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Viola: Interview and demonstration with principal Rebecca Young

Created by All Star Orchestra.

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Video transcript

(orchestra music) - This large instrument is a viola. It's actually larger than most violas. Most violas are about this, the body part, comes up to about here, this one is here, and it doesn't seem like a lot, but it's huge when you need to reach something. Not many people can play this instrument. Violins are pretty much all about the same size. Violas do come in many different shapes and sizes. If you look around in an orchestra, some of them are cut down like this and they look awfully pretty and some of them are big down here and small up here, which is kinda nice because it's easier to get up here. You know, you don't have to worry about this shoulder here, it's easier. (orchestra music) Violins are tuned like this. (violin strings ringing) Okay, violas sound like this. (viola strings ring) We're much lower. It's like, if you have a singing group, and you have sopranos, and you have altos, there's violins, and then the violas are the alto voice, and the cello is the tenor and the bass is the bass. (slow orchestra music) A bunch of years ago, I was playing a double viola concerto that was written for me and my stand partner, Cynthia Phelps. And she had just acquired a million dollar instrument, Gasparo da Salo, from Italy, and I was playing something that got me my job, that, I mean, I played, I got it myself, but the instrument that I was playing when I got in the Philharmonic, I also got a major job in another orchestra at some point on that instrument. The sound just didn't compare to this Gaspar, so the orchestra administrators, I guess, and the powers that be, said, go find yourself an instrument. And so, the orchestra owns this instrument. I went out and I asked around and the people put the word out and I tried many instruments. There was one that I had fallen in love with, but once we went to find out the background about it, it was a little suspect. Anyway, a lot of politics in instruments that I didn't know about, but found this one. It's so big, that it is, I said, don't show me anything 17 inches or over, and this is actually 17 1/2 plus, but the guy who was showing it to me, Christoph Lienemann, said, "You have to hear this instrument." So, I picked it up and I went, oh, no. I really love it. (soft orchestra music) I always knew I was gonna be a musician. I started because I used to go to the Young People's concert when I was two and a half, and I saw people playing, and the story goes, I don't remember, but my mom said I used to roll up the program and put one here, and put one here, and pretend, and then, when it came time to play, my mom said, "Would you like to play?" I asked her one day, I remember like it was yesterday, we were standing in the garage and she was putting garbage in the garbage can and she had the can in her hand, like the top in her hand like this and I said, I wanna play violin. And she said, "Well, don't you wanna start with piano?" And I said, no, I wanna do this. So, she found me a teacher, shortly thereafter, and got a fiddle and I started playing. And then, I guess I got kinda good. And I auditioned for Juilliard Pre-College at eight, but I didn't get in. But they sent me to a teacher, Fanny Chase, who is no longer with us, but she taught me every technical thing that I know on the violin or viola. And then, I re-auditioned five years later, and I got in when I was 13, to Juilliard. But by the time I was done, I guess I was a little bit bored. I used to like to play the second violin parts, which are always the harmony parts, not the melody parts. And I even, with my own children, I would always make them sing the melody of something, so that I could sing the harmony, like for a commercial on TV, I would always make them sing the high thing, so I could sing the middle thing, but it was the same thing for me in string quartets. I always wanted to play the middle voice. So when I was ready, I was not happy with it. I guess I was a little bored. Somebody suggested to my mom, "You know, in Pre-College Juilliard, "we need some more violas. "And she's tall, and she's got long arms, "and maybe she could play the viola." So I said, alright, I'll try it. And I tried it and I loved it. And my teacher was very inspiring, and it was only nine months with that one particular teacher, Eugene Becker. (light orchestra music) That's what I always did. It's what I always knew I would do. Not only did I always know I was gonna be a musician, but I always knew I was gonna be in the Philharmonic. Don't ask me, it's just the way it always was. It wasn't, oh, I hope I this audition, or I hope I can get into Juilliard, or I hope. It was just, okay, now I'm gonna take this audition, and now, I'm gonna do this and it just kinda, I mean, I'm lucky, I guess. (calm orchestra music)