I’ve been neglecting you, dear blog readers. It’s not because I don’t like you, though. It’s just because I spent a whole lot of time doing stuff this weekend. I had a viola lesson (in the OC, which means 5-6 hours of driving, round-trip), took Connor over to a friend’s house, got my hair done, did lots and lots and LOTS of laundry, tried to clean the house a little bit (didn’t help), ran some errands… you know, all those things that pile up.
Maybe the most important/interesting realization/discovery of the weekend was after I bought a new set of strings for the viola. I was expecting more, I have to be honest. I was expecting the new set would give me a fuller, richer sound. It usually does. And this new set… it helped a bit, to be sure, but the sound I was looking for, it wasn’t really there. It wasn’t good enough. My teacher played on it a little bit, and I was able to listen to it from across the room. And the difference between listening to him, playing his viola, and then listening to him playing mine… it made me want to shake my head a little bit. Mine sounded kinda flat and lifeless and boring in comparison. The sound wasn’t “alive”, it wasn’t dancing with overtones, wasn’t the rich, full sound a viola really ought to make.
I am reluctantly forced to admit to myself that we’re getting close now. I’ve been feeling it for a while, but I’ve been trying not to think about it. I took it to the shop to get adjusted, we put a new soundpost in it, I put new strings on it… and it helped, for sure, but the plain and simple fact of the matter is: I’m outgrowing this viola, and I can’t deny it anymore. The day is coming, sooner rather than later, I think—and honestly, after listening to my teacher play on it, and listening to myself playing Brahms today, the day might already have passed—when this viola isn’t going to be able to keep up with me.
This has happened before. I had a different viola at first, a student instrument. It worked out great for a while, and then, slowly but surely, my ability to play outstripped the viola’s ability to provide the sound I needed. I was commanding and demanding things from it that it simply couldn’t give. We’re getting there again. It took a lot longer this time. Mostly because I didn’t really go pro. If I had ever gone into the performance major, gotten into a major symphony, anything like that, it would have happened faster. I’ve delayed it a long time, by staying right at the borderline, just at the fringes of professional ability. But I can feel it. It’s here now. Time to move up.
I can feel it when I play things where I’m trying to draw out this big, rich sound, and I’m putting the full weight of the bow into it, everything I’ve got, and I end up getting scratching with the bow, and these artifacts in the sound, because I’m putting more pressure on it than I should *ever* need to, trying to pull the sound out. I could tell when I played in Colorado this summer. Other people could tell, too. I’d be playing, and they could see there’s nothing in the world wrong with my technique, it *looks* like it should be making the sound I’m looking for, but it’s just not there. I played the prelude from the Bach D-minor suite at an evening performance, and the sound wasn’t able to reach the back of the hall. I even had a random audience member come up to me afterward and say, “You need a better instrument. That one’s not doing you justice.”
Unfortunately, the next step up puts me in a price range that’s more than I paid for my Subaru. That’s kind of how things go, too. “Marry a musician,” they say, “and you’ll have expensive instruments before you ever have a car.” Time to start saving.