If you like, please begin by telling us anything you would like to about yourself. Age, place of birth, residence, etc.
The hardest part about questions like this is not so much what to tell as much as what to leave out. I’ll try to just hit the highlight reel.
I was born on December 8, 1968 in Gretna, Louisiana. Spending my early years on the West Bank of the Mississippi in the shadow of New Orleans, I cut my teeth on the dichotomy of gentility amidst the seedier booze-fueled reputation for which the Crescent City is famous. We later moved to North Texas, where the culture-shock of slow-paced country life as well as the do-for-yourself, self-sufficient mentality charmed and challenged us. Though the city eventually caught back up with us, we never looked back and have been here ever since.
My near-fatal dance with dural and transverse sigmoid thrombosis in 1998 (another story for another day) was the impetus to finally get started on a family after dragging my feet and making an endless litany of excuses to my wife for the first ten years of our marriage. We now have two boys, aged 13 and 11.
I have always had an insatiable desire to know how things work, how things are done, and more importantly, how to do them myself. Consequently, my list of hobbies and interests is as long as the stacks at the library (and now internet) and my funds will allow. I won’t list them all here; but if it was ever in a Foxfire book or could be ordered from a Mother Earth News catalog, chances are I’ve done it. (But for a single example, there are six gallons of wheat beer on my kitchen table, almost ready to bottle. Believe me when I say my long-suffering wife will be glad when this latest batch is finished.)
Professionally-speaking, I’ve earned my keep as a Juggler, Voice-over talent, Actor, Writer – and for the last 25 years – Graphic Designer and Art Director. According to my boys, my second job – albeit a non-paying one – is as one of the senior students at North Texas Aikido, where I’ve trained for the last 21 years and currently hold the rank of Sandan (3rd degree black belt). If I’m not at home, work, or asleep, that’s where you’ll likely find me.
What made you decide to play the violin?
If you’ll forgive me for pointing it out, you misspelled VIOLA. V-I-O-L-A. 😉
My oldest son decided he wanted to join the orchestra last year, and despite my attempts to influence his decision in favor of the Cello, chose Viola as his instrument of choice. After a year of “coaching from the sidelines” to encourage him to practice, I decided that perhaps the best way to get him focused on his own improvement – other than his private tutor – was for him to have to teach it to someone else. I know that I learn best by sharing what I know, and hoped he would have the same results with me. The jury is still out on this one, and I’m usually the more eager to play of the two of us.
How long have you been playing the violin?
Violin? Approximately 20 minutes total, after replacing the broken strings on Son #2’s hand-me-down violin earlier today. I scratched my way through a few scales on that tiny little fingerboard…
If you’re willing to expand the question to Viola, I’ve been working on learning how to play for about a month, now. My adventures in getting my own Viola to play are well-documented somewhere deep in the forums here at Fiddlerman.com
How often do you play? How long are your practice sessions?
I try to practice every day, even if only for a few minutes. When my schedule allows me to indulge myself, I’ll literally lose hours in playing the same scale or tune over and over again until I ache, trying to make it sound more like music than a goose being tortured. It is, however, still goose-in-distress-like enough to make my wife find some errand that needs running outside the home.
In your opinion, what’s your proficiency on the violin?
Honestly, none at this point. Proficiency implies consistent, predictable (and desirable) results. I’m still all over the place with regards to intonation at this early stage in my training. I can play a few scales and simple tunes that are recognizable, if not entirely cringe-inducingly off-key. Hope springs eternal, however, and I have after all just started this journey.
Your greatest personal experience with playing?
The first time my son and I played through “O Little Town of Bethlehem” together, I had such a welling-up of pride and pleasure- the sort that perhaps only another parent could understand. It truly transcended any actual playing ability between us and became simply an intimate bonding experience between father and son. It was intoxicating. My goofy grin lasted all night.
What other instruments do you play?
I was a product of the school band program and played drums and percussion throughout my educational career. I’ve played and sung in any number of high-ambition, low-talent garage and semi-professional bands over the years in genres ranging from progressive jazz to heavy-metal. My first love, however, was guitar, and I have had a closet-full of acoustics and electrics that rotate in and out of favor with me. I also play or play at playing keyboards, bass, recorder, bamboo flute (occidental) and a stack of eastern and south-american hand percussion.
What does music mean to you?
