5:37pm: September has crept in as it always does, but I've been holding on to the summer in my soul. I thought I'd use this Thursday as an opportunity to celebrate throw back...wait...throw Bach...throw Baaaaaach Thursday (see video) and tell you all about the two weeks I spent Northern England this summer participating in the Lakes Viola Retreat.
The Lakes Viola Retreat is exactly what it sounds like: two weeks of nothing but studying viola in England's Lake District. This course was taught by Ivo Van der Werff, professor of viola at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music and author of the fabulous book A Notebook for Viola Players. Our schedule included two hours of technique class every day, a private lesson every other day, master classes, viola quartet rehearsals, a concert, and plenty of time to practice. It was the first time in a long time (if not ever) that I was able to give my full focus and attention to my viola playing. My identity as a musician is made of more than just the act of playing the viola, but playing the viola is the core of my musical and artistic being. Taking part in this course was a good reminder that I need to constantly nurture this ability by refining my technique and thinking about new perspectives. The more I learn about viola, the more I learn about myself.
I took in so much from Professor Van der Werff and my own self-observation, but another big part of what I learned these two weeks came from my colleagues, which is spectacular. Violists are some of the greatest people in the world, if I don't say so myself. :-) We all lived together in a estate-turned-residental college named Higham Hall, a beautiful setting that inspired reflection and hard work.
Since this college also operates as a bed and breakfast, eating was a big part of our day. Actually, I added it up and between the sit down (full english) breakfasts, coffee and tea times, lunches, and three course dinners...we spent four hours a day in the dining room. What a luxury. Meal times consisted of riveting conversation about all things viola, looking out the window at sheep, and trying to learn proper English table manners, which for me usually resulted in spilling food all over everything and myself, as pictured below.
We did take one day off from the course, in which we all hopped in the Hingham Hall Van (read: viola mobile) and spent the day walking in the hills, shopping and having proper afternoon tea in the village of Keswick, and watching a cricket match. British quota: met. Treating a day off like, well, a day off felt very nice, and it is something I will strive to do more in my life.
One bit of advice from Ivo that I really took to heart is that improvement is like a spiral. As we grow, we return to the same issues and places in learning with different perspective, different things behind us, yet always more room to grow and re-evaluate. Sure, this relates directly to viola technique, but I'd argue that it is applicable to even more than that. Spiral away!