Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Viola power

Noah is pretty proud to be a violist. He can participate in all the same stuff as his sisters, but he's just that funky bit different. He reads the alto clef, he has a C-string. It's true he has to endure viola jokes, but that's a small price to pay.

Honestly, I didn't think it through when I offered him the viola option two and a half years ago; at the time I just thought he'd enjoy being on a slightly different path from his older sister, and I'd tracked down a fabulous 1/4-size Sabatier viola that I thought he'd love. But I had noticed his tendency to hear his way inside the music; when he composed melodies at the piano at age 5 or 6, they came with harmonies he already had worked out in his head. He is the kid who makes up harmony lines for familiar tunes, often without even noticing he's doing so. His harmonies are often complex and contrapuntal. As he plays Runescape on the computer, he is constantly humming new descant or alto lines to go with any of the countless theme music tracks.

Tonight at Suzuki violin group class we played a new game. We dragged the piano out of a nearby room and sat Erin down at it. She was charged with playing the left hand of any of the accompaniments to familiar Suzuki violin pieces. The job of the remaining students was to guess what the piece was, and, if they knew how to play it to pop up and jump in on the melody where the accompaniment indicated.

We ended up disqualifying Noah after about 5 rounds because no one else was even getting a chance. He even beat his grandmother, a Suzuki teacher for over 30 years, to one or two of the difficult ones. Most of the rest of us hear the melody, because that's what we play. The piano part is like wallpaper in the background -- pretty, but we don't really notice it unless something's wrong with it. But Noah, even though he plays the top layer, hears the inside of the music. Viola is such a perfect instrument for him.

Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Dvorak all played viola preferentially over violin, Noah has been delighted to discover. They probably all liked to get to know their music from the inside out too.

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