Music has been an unrequited love for me in some ways, full of longing and desire, but rarely achieving the level of mature relationship I crave. This is due in large part to my relative inability to read music, I think. However, I turn to music as a form of catharsis, pouring out those things I can’t adequately express verbally. The syncopation of drums let me express order and control juxtaposed against the gritty rawness of pent-up rage. But it’s the melodic instruments that let me explore more complex emotions and exorcise them, lest they crash over and consume me. Everything I do, at every moment, has a soundtrack in my head; and music – be it internal or external – is the adhesive that binds my memories to me.
What or who has been your greatest influence?
As a Christian, my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ serves as a constant reminder to live a life in service to God and my fellow man. It is conversely both my highest calling and my greatest failing. I don’t take credit for any of my abilities, any more than a clay pot takes credit for its design. I am alive today because of His grace, for a purpose I do not, and may never know.
What are your goals for playing violin? Short and long.
I’ll quote from my answer to much the same question on Violaman.com:
Music is so emotionally evocative to me that I simply want to be competent enough to adequately express my emotion through the instrument.
My joy, my sorrow, my triumph or dismay – I want to be able to let it flow through my instrument in a way that draws the same response from the listener. The music is merely a pathway to that goal.
This is a tall order in light of how late I’m getting started and difficult the instrument is to play, much less master. But given a chance to make a wish with my viola, that is what I’d wish for.
In the short-term, I’d like to be able to play the same note twice in a row. I have at least managed to get my G (fourth finger on the C string) to match the tuning of the open G string about 80% of the time, when playing up to it. Going straight to the note … Not so much.
What type of violin training?
We have a few beginner books here at the house: Essential Elements 2000, Orchestra Essentials, and a Suzuki Method book or two, but for the most part, I’ve relied on the videos at Fiddlerman.com and Violaman.com to give me the mechanics of how to play. My son’s teaching style consists mostly of pointing out when I’m doing something wrong. 😉
How do you warm up?
Sometimes I start with scales and sometimes I just jump into the music first and then go back to the scales as more of a cool-down. Now that Pierre has put up videos of all the major scales for viola, I find myself with my iPad on the music stand next to the sheet music, so I can play along to work on the intonation.
What is your favorite type of music?
This is as difficult a question as asking which is my favorite child.
Truth to tell, the only music I don’t prefer to listen to is “gangster rap.” Just about anything else will find a niche in my listening repertoire.
What is your favorite piece of music? Why?
In terms of Viola music, I absolutely love Bach’s Prelude No.1 in G Major. Oh, how I would love to play that with the confidence and competence it deserves.
What are your 2 favorite things to do other than playing violin?
I love training in and sharing Aikido with others. Being alone with my thoughts on a long motorcycle ride ranks pretty highly with me, as well. It’s usually when I come up with most of my ideas for stories or designs for work.
Do you come from a musical family? If so please tell us about them.
My mother was a singer with the Sweet Adelines of New Orleans for years and has a lovely voice. She loved to sing to and for us as kids. My earliest memories are of her singing me to sleep in french.
My father makes up for his tone-deafness with enthusiasm and volume. Lots of volume…
Are you a member of any orchestra?
None that would have me.
Do you ever perform publicly?
I’ve been a performer in some way or another most of my life. However, with regards to my viola, it will be some time before it makes any sort of debut publicly. I have enough difficulty posting videos of my current progress as it is.
What do you work with?
(I’d love to see this question get clarified, unless it is deliberately left ambiguous like an ink-blot test.)
I work with words, mostly. Sometimes I string them together in short stories or prose, other times I illustrate them visually for clients looking to evoke a particular feel or emotion in an ad or printed piece. My medium is communication. Words are my paint on the canvas of the human mind.
If you don’t mind, please share with us information about your violin and bow and if you have several please tell us about them as well.
I have what I think is a non-standard Cecilio 16″ CVA-400 Viola. I say “non-standard,” because, unlike the official specifications for the instrument as being a matte oil finish, mine has a high-gloss varnish. Nevertheless, it has a label inside listing it as a CVA-400. I think it’s really quite lovely for the price and as a beginner’s instrument. When I develop the skills to be able to appreciate and take advantage of the difference, I intend to replace the strings with some of a higher quality.
My bow is the bow that came with the viola and is not notable for anything in particular, other than its serviceability and lack of expense.