From the very beginning of the pandemic stay-at-home orders I had the feeling I was going to be separated from my students for a long while, which has proven to be the case, and now looks like in the USA will continue much longer. After reeling a bit from all the workshop and concert cancellations, the drastic changes to life as I knew it and the subsequent deep sense of loss, I reflected on the best way to stay in touch with my students, and other viol enthusiasts and workshop participants, in order to keep them focused on their practicing and especially to provide them with what they would be missing most—consort playing. I came up with the idea of VIOL—Viola da gamba Institute OnLine—as a means of providing them with an ensemble-type experience and a way to deepen their knowledge of the consort repertoire and how to really prepare a piece of music.
Playing along with audio files cannot replace the experience of playing consorts with friends and colleagues, but I have learned through subscriber feedback that it has some positive attributes. Students are taking time to listen to the tutti versions of the pieces and are studying the score and their parts. Even my more advanced players have remarked on what a challenge it is to play in time and not get lost or behind, and they feel that they will become better consort players from this experience. I feel they are truly appreciating each pavan or fantasy because they aren’t playing through a dozen in one session, but are savoring them one at a time. Much of the feedback I have received includes the common theme that usually a student doesn’t get to play with such advanced players and they are really listening to, and trying to imitate, the phrasing and nuances they hear from the recordings
I decided to begin VIOL as a subscription series to help organize myself as I work much better with deadlines. I release three pieces at three different levels every Monday. Each piece is available in its tutti form as well as three play-along versions, each missing a treble, tenor or bass voice. Files with more than one voice ‘missing’ are available on request. A brief email is also sent out with general information about the pieces and composers. The audio files and PDFs of the music are available on the website with a user-friendly interface from which one can directly play, or download to play from one’s computer desktop if preferred. My repertoire so far includes 3-part pavans and fantasies by Lupo, pieces set to ‘popular’ tunes (Browning, All in a Garden Green, In Nomine, Susanne un jour), pieces in the Italian style by English and Italian composers and upcoming Consort Classics. It has been a lot of fun choosing the monthly themes and repertoire and I am happy to record pieces upon request. I have made quite a few of my own PDF editions, and have also had the good fortune to have Allen Garvin’s permission to draw from his vast online collection of more than 1500 editions and post them on the VIOL webpage.
I hope you will give VIOL a try! Please feel free to contact me with any questions using the Contact Us form.
Gail Ann Schroeder
Here is what subscribers are saying about VIOL:
[VIOL] is an amazing gift to the viol community….Playing through with the tutti version is wonderful…it actually makes a student like me study the music more closely and then experience a great sense of success when played on one’s own. Being able to play all the parts at will is also a bonus and not one that is typically available in consort playing, again bringing more of the score to life. The ability to do it over and over again is also wonderful and it can be done without irritating one’s consort partners.
I’m not very eloquent, but somehow I want to convey to you what a wonderful thing you have done. What strikes me, as an intermediate player, is that in real life I would never be playing with musicians of this caliber, ever! Listening to the subtle nuances up close, getting to hear it many times and then play along. It’s thrilling to me! And I feel so enriched and excited and eager to hear what’s next. I truly hope there are enough intermediate players who have subscribed to make it worth while to keep that level going. And it can’t help but improve my skills! It’s a great teaching device. And so much fun!!!!
VIOL is fabulous, marvelous, wonderful. Thank you! Each and every week, it has gotten easier for me to sightread Lupo with improved accuracy. Having the “tutti” versions as an initial crutch was extremely helpful, although I quite often don’t really need it now. That said, I urge you to keep your current presentation format, as the “tutti” version still communicates a great deal about the phrasing of one’s own part.