V7 into a diminished 7th that can wind up anywhere.
However, I can already do that in a far more complete and thorough way on the piano. I don’t need the viola to do that in a much less satisfying way, a mere one note at a time.
2) I think of the viola as a solo instrument. It doesn’t blend well; that’s the whole point of the thing. It’s tonal quality is the most “different” of all of the string instruments. It doesn’t blend well, and if one cannot blend, one should stop trying to. Ella Fitzgerald wouldn’t blend into a classical four-part choir very well, either. The solution is not for her to sit and tell herself that she prefers to not stand out and sing quietly so as to avoid drawing attention to herself. The solution to the “problem” of her voice is for her to go it alone and for her voice to be appreciated for itself, uncompared to others.
3) Being a good solo instrument that stands in better for the voice than any other string instrument … it’s natural companion is (wait for it) the piano. I know that I have reasons to be biased on this, but I think there are real objective reasons for this. I did not choose the viola at random. One of the most complete small performances is that of voice-plus-piano. The viola is meant to be in that setting, not an orchestra. Fill work for inner harmonies is fun, and it can pay the bills, but it is not what the instrument is best at. Like the tomboy girl or the effeminate stepson, it may find its identity and opportunity to shine more readily once it is outside of the confines of the “family” of the orchestra and leaves all comparisons to the prom queen and the football captain behind.
In practice news:
1) The bounce is still there. *grumble*
2) Bowing straight is more challenging than I would have thought. I will swear I’m bowing away from myself when the bow is straight as an arrow. And when I swear it’s straight, it’s going toward my head.
3) I truly do think that I’m ready to start owning the Ginastera in a serious way. However, I need to get off paper entirely. I can feel certain parts that I memorized easily in the right hand that are somewhat fragile. I have them in my muscles and play them thoughtlessly, but if any stress appears and I begin to overthink, I can tell that the thoughtless parts — the parts that I play the most easily and fluidly — will be the first to evaporate. The left hand is pretty firmly in place, but those strange bits in the right hand need to be nailed down and held in the mind and the muscle at the same time, or else they will vanish at the first sign of overthinking.
4) I find it very aggravating indeed that I cannot print something out at Kinko’s that is out of print anyway. There is a certain group of musicians in this world who have written a large amount of excellent popular music who will not be named. If one wants their sheet music, one will either pay a premium for guitar tabs (which are machine operating instructions, not music) or else one will pay a larger premium for nightmarish “easy big note” sheet for a whopping twelve songs. If the blasted music does not exist, I see no reason why I can’t print it out. I would be delighted to pay for a legal copy of 311 pages of decent voice-plus-piano sheet for the Band Who Will Not Be Named. In the absence of this preferred avenue of obtaining it, I’d still like to have paper copies of the blasted stuff.