For some time now I’ve been trying to find a viola teacher – going through music stores, the Austin Lyric Opera and finally resorting to Craig’s List. Part of the problem has been that I’m difficult. Every high school student who plays an instrument is convinced they’re ready to teach and while that’s great, I appreciate their chutzpah, it’s not what I personally need.
So, a few weeks ago I wrote-up exactly what I was looking for – my dream viola instructor – and stuck it out there on Craig’s List. I wanted someone with a graduate’s degree who played viola as their first instrument (not some violinist who got stuck playing viola because the section needed them – plus, I could do a whole story on personalities types in relationship to the instruments they choose – suffice it to say serious violinists make me grind my teeth) – someone who had taught adults and had some inkling of what String Project was. Then I waited… and waited… and I began to think I’d really set my sites too high and that’s when Jason responded.
Jason truly had me with his signature:
“The bull-fiddle players were solemn men who played the notes set before them, however difficult, in a dogged and uncomplaining manner,
The cellists were also pretty reliable fellows,
But in the viola section, one began to encounter boozers, communists and even spiritualists.”
-H.L. Mencken, The Tone Arts, 1903
… and then he sent me a link to his website, and my jaw hit the floor. It was decorated with banners like “Viola by Choice” and showcased his playing. He’s played with some of the local off-beat groups in town, the Dixie Chicks and performs on the soundtrack for “A Scanner Darkly”.
I really felt like an idiot calling this guy and admitting my viola skills are currently the pits and almost apologized for having the sheer audacity to think I deserved a teacher of his caliber. In fact, by the time he picked up the phone, I’d worked myself into such a fit that I blathered and couldn’t stop despite my brain saying “SHUT UP, YOU BOOB!”. I had to end the conversation by pretending I was still considering my options. This prevented me from screaming “OH MY GOD YOU ARE AWESOME! BE MUH TEACHER NOW KK!” I did manage to slip in, “I’m obnoxious. Do you handle obnoxious people well?” He really was forgiving and when he told me what his rates were (which he seriously undervalues and could probably get twice what he asks) he humbly offered, “I think they’re competitive”. Of course, I can’t tell him that because it makes him affordable and I’m greedy.
Anyway, come January 7 I will be back in lessons. I’m excited! I have a beautiful instrument (I LOVE my viola) that will once again see the light of day. My goal is the Austin Civic Orchestra (if I can make myself practice) or at the very least a quartet and this time next year I want to play part of Handel’s “Messiah” in one of the community groups. (Once upon a time, a long time ago I was paid to travel and perform this – up until then, I had played with full orchestras, but let me say that having that added element of the choir is amazing – so many voices – choral, winds, strings, brass… beautiful.) I wish everyone could have the opportunity to be “in” a piece of music – to be one voice among many coming together to create a sound; it’s so much different than just listening. (My grandmother played stand-up bass and was touring when she met my grandfather who sang opera in his day and on the other side of the family that grandfather played 17 musical instruments. I absolutely cannot escape my love and appreciation of music.)