Musings on Music


Viola (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finding Voice

Coaxing beautiful sounds out of an instrument that has not yet been played is more challenging than I had hoped. This viola has richness in its lower register but the bridge is forcing the strings to sit so far removed from the fingerboard that I have to force each finger down on the string. That effort in my left hand must be softened in the right arm and wrist for a fuller, less strident tone to emerge. A set of new strings made of gut rather than steel would also make the tone much warmer. There is a strident quality to the sound that hinders the richness of the instrument.

I will return the instrument to the maker’s daughter tomorrow and encourage her to take it to  Devon Strings where it can be equipped with a bridge that will allow the player’s fingers to move more easily. They will also supply new strings. I wonder if the owner wants to sell it or to hold it in tribute to her father’s skill.

Detail of an alto (bridge and strings)

Detail of an alto (bridge and strings) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A New Viola!

She carefully lifted a cardboard box from her car and gently handed it to me. “This is a viola my father made. It has never been played. Would you play it for me and tell me what you think of it?”

What a gift!  I promised to play it, to help it find its voice. Apparently it was one of the first instruments her father had made and she found it when she was clearing out his belongings.

I unwrapped the box to find a reddish-hued viola tied into its box and protected by a towel. There was no bow. I drew my bow across its strings to see if the strings would sound and if they were in tune. Today, I let it sing for 10 minutes before wrapping it up and placing it back into its box. I like its sound; the neck is longer than mine and it will take me  a few days to adjust to its size and feel. Together we will learn how to create new sounds. Hopefully, its voice will be strong enough for me to play it at rehearsal on Thursday.


Sectional rehearsal, after a brisk 7.25 ramble on the steep slopes of Dartmoor, provide a focused context for progress. For the past two weeks,  the string section of the Torbay Symphony Orchestra has met at St. John’s Church, Totnes to learn, experiment, and refine the challenging music of Bruckner’s Symphony Number 7. The care and attention to detail, modeled by our conductor, Richard Gonski, guides us to discovery. All of us leave the rehearsal, exhausted but aware that we understand the work more deeply. We also understand the multiple challenges and pitfalls that Bruckner has set for us!


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