A few days ago I submitted a question for discussion on the violinist.com discussion board: Where is the dividing line between “a violinist who plays the viola” and “a violist”?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject. At the end of June I’ll have played the viola for six months. Alto clef is under the fingers pretty well. I’d feel comfortable taking on stuff like the Haydn quartets (as long as I’d have time to learn and finger them beforehand). I bought my first viola sheet music. The first Bach suite is mostly memorized. I’ve had two lessons with a wonderful viola teacher. I’ve relaxed my right shoulder, stopped squeezing the neck, raised my bow elbow, and tweaked my posture so the scroll sits higher. The violin feels much more manageable, I can finger simple viola parts for orchestra arrangements, and I’ve learned some new viola jokes. In short, I’ve actually achieved the majority of what I originally set out to do with the instrument. As I observed in my first Violaland blog entry, in the words of Edith Lynwood Winn, “Every violinist should play the viola to some extent,” and now I do. So the rental should go back to the shop, right? If I keep it, I’m looking at spending money I don’t have, which even if I did have, should go to a decent violin bow, or to a string and rehair fund, or to fun silly frivolities like groceries or rent.
But… (and you know where this is going, don’t you?) …in a few days, I’m signing the papers for another three-month lease. And not only that, but I’m returning the 14″ and bringing home a 15″.
I feel like Moses catching sight of the promised land, realizing it’s time to hand over the reigns to Joshua. But you know what? Screw that. Because I spent forty years (six months) leading the Israelites (my fingers) through the desert (Schradieck), and now I want to enjoy the fruits of my labor. With the basics out of the way, there are bigger instruments to conquer, richer colors to explore, new techniques to analyze. There are harmonies to savor. There are more complicated ensemble parts to take on. There’s the Clarke sonata, floating out there in the distant ether. There are five other Bach suites I haven’t even touched (apparently six sonatas and partitas were not enough to take on in one lifetime). In short, there’s this whole big viola-y world out there. And I was kidding myself to think that I could learn the basics and then quit.
Over the last six months, I’ve begun to love the viola for what it is, not for what it can give to my violin playing.
And that means I’m ready to call myself a violist.
(Still not giving up the violin, though.)