The viola in this photo has had quite a journey. It was, many years ago, part of Portsmouth Sinfonia – a 1970s student project that was about participation rather than skill level. The viola went to The Albert Hall as part of this.
Quite some years ago, I knew the owner of the viola through Druid circles in the Midlands. When she left the area and needed to downsize, she offered me the viola because she hadn’t played it in a long time. At that time I was mostly playing violin, but I was not the sort of person to turn down a free instrument!
My primary musical collaborator at the time had a stringed instrument that mostly played in Bflat, so I down-tuned the viola to make it easier to play with him, and I learned a few tunes on it, and took it to sessions for times when having an option on keys with flats in was handy.
I’ve been a violin player since childhood. Not because I had any particular interest in the instrument at first, but because there were free lessons at school. What I really wanted was to play the harp, (proto-druid issues) but there were no harp lessons to be had, so I learned the piano and the violin. The logic was that I could get into the orchestra and then somehow options would appear – which they did not. I was a mediocre violinist at best during that time.
In my late teens, I started going to a session at my local pub, playing with The Old Spot Pickers – and there I started learning how to jam in with other musicians. There were a lot of them, and they were loud so it was easy to be quiet and join in. Actually falling in love with the violin didn’t happen until I got to the Midlands in my twenties. Suddenly there were a whole lot of musicians I wanted to play with, and that made me practice. That in turn led to spending hours every week playing with other people, which grew my skills considerably.
Shoulder damage made the violin impossible to play, and when I came back to Gloucestershire I had no one to play with. However, I’m back in a position of there being multiple musicians I am keen to do music with, and lo and behold, I’m motivated to practice again. The larger body of the viola is feasible for my damaged body, and that’s all working out well.
I didn’t choose the viola. It happened to me. It’s been a gift in every sense, and increasingly a blessing, opening up possibilities and connections that otherwise I would not have had. I’m playing with a number of people and there’s more of that to come, that’s now obvious. There are three other musicians I’m going to be working with (Robin Burton, Keith Errington, Jessica Law) and I’m looking forward to talking about that as things progress, and at some point having videos to share. There’s also scope around this to form up as bigger bands, depending on need, so The Ominous Folk (usually four of us) is going to have a big band version, we’re Robin’s Minstrels when we’re at The Folk of Gloucester and other possibilities also exist. Adventures, there will be many.