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Approaching the Viola

Having read much well-meaning advice recently about how we should use the lockdown to acquire new skills, I seem by accident to have taken up the viola. While cleaning the faraway realm under my desk I came across two viola cases inherited from my mother. They’d hardly been opened for five years, but the instruments were in surprisingly good shape.

Not so my shoulder, after about ten minutes in action. My mum’s Yehudi Menuhin Shoulder Rest looked like a rare vintage item, but I didn’t find it at all comfortable. (I have a feeling YM himself didn’t play with one.) Searching on Google I viewed this arresting video of a guy creating his own shoulder support using only a car sponge, a marker pen and a bread knife. While sourcing a big sponge (pictured) in lockdown was tricky, I found cutting it in half was just about impossible.

Thankfully my violin-teaching friend Rachel had an even more lo-tech suggestion: “find a large rubber band”. Sourcing one of these was very easy thanks to the lockdown, when the extra-busy posties have been flinging them down on the pavements. Stretching the rubber band, hygenically treated, between some of the viola’s corners, I was able to stick a conveniently sized piece of foam underneath and play in comfort (so far).

Now for the next problem; reading the viola clef. Which I have never found to be a problem, except while actually trying to play the viola. Rachel’s advice this time ? “Isolate yourself from the treble clef for two weeks!”




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