Link: The Viola da Gamba Dojo of New York
Link: Books - The Repertoire of the Viola da Gamba Dojo
Link: The Dojo Blog
To see an example of my work with young students, view this video clip: http://vdgsa.org/pgs/mp4/JMR.mp4 .
Viola Da Gamba Dojo Laureates
Martha Bixler, Book II, bass
Dawn Cieplensky, Book I, tenor
Dawn Cieplensky, Book II, tenor
Susan Daily, Book I, treble
Susan Daily, Book I, tenor
Susan Daily, Book I, bass
Susan Daily, Book II, tenor
Susan Daily, Book II, treble
Hans Lie, Book I, bass
Hans Lie, Book II, bass
Hans Lie, Book III, Bass
Judy Lie, Book I, treble
Judy Lie, Book II, treble
Lucine Musaelian, Book I, treble
Lucine Musaelian, Book II, treble
Lucine Musaelian, Book III, treble
Katherine Shuldiner, Book I, treble
Katherine Shuldiner, Book II, treble
Diana Wall, Book I, tenor
Scott Zoid, Book I, bass
Scott Zoid, Book II, bass
The viola da gamba is a social instrument. The viola
da gamba, its repertoire, and its practice all seem to thrive
in places where groups of viola da gamba enthusiasts come together
with common cause. The instrument and its music simply sound
better and reward us more richly when two or three or more
are gathered together.
Some years ago, I noted that my private viola gamba students'
work tended to lack momentum and motivation if they did not have
peers to work and play with regularly. (So does mine.) Students
of the viola da gamba need viola da gamba friends to share inspiration,
information, and respectful competition, and simply to play the
parts in our wonderful ensemble repertoire. No matter how much
we love the instrument, it is difficult to keep it up alone.
It is like cooking for one, difficult to maintain standards.
With this insight I started to make some efforts to bring my
students together on a regular basis.
When I established the Viola da Gamba Repertoire class at The
Music Institute of Chicago I drew from to my various experiences
of observing and participating in groups of people learning together:
ballet classes, Anglican church choirs, karate dojos, and Suzuki
'cello groups. In each of these contexts I had seen something
really worth emulating. In ballet schools students often are
not able to attend every class. They tend to come to regularly
scheduled classes when their schedule permits, and the financial
arrangements of dance schools support this flexible approach.
It works in the studio because of the way the class is structured.
Each class begins with the most basic barre exercises (pliés)
and proceeds very gradually to more difficult material. This
routine works well for students at a range of levels of ability.
The most advanced students need to review the basics, to do their
pliés every day. The newest students work during every class
at their level of competence, and are shown how to move beyond.
In Anglican church choirs I have been thrilled to see people
of a wide range of ages work together respectfully and supportively
motivated by dedication to shared purpose.
In martial arts dojos and in Suzuki violin or 'cello classes
fixed curricula are presented. Students are expected to demonstrate
mastery of the material of one level before proceeding to the
next. This approach has both great value and certain hazards.
The values are principally that students can clearly see the
way forward. "After I learn Book Two (earn my yellow belt)
I can work on Book Three (prepare for my orange belt), just the
way James did it." This structure also supports the community.
Simply put, we can play together because we know the same songs.
The danger here is creation of a culture of conformity. After
much soul-searching I have determined for myself that excessive
conformity has rarely been a problem in the world of the viola
da gamba, and that the potential for synergy that a shared repertoire
presents is well worth taking the chance.
One other aspect of Suzuki instrumental instruction is worth
noting and considering in our work with the viola da gamba. Dr.
Suzuki advocated what he called the "mother-tongue" method
of learning to play the violin. Dr. Suzuki noted that we learn
to speak by hearing and imitating sounds long before we learn
to read. He reasoned that it made sense to learn to make beautiful
sounds on the violin, and even to play songs before learning
to read notes. This allows the student to devote part of his
study to technique and musicality without the distraction of
the visual element. No one would ever give a book to an infant
expecting it to learn speech from written text. But that is precisely
what we are doing when we give beginning instrumentalists staff
notation and expect them to translate the written notes into
musical gestures that they have not yet learned. I encourage
students at all levels to learn the dojo repertoire from memory,
and teachers to consider teaching it by rote without reference
to the part. This allows us all, both beginning and advancing
students, to concentrate fully on raising our standards and playing
our music as beautifully as possible.
To support "mother-tongue" learning it is very important
for music students to listen to the music that they are studying.
Therefore a recording of the repertoire in this book is available.
Students are encouraged to listen to it many times.
About the word "dojo:" the word "dojo" comes
from the Japanese martial arts. "Dojo" refers to a
place, a time, and a community of learners committed to supporting
one another's personal growth through a process of mindful skill
building. It was originally used to designate a place where people
came together to practice meditation. As Japanese Zen instruction
developed to include mastery of archery and other martial arts
the word came to be used for the classes in which those skills
are taught. The Repertoire of the Viola da Gamba Dojo is designed
to support and inspire the work of a community of learners dedicated
to sharing the work, play, and growth that we experience with
our beloved viola da gamba.
A word of caution: although the Dojo repertoire is designed
to be useful to beginning viola da gamba players, it is not a
complete method. Beginning players are urged to work on this
repertoire with the guidance of a private teacher. The repertoire
offers opportunities to study many idiomatic viol techniques
(tenus, doigts couchés, etc.) which are not always explicitly
marked in the text. A good teacher will be able to help the student
execute these correctly.