Sunday, November 06, 2022

Propelled by Air

The viola d'amore I play was a gift from my father, who had stopped using the instrument in the 1990s. I played it with a modern bow for many years, and at some point in the not-too-distant past my father remembered that he hadn't given me the baroque viola bow that it should be played with.

Since most of my viola d'amore playing is in a consort, where I use the instrument as a viol (a role it plays well), it doesn't get to act like a baroque viola bow should (or could). It has since migrated to my violin case, where I use it happily to practice Bach and Telemann, and to play Haydn Quartets on the violin. I hadn't yet had the occasion or opportunity to play it in a group setting as a viola bow.

I contemplated bringing it to the first rehearsal for a Handel and Telemann concert I played yesterday, but resisted because I thought it might be pretentious to do so. At the end of that rehearsal the conductor invited us to use baroque bows, if we had them. It turned out that the only people who brought baroque bows to the second rehearsal were two out of the three violas, but we were in good company (and we are good friends too).

It was my first time playing this beautiful baroque viola bow in the "home" it was designed for. It felt fantastic. Beyond fantastic. Everything felt propelled by air. The bow can move so quickly when playing down-bow, because there is absolutely no weight at the tip, and you can put a lot of arm weight in while playing up-bow without getting any pitch distortion or getting annoying lumps and bumps. Jumping across strings is a breeze, and varying the length and quality of notes requires thought and imagination, but very little physical effort.

Yesterday morning was blusetry. It was so blustery that the National Weather Service advised caution while driving on east-west roads. Luckily I had a route to drive (about an hour) that was mainly due north. I had the wind at my back, and enjoyed amazing gas mileage with our Prius. Also, before leaving for rehearsal, Michael and I enjoyed doing a 30-minute Pilates session with "The Girl with the Pilates Mat" on YouTube, so I felt stretched, strong, balanced, and comfortable in my skin.

During the morning rehearsal we got to play standing up, and I was able to shift my weight on the floor while my bow arm fully enjoyed the novel and wonderful physical sensation of using broad and varied gestures to connect with my fellow musicians.

Playing baroque music in a way that naturally draws upon the strengths of the instrument and the strengths of the moving body is so refreshing. The "rules-based" approach that some people used in my musical past turned me off because it focused more on limitations than on expression of what was in the music. But playing in this particular situation, with this bow, and with these people, I felt that the possibilities for expression were limitless.

During the concert I felt like I could play and connect with full presence, using everything I had, and expressing everything that I wanted (in the moment and in the music) to express. And when it was over I knew a good time was had by all.

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