Editor’s Note: Thing One has participated in school orchestras since the fourth grade. This Spring Fling concert marks the end of nine years of concert performances. With some hesitation and sentimentality, we returned the cello to the shop — Thing One can’t take the cello with him on his mission — but our years of rentals have amassed an impressive store credit which Thing One may use to purchase a cello when he returns, should he wish to do so. If Thing One prefers to return to the viola da gamba, Thing Two has called dibs on the store credit for a full size violin.
Careful observers will also note that the young lady with short dark hair performs both with Thing One in the chamber orchestra and viols program, and with Thing Two in the Lilla Lag!
Photographs courtesy of RHS Viols Facebook group.
The Viola Da Gamba is an instrument that was created in the Renaissance Era. It’s a precursor to the violin family, and is held like a cello, but is more closely related to the guitar family. It has six strings, in fourths, except two strings are a third apart. The kinds of viols that exist are treble, tenor and bass. Instead of the A being tuned to 440hz, In the Baroque and Renaissance periods, most instruments were tuned to whatever frequency the local church’s organ was tuned to. Today, Renaissance Period instruments are commonly tuned to 415hz.
After the Northwest Orchestra Festival (Gresham) in March, the RHS Viols program started. The instructors came in to Chamber Orchestra every Tuesday and Wednesday. I participated in the Viol Program last year as well as this year, playing the bass viol both times.
With the viols, you need to learn how to play them. It’s similar to a string instrument (especially cello!), except the strings are different notes, and if you have some perfect pitch, it will get thrown off because viols aren’t tuned to 440. The biggest difference would probably be the bow hold. It is the German bowing style, as opposed to French bowing, which most people do with violin family instruments.
One of the pieces we played was published back in ’08, and the other from the 50’s… 1608 and the 1550’s, that is. They were Mrs. Nichols’ Almain (John Dowland) and Recercada Quarta (Diego Ortiz). I played the solo for Recercada Quarta. It meant I had to come in before school to practice, but I enjoyed doing the solo, and it was a way to continue learning how to play the viol.
RHS Viols started off the Spring Fling Concert (the final concert of the year), and I gave the introduction. I was told that I was one of the few students that knew how to publicly speak with a (maybe) working microphone.
The Viol Program introduces students to a little-known kind of instrument and the music that goes with it. Also, during one of the classes, a lute group came in, but that was the one day I had to miss. The program is a lot of fun, and I could tell that the other students were enjoying it as well.
- Pacific Northwest Viols, the local chapter of the Viola da Gamba Society of America
- PDF articles from the Viola da Gamba Society of America newsletter describing the high school program: 2010, 2012
- Viols Program concert from 2012
- Watch a YouTube video of Mrs. Nichols’ Almain by John Dowland
- Watch a YouTube video of Recercada Quarta by Diego Ortiz