Part One: Viola da Gamba Class
I have been teaching viola da gamba at CCM for three years. I took over from James Lambert, who plays double bass in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He is also a frequent musician for Catacoustic Consort performances.
I teach two gamba classes – one beginner class and one for returning (advanced) players. People who have bowed string experience are encouraged to participate, although everyone (must be a music major) is accepted. The beginner class is naturally all about the physicality of how to hold the instrument and how to get a good sound. By the end of the quarter, we are able to play ensemble music. We talk about basic concepts in playing renaissance music, since so many basic concepts in communicating through music have changed through time. The advanced viols spend their time with a bit more technique and more in-depth coaching on playing stylistically sensitive manner. Concepts of rhetoric and effective musical expression are throughout this class. We spend each class playing consorts. The past two quarters this year have introduced the advanced players to tablature. (Tablature is a type of notation for the viol that is, in effect, Braille for the viol player. It shows what strings to play and what fret to cover. Viol tab uses a staff which consists of six spaces and seven lines. Each space represents a string, and letters are used to represent which frets to stop. An “a” on the bottom space would represent the open string, and the “b” on the bottom space would be the first fret on that string.) This is an ideal system for reading chordal music in different tunings, which is exactly what we have done. We have played lira viol trios all quarter in this class – even working on Lawes lira trios, which are VERY difficult!
The degree programs at CCM are quite intense, as it is one of the best music schools in the country. My students are introduced to the viola da gamba and concepts of musical expression through this instrument. Occasionally there are exceptional students who decide that they would like to pursue the instrument beyond the classroom, which is thrilling. But, it is also rewarding for the students to be introduced to the instrument and its repertory in the classroom.
There is typically a class recital at the end of each quarter, involving all the collegiums sections, including the loud band, recorders, voices and lutes, and viols. We had our class recital this past Tuesday, and the viol students were wonderful!
While the CCM early music class is not intended as a major field of study, it offers a fine introduction to a new instrument and musical language that may encourage some musicians to continue to pursue this field of study.