It’s so difficult for me to fathom that I have been teaching the VIOLA for over 50 years. WOW, I must REALLY be old! Now, in my defense, I was only 13 years old when I began to actively teach. Definitely a fluke since back in those days (early 1960’s) most young people were totally unaware of the existence of an instrument called the viola….. let alone had had any first- hand experience playing it.
Yes, times were truly different with regards to the viola….and violists…. even just half a century ago. When I began my viola studies at the age of eight the viola was rarely heard as a solo instrument. Additionally, the majority of violists were at least of college age and unfortunately, far too often, were moderately weak violinists hoping to excel on a seemingly much less demanding, less popular AND most importantly, a less competitive instrument.
So then you ask, what ignited my relationship with the viola at the ripe old age of eight?
Well, a lot of luck along with a great deal of insight and intuition on the part of my father, Victor de Veritch.
My dad was an outstanding violinist who had enjoyed an enviable performance and teaching career in Europe prior to immigrating to the United States moments ahead of WWII. Shortly after moving to this country he was encouraged by Maestro Fritz Reiner, then Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, to become a member of his orchestra, a position which my dad gratefully accepted and enjoyed for several seasons.
A number of years later, as I approached my eighth birthday, my father excitedly sat me down to present HIS plans for MY musical future. Truly a life changing moment, the discussion that ensued has remained vivid in my mind throughout my entire life. Dad began that day by sharing his great love for an instrument called the viola. He explained that this instrument was unique in that it had the ability to produce both the deep, sensual low tones of the cello as well as the brilliant, virtuostic characteristics of the violin.
What had puzzled him for decades was why an instrument possessing so much potential was more often than not found in the hands of incredibly sub-standard musicians and instrumentalists. How was such a gem to ever gain in popularity and rise to the position of glory it deserved if instrumentalists possessing equal potential as the viola itself overlooked this wondrous instrument as THEIR vehicle for musical expression?
At the time he did mention the artistry of one particular violist, however, a William Primrose and spoke enthusiastically of all that this gentleman was doing to build awareness of the viola and to promote its potential as a solo instrument.
Bottomline, my dad’s gut instincts were telling him that I truly had the potential to be an accomplished string player someday and although pedagogical tradition would have stuck a violin under my chin his preference was to locate a violin with slightly larger ribs than most and re-string it with viola strings. He would then stick that hybrid under my chin and commence an experimental musical project seemingly without precedent.
There really was no room for discussion. His mind was made-up. I was to become a lab rat and hopefully, in time, an important violist and protagonist of the viola. Dad felt very strongly that I should never be motivated to reach such a position by default resulting from any possible lack of success as a violinist!! So, I was to be a TRUE violist from day one and ONLY a TRUE violist!!
In retrospect, it was kind of ironic how my dad ended our HIS discussion that day……
“ Just think my son, someday you may actually have the opportunity to meet the great William Primrose. Perhaps even play for him….or better yet….. study with him!”
I can assure you that neither of us (including William Primrose) could have ever anticipated that in five short years, by the age of thirteen, all of these possibilities would have indeed become reality!